Drag *looks* expensive, but in reality, being a drag artist is a working class gig. (Unless you’re on RuPaul’s Drag Race, duh.) To find out what it’s really like to try to make it as a queer artist in one of Canada’s expensive cities, FLARE asked nine Toronto drag performers on the rise to show us what’s in their drag bags—and then we got down to real talk about their finances, from tipping culture in Canada to hustling to make rent to shopping for fake boobs.
Drag Name: Archie Maples
Time doing drag: 9 months
Non-drag side hustle: Door gigs, odd jobs and modelling
“I was a fancy barista and I threw it all to the wind to do drag and live a more artistic life. It has been difficult in terms of security. I never know how a month is going to work out. I make sure my bases are covered rent-wise, but it’s all $100 at a time. At the same time, I’ve quit any attachment to a capitalistic boss-like job, so my schedule is at my disposal. It’s time over money. I’m rich in time, but poor? Always.
I do door gigs and am an occasional party promotor. I was working the door a lot for a while every Friday night. Door is always great. It’s a wide range of pay, though—some people are like, ‘It’s door, here’s $50.’ Others are more like, ‘You have all my money and if I don’t pay you enough you’re just going to steal my money so here’s $100.’ It depends on the gig, but door has been a lifesaver. That was my entrance into the drag world.
I’m not someone with credit card debt, but I’m also not a saver or a penny pincher. My relationship to money is that I like to have enough to buy the things I need. The things I spend it on matters, but the money itself doesn’t matter.
For me, it’s the conveniences while being in drag that really add up. The food I have to have delivered because I can’t walk to the restaurant in drag or the Uber I take because I can’t walk around in heels at night in drag. To make everything run smoothly in drag, there’s a lot of extra money you’re throwing in every direction.
Drag artists typically work without insurance or health benefits. We’re lucky enough to live in Canada so at least we can all go to the walk-in and go to the doctor, but drag injuries are super common. People often can’t take time off work so they re-injure themselves. It can be a harsh gig and there’s nothing you can do if you get injured; you just can’t work your drag gigs.”
1. Boots: “These are Pleasers, they’re industry stripper shoes. They were $190—an investment piece. They’re designed to be worn for a while and you can really break them in. They’re pretty comfortable, too. And I can wear them with so, so many outfits.”
2. Harnesses: “The drag artist Kasper made me a whole set of plastic harnesses. I also have a wrestling belt and a chest harness. They’re all detachable and reachable so it’s like four costumes in one.”
3. Jacket: “I bought this leather jacket many years ago at Courage My Love, a vintage shop in Kensington Market. It was sitting in my closet for ages as a big, masc biker jacket. This year I took it to a costume designer, Leeland Mitchell, and I had him make a cute crop cutout version of it.”
4. Top: “This is a custom piece I got for Pride from the designer Stevie Crowne. I’m privileged in terms of queen clothes because I fit into cis-woman fashion sizes so I don’t have to go custom. For me custom is for special occasions like Pride, or if I’m doing a specific performance I need a special piece for.”
More What’s in Your (Drag) Bag:
Tash Riot: “I Was Raised to Be Careful With Money, but to Be Honest I Don’t Really Think About It”
Manghoe Lassi: “My Career Has Definitely Allowed Me to Be More Extravagant With My Drag”
The Ugly One: “There’s a Lot of Instances Where, if It Wasn’t for the Tip Bucket, I Wouldn’t Have Gotten Paid”
Manny Dingo: “I’m Very Cheap. In a Month I Might Spend $40 or $50 on Makeup”
ZacKey Lime: “Drag Kings Don’t Really Get Tips. I Can’t Tell You Why, But It’s a Problem”
Halal Bae: “On a *Really* Good Night I’ll Make a Few Hundred Dollars”
Priyanka: “The Way Drag’s Blowing Up Right Now, There’s Definitely Potential to Work Full-Time”
Maris: “I’ve Performed for Free in the Past, but I Try to Stay Away From That Now”