David Sedaris told me he liked my nails.
I met Sedaris during one of his meet-and-greet events in Toronto. He’s one of my favourite writers, and I identify with the way he takes issues and writes about them with humour and introspection.
As a writer, I was excited on having a conversation with an intelligent man whose work has inspired me in many ways. So I was caught off-guard when the first thing he noticed was my black nail polish.
“I’m a drag queen,” I said. “I had a performance last night and I was too lazy to take the polish off.”
What followed was a short conversation about his stint as a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, the brilliance of the drag name of one of Toronto’s local drag queens, Sofonda Cox, and why I keep my beard when I perform in drag.
It was then that I realized I don’t necessarily do drag with the intention of looking like a woman at all. This realization birthed another question: why do I do drag?
I had only started drag in May last year, a couple of weeks before I met David Sedaris, so I didn’t necessarily have the answer when he asked me why I keep my beard while in drag.
The answer didn’t come to me until I planned a number for a local drag show in Toronto. The theme was “Ultra Gay,” so I prepared a number about my own experience of queerness.
When I perform in drag, I often take songs that I feel a deep connection with and mix them together with clips from movies or TV shows. That night, I took Vampire Weekend’s “Diane Young” and inserted an audio clip of Dorothy Parker reading “Resume,” her morbidly hilarious poem about suicide.
I realized that I started with the theme “Ultra Gay” and the result was a lip sync number about death. It was an undeniable reflection of my queer experience — a process that involved dealing with mental illness and suicidal thoughts.
I attempted suicide and suffered a breakdown that caused me to end up in the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health’s emergency room months prior to that performance.
I had a lengthy conversation with a psychologist at the centre. He gave me advice on seeking long-term care, especially for a situation as complex as coming out.
I felt confused. I had thought that my coming-out process was already over. I’m out. I’m proud. I’m very much gay. But like Kylie Jenner in her 2016 resolution video, I realized things. I was still deeply affected by the trauma I had been suppressing for half a decade.
I was outed for being gay in Grade 8.
I only told a few close friends about a) my homosexuality, and b) that I had a crush on this guy who, inspired by my recent rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I will refer to as Spike.
The word spread and one day when I was entering gym class,a bunch of people came up to me and started asking questions.
“Avneet, is it true that you’re gay and you like Spike?” a classmate I barely knew asked.
Suddenly, everyone in the small-town middle school in Bolton, Ontario knew I was gay. It didn’t help that I was in the same gym class as Spike and we had to share the same locker room. I couldn’t even walk down the hallway at school without someone teasing me about Spike or some half-witted homophobe asking me out on a date as a joke.
This culminated in Spike’s hockey team creating a fake account of me on Facebook that sported iconic phrases such as “I am so gay for Spike” or “I love my Spikey.”
Unfortunately, this caught the attention of the school who focused on punitive measures against members of that hockey team rather than making sure I received the emotional support I needed.
At the time, I couldn’t tell anyone at home what had been going on at school. I was unable to see a counsellor since that would require my parents’ approval, and my friends couldn’t fully understand what I was dealing with. Ultimately, this experience made it difficult for me to love or accept myself. Much of my struggle was blaming myself for what had happened:
“I shouldn’t have told anyone that I liked Spike.”
“I shouldn’t even like Spike to begin with.”
“If I wasn’t gay, none of this would be happening.”
As the years went on, I began to think less about what happened and ignore the trauma I had been carrying. I thought this would work.
The issue with trauma is it’s difficult to get rid of, especially when it was once so overwhelming that it consumed an entire part of your life. As a result, my trauma manifested in other ways.
I started to feel resentful towards other gay people, especially those who had the opportunity to come out on their own terms. I didn’t love myself; I felt I was the cause of the many obstacles I experienced. I felt unlovable. How can anyone who was once so hated ever be the subject of love and affection?
But after acknowledging the trauma I suppressed, I’m now in a different place where I’m ready to deal with it and move forward.
The first step was to accept my identity on my own terms.
I became a drag queen to fully exhibit the feminine traits I was once targeted for. In other words, I’m not necessarily interested in transforming into a woman — I’m more interested in simply feminizing myself. It helped that I thought of drag queens as the ultimate symbol of homosexuality. Take that, middle school!
Not too long ago, I struggled with the idea of loving myself. Now, I love myself because of the way I take my problems and channel them into something productive such as art, writing and drag.
When I told David Sedaris I was a drag queen, I felt proud of myself for being who I was in front of one of my inspirations.
It was also a moment I got to reveal information about myself — finally — on my own terms.