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: ZacKey Lime
Time doing drag: 1 year
Non-drag job: Actor
“Money’s a give and take for drag artists. You spend so much money on looks and costumes and it was only recently that I started getting paid substantially enough to start covering those costs. Since I started doing drag pretty much full-time, my savings account has gone down. I moved to Toronto with a substantial savings from part-time jobs I had while I was a teenager, but I’ve definitely been eating away at it because of drag. I’m very good at saving, but now’s the time to spend I guess.
I’m lucky that my father’s a good negotiator so he’s helped me a lot in learning how to navigate asking for money. I’m not typically good at negotiating but I’m learning and I think I’m doing pretty well. With Pride there’s many more bookings than during the rest of the year and I’ve negotiated well and my Pride gigs are very well paid. For this year’s Pride, I’ll often have a show in the morning and another show at night. I’m also doing shows for corporations and shows outside of Toronto. On a regular month, I perform at shows within the drag community; the shows I run and the shows my friends produce.
Drag kings don’t really get tips. I can’t tell you why, but it’s a problem. I think one big reason is the king community performs for a different demographic than the cis-male community that usually watches drag queens. The AFAB (assigned female at birth) community typically has less money, less disposable income. Plus in Canada the smallest bill is a $5. Even I have trouble tipping a $5—I don’t have disposable income. The only place I was getting tipped was at king brunches, so I started a tipping system for my House of Kings shows called Thunder Bucks. People can buy a Thunder Buck dollar-for-dollar and use them to tip performers, one buck at a time. It gets people into the mindset of tipping and open stage performers can walk away with maybe $30. That isn’t much but it’s something.
With producing, I always want to make my events accessible. Our open stages are $5 or PWYC (pay what you can) to give people the option to not pay if they really can’t afford to. The $5 is great because our DJ can get paid, [my co-host] Alexandher Brandy and I can get paid—maybe. There’s sometimes you get paid and sometimes you don’t as a producer. And that’s fine. As long as the people who work for us are getting paid it’s fine. We budget and we put away extra money. We don’t take all the money we make if we don’t have to and now we have a bit of savings, so if we don’t make enough money at the door we can pull from our savings.”
1. Sequin jacket: “I got this from a drag exchange at a gay bar, Woody’s. I’m so grateful for it. It was $10. They have very well-priced drag clothes, which are very hard to find.”
2. Puppet: “This is Tickelmuff. Tickelmuff has newly come out as trans. They’re going by ‘they’ right now. I used to go to a ventriloquist convention in Ohio. That’s where I got Ticklemuff. A really well-made puppet is about $300 USD. For $150, though, you could get a great puppet. I have way too many puppets. I have about three I use in drag, but at home it’s chaos. I convert stuffed animals into puppets and I’m starting to make them from scratch.”
3. Pins: “These pins are from House of Kings, a twice-monthly event I created. I now co-produce and co-host it with Alexandher. There’s one open stage and one booked show every month. It was created to give more space and stage time for drag kings in Toronto.”
4. Packer: “A dildo is meant for sex and it’s typically hard. A packer is meant to be realistic, so it’s flaccid. You can really use whatever as a packer—a sock works. I’ve even used a clown nose. I use a realistic one in part because I’m trans and I enjoy it. You can buy a packer at pretty much any sex store. I got this at Good For Her in Toronto. It was about $50, but you could probably get one cheaper online.”
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”
Archie Maples: “I Make Sure My Bases Are Covered Rent-wise, but It’s All $100 at a Time”
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”