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: Manny Dingo
Time doing drag: 4 years
Non-drag job: Call centre
“I moved to Toronto from Halifax at the beginning of February. Me and my best friend saved a bunch of money for the move. With the help of the drag community, we put on a going away show in Halifax. Our community actually helped us get here. But we got here and it wasn’t enough. I slept on a family member’s couch for a few months. I’m getting settled now, but it’s still expensive. The hustle is real.
I love money. Money’s great. It gives you the opportunity to have access to the things you need, and the things you want. My grandmother taught me that money comes and goes—and when you do have it, you have to make sure it goes a long way. I’m very cheap. I shop at thrift shops, anywhere second hand. The most expensive drag item I’ve purchased is a suit. It was a black suit and I paid $35 for the pants and $40 for the jacket. In a month I might spend $40 or $50 on makeup, just refreshing things like powder and foundation, or the Spirit Gum I use to hold down my moustache.
For my non-drag job, I work at a call centre. It’s terrible. I get called a whole bunch of names on the phone. Sometimes I have just have to hit mute and laugh. I also DJ sometimes and do other types of drag, not just drag kinging. And I’ve been booked as a dancer, too.
Long-term, I’d like to do drag full-time. I can’t see my life without drag now. Essentially, it has saved my life. The first time I performed in drag, I did a pageant and won. The week before that I’d gotten out of an extremely abusive relationship. It was horrible and it took a lot for me to get up on that stage. But once I got up there, it was a rush of adrenaline; to go from something so horrible right into something that was mine, something I could do long-term and grow in, that saved my life.”
1. Boots: “I usually thrift my boots. I got those from Black Market for $10.”
2. Beard: “The cost for a moustache or a beard is between $5 and $40. You can get them at hair shops and theatre costume shops. I’ve also made a braided goatee out of a $9 extension. And sometimes I used my own hair, too—the beard you see along my jaw in this photo is my own hair. If I shaved the sides of my head, I keep that hair and use it to glue down for a beard. It’s free!”
3. Suit: “This is from OppoSuits. They sell fun printed suits and come out with new styles for every season. Almost every photo of me on the internet is in this suit. I don’t mind wearing repeating outfits. I’m going to die in this suit.”
4. Jacket: “This is Michael Jackson-inspired. It’s from a costume shop. My drag sister bought that for me last Pride.”
5. Underwear: “These are bootleg—Calvin Klain. My friend had a whole bunch of them. He gave me a few different styles.”
6. Palette: “This is the Eye Magic cream palette. I use it for *everything*—even the brown works good for my skin as foundation. It’s about $15 or $20 and I buy it online from Amazon.”
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”
Archie Maples: “I Make Sure My Bases Are Covered Rent-wise, but It’s All $100 at a Time”
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”