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: Tash Riot
Time doing drag: 1 year
Non-drag gig: Server
“I knew starting drag how expensive it was, which was one of the reasons it took me so much time to get started. Now, being on the side of it where I’m lucky to be making money from it, I’m still going, ‘Yeah, this is insane.’ People who do drag are literally crazy. You have to love it.
I was raised to be careful with money, but to be honest I don’t really think about it. I ask myself whether I need something before I buy it, but I also absolutely don’t budget. I’m a waitress and that’s enough for me to live on. For me, my goal with drag is for it to pay for itself. In my ideal world, I’d keep track of how much I earn from drag and put everything back into it. But I’m not organized at all. I would love in an ideal world to be making a lot of money off of art and to be creative at all times, but it’s not a goal for the near future. That said, I’m now in the very lucky position that I make money off of drag and I’m accepting I need to spend money on drag too—it’s an investment.
If you want to be successful in drag, it’s all invisible labour. You put a lot of time into learning makeup and learning how to dance. And as a drag performer, you have to be smart—drag’s a business and you need to operate it like a business or people will take advantage of you. If you’re an actor, you’ll have an agent or other people helping you. With drag, you’re self-sufficient. You need to have your rate. If a bar finds out you did a show for less than they usually pay you, they’re going to say, ‘Why am I paying you so much?'”
1. Wig: “I got this wig in a trade. I wanted a ginger wig and another queen had one; they gave [it to] me in exchange for buying them a wig. It’s my absolute favourite hair.”
2. Accessories: “A classic rhinestone can go with any outfit. I live in a rhinestone choker. If you have to do multiple looks and you don’t have a lot of time to change, you can have a completely different look but still be accessorized.”
3. Colour spray: “Sometimes I like doing high ponytails. I put my hair up, slicked in a high bun, and use an old wig as a bump to give it some volume. Then I put another wig on top and it looks like a big pony tail. It’s very draggy. I use the black spray to colour in the roots so it goes with the wig.”
4. Boots (chunky heel): “These chunky heels were my first-ever pair of drag shoes. I bought them before I started performing. Buying those heels was a big deal for me because it marked when I was going to make it happen.”
5. Boots (stiletto): “I live in boots. For drag, you need a high heel that’s well supported. These are from Shoe Freaks. They’re Canadian and they’ve got all of your Pleasers—classic drag shoes—and they go up into big sizes. They ship really fast too.”
More What’s in Your (Drag) Bag:
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”
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”