Donnarama is not afraid to take the streetcar in drag. When the long-time Village resident moved west last year, she got frustrated with shelling out for cabs to get to her gigs.
“Someone can get on the TTC in a suit and tie and no one bats an eye,” she says. “I’m on my way to work just like they are. The fact that I might wear ice-cream tits or a wig with a bone through it doesn’t mean I have less right to be on transit than they do.”
“I think I’m a very brave person because of what I grew up with,” she adds. “I wouldn’t recommend taking the streetcar in drag to everyone, but at the same time I don’t think anyone will be able to start doing it unless someone takes the lead and does it first.”
The Toronto-born drag artist blasted onto the scene at the tender age of 17 with her unconventional approach, when she made her debut at the now defunct Club 619 on Yonge St. More Courtney Love than Donna Summer, she broke out sporting a bloodied wedding dress and combat boots, in lieu of a sequinned gown and heels.
“I’d never been to the Village before I started, so I didn’t know the ‘right’ way to do drag,” she says. “If I’d grown up listening to The Supremes instead of Elastica, I might have not have clashed so much with what was there. But what made me different made me stand out and ultimately gave me a career.”
She credits her mother’s support as a huge part of her early success, something not uncommon for new drag performers today, but virtually unheard of in the mid-’90s.
“People would go crazy when I announced my mom was in the club,” she says. “I made her a Mamarama T-shirt to wear at shows. I was so fucking lucky to have a mom who liked the fact I would wear her old wedding dress and roll around on the floor. Having that kind of encouragement was such a gift.”
Sixteen years later, she’s one of the city’s hardest-working queens. Her pioneering use of customized music mixes, incorporating multiple songs with sound bites from film and TV, has since become de rigueur for new queens hoping to break out. Her unconventional props and outrageous costumes, all of which she builds herself, set a new standard for Toronto drag.
“I never had the money to buy expensive dresses, so I shopped at Goodwill and Dollarama,” she says. “I’m like the raccoon of drag, going through the garbage to find things for my shows. You don’t need thousands of dollars to look good. A high-end glue gun and a keen eye for trash is enough.”
Her DIY approach is a product of being a self-taught artist. Though she enrolled at Etobicoke School of the Arts as a teenager, she dropped out after a year because of homophobia.
“I thought art school would give me the intellectual and spiritual atmosphere to become the person I wanted to be,” she says. “But it turned out to be the same shit with different pencils. It was a big shocker going to a place where I thought I’d belong and finding out I didn’t.”
But being bullied didn’t repress her. It just made her angrier and more determined to be who she wanted to be.
“If I could give one piece of advice to gay kids today it would be not to take shit from anyone,” she says. “You’re a product of the universe, and you were meant to be the way you are. Don’t let anyone extinguish your light.”
DONNARAMA AT PRIDE
Tuesday, June 28: Woody’s Pride Kickoff
Wednesday, June 29: The Barn, College Night Pride Week Special
Thursday, June 30: A/X @ Steam Whistle Brewery at the John Street Round house
Saturday, July 2: Buddies Full-Facility Party
Sunday, July 3: Buddies Full-Facility Party