3 min

Do the hustle

Toronto drag queen Tynomi Banks has big shows, big goals and big shoes

Toronto drag queen Tynomi Banks is the star of a recent Metric music video. Credit: Perfecto Mag

The crowd at Woody’s congregates in front of the stage as a pair of size 16 women’s heels makes its way into the spotlight. Everyone seems pleased to hear the opening notes of Beyoncé’s “Suga Mama,” and after the fiercest hair flip I’ve ever seen, Tynomi Banks begins her performance. While waiting to speak with the night’s star after her show, I overhear a female fan yell, “You’re beautiful,” to which Banks replies, “So are you, lover.”

Underneath the flawless hair and makeup is the equally fabulous Sheldon McIntosh, a self-proclaimed hustler who recalls being dragged into the scene by a friend who thought he was a talented dancer. Even with 10 years of dance experience, he says, drag was unlike anything he had ever done. “I love performing, but drag is a different type of performing. It’s hard,” he says. “You’re being another person for the night.”

McIntosh remembers sneaking away from his dorm at Durham College, before he was out of the closet, to drive to Toronto with a friend to see his first drag show, at It nightclub. He was instantly hooked and started going every weekend, drawing inspiration from such queens as Sofonda Cox, Nicolette Brown and Heaven Lee Hytes.

McIntosh moved to Toronto to pursue event planning, but shortly after his move, Miss Conception referred him to Woody’s, where he danced to Richgirl’s “He Ain’t Wit Me Now” for his debut performance.

Of McIntosh’s list of necessary traits every drag queen should have, he emphasizes makeup skills as most important. He says he is always developing and practising the techniques he learned in a three-week tutorial taught by Nicolette Brown at the start of his career.

When asked what it was like to see his fully made-up face for the first time, he says, “You feel power and strength. You feel beautiful. I wondered, ‘Is this me?’ ‘Is this my face?’” McIntosh says that from then on, he feels a different kind of respect for women and hopes to be an inspiration to his female fans. In addition to teaching him how to apply makeup, Brown was also the queen who helped him decide on his stage name.

While Banks can draw a crowd to the Woody’s stage for a live performance, she has also proven she’s not afraid of the camera. She has been featured in a fashion video called “Click/Drag” for Perfecto magazine and on an episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation.

McIntosh has seen similar success in his dance career outside the drag scene. Last June, he spent a week in Mexico City filming Metric’s “Lost Kitten” music video, in which he played the starring role.

He attributes his achievements to a combination of meeting the right people at the right time and hard work. “A little bit of hustle gets you a long way,” he says. “Competition is good. It makes you wake the fuck up.”

However, his career in the drag world hasn’t always been glamorous fashion videos and trips to Mexico. After three years of performing as Tynomi Banks, McIntosh contemplated giving up his role as a queen because of its effect on his personal life. “I went through a year of doubting myself because a relationship went downhill. He wanted Sheldon, but he couldn’t accept Tynomi.”

A career as a Toronto drag queen can also be a financial challenge, as most queens do not make stable incomes from being paid per show. McIntosh, who has a day job at a restaurant, wishes Toronto’s gay scene were more financially supportive. As a result, he keeps busy by performing at private parties and high-profile events. He also makes monthly visits to Montreal, where compensation for queens is better, owing to a more active drag scene.

Regardless of the obstacles, it has been six years since McIntosh’s debut as Tynomi Banks, and he has ambitious plans for the future. “I want to be famous in the drag world. I want to prove there’s talent in Toronto,” he says. “Tynomi could travel the world.”

His early career was aided by people who were already established in the scene, so when asked for tips for aspiring queens, McIntosh says, “Keep on working, because you’re only as good as your next show.”