To talk about the rapid closure of Vancouver’s LGBTQ2SIA+ venues, I meet Max Collins in a newly-opened bar, across from Gastown’s Victory Square. She too is new to the city, and we cheers to her one year anniversary since moving from Victoria to pursue a career in broadcast radio.
“I should mention—I qualify myself as a ‘baby gay’,” Collins interrupts her own story to tell me. “I came out as some sort of queer about a year ago which is how I found myself in Davie Village when I moved here. As a new person in Vancouver I knew ‘this is where the gays go.’”
As a student of The VanArts Broadcasting & Online Media program, Collins was working out an idea for a podcast about Vancouver culture—trying out audible vignettes on the “Duck Lady,” Canuck the Crow, and the 9 o’clock gun. When she learned of the closure of two Davie Street venues, XY nightclub and 1181 lounge, it struck Collins that there may be a story there worth pursuing.
While she wasn’t able to get an interview with Jenn Mickey, who owned both of the now-defunct venues, Collins was able to get a hold of a drag performer she had seen perform at 1181, months prior—Continental Breakfast.
“We had a lovely conversation over the phone, and when I was thanking them and saying goodbye, they said ‘Oh it’s no problem, by the way VAL is closing too,’” says Collins. Last June, Vancouver Art and Leisure Society was forced to close their warehouse space, where,amongst other alternative events, many drag performances were hosted.
“And I thought: okay, interesting. If three drag venues have closed in the time I’ve been here, where is drag happening in Vancouver?”
So began the first rumblings of Dragged Out, a 7-episode podcast on queer expression, perseverance, failure, and the struggle to keep art going in Vancouver.
Over the course of five months, Collins spoke to 16 local performers: Alma Bitches, Bam Bam, Carlotta Gurl, Continental Breakfast, Dust Cwaine, Jaylene Tyme, Mona Regina Lee, Oliv X, Paige "Ponyboy" Frewer, Peach Cobblah, PM, Rich Elle, Rose Butch, Thanks Jem, Tommi (formerly known as Tommi Horror), and Xanax. She also sat down with two venue owners, Bill Kerasiotis of Celebrities Nightclub and Tara Fenimore of The Fountainhead Pub, as well as retired City Planner Michael Gordon.
The series, Collins says, has an obvious first and second part. It begins by breaking down the history of drag, from the 1950’s to today—a time when drag can be in virtually everyone’s living room thanks to RuPaul’s popular televised competition to find America’s next drag superstar.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize how deeply engrained drag is into queer expression,” Collins says. “In Vancouver, the peope who were at the forefront of the gay rights movement were trans people, [and] were people who were dressing in drag.”
While a lot has happened in the decades since when it comes to LGBTQ2SIA+ rights, Collins hopes the podcast will emphasize the ways in which the community is still marginalized and struggling to keep queer spaces open.
“When we’re going to see shows, going to bars to watch RuPaul, including drag in things like bachelorette parties…We’re enjoying the niceties of drag while ignoring the fact that the performers are suffering,” Collins says. “Without spaces to perform, they can’t make money or live and express themselves the way they want to.”
Yet, as the second part of the series examines, many silver linings have surfaced in the aftermath of drag venue closures.
“One of the creative solutions we’ve seen is DIY drag,” Collins says, using the performer PM as an example. Frustrated by the fact that they couldn’t find any drag jobs, PM went to their employers at Save On Meats, and pitched the idea of putting on a monthly show at the diner. In heels, it’s a 35 minute walk from 1181 Davie, but that didn’t stop the show from becoming one of Vancouver’s most popular drag shows.
Meanwhile, the performer Dust managed to nail down East Van’s hetero-normative, sports paraphenalia-infested London Pub to host their bi-monthly show. An antithesis to West End drag, Commercial Drag aims to decentralize the art form in order to garner more interest and support from local audiences.
“By making drag accessible to more people, maybe drag will become less of a cultural nicety and more of a cultural necessity,” says Collins, applauding the fact that Vancouver is now offering drag camps for kids, all-age Storytelling with Drag Queens performances, and Parents are a Drag, an upcoming production by Zee Zee Theatre.
This podcast also offers a new point of entry into Vancouver’s drag scene, though Collins confesses she isn’t the best person to be telling this story.
“Sure, I’m a queer woman, but I’m not trans, I’ve never questioned or wanted to play with my gender,” Collins says. “ Also, I’m not racialized, and there’s a lot to the history of those folks doing drag.”
That’s why she made sure to display diverse drag performers in Dragged Out, including professionals from different generations and gender identities.
“Drag is still widely seen as cis-men dressing up as women and using that as a costume— being sassy, making jokes about vaginas— which can be harmful to trans folks,” Collins says. “While a lot of trans or nonbinary people see ‘drag thing’ performances and performing as a ‘drag thing’ very liberating, there’s still a lot of stigma around transness in drag in the mainstream.”
Collins finished every interview by asking performers how their they’re lives life would look without drag, and was surprised to find herself relating to their answers.
“Bam Bam told me they probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for drag,” says Collins, who is also a performer as the vocalist of a screamo band. Growing up in Alberta, Collins says she experienced a lot of aggressive misogyny when she would go to punk shows.
“I would get cussed out at concerts for wearing dresses, and people would yell ‘no clit in the pit,’ at me in the mosh pit,” Collins says. “It’s through that experience that I became a vocalist, and maybe I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have that outlet for performance.”
Not having artistic expression, especially if it mixes with gender expression, is something Collins believes can be detrimental for some people. But she also Furthermore, she thinks her podcast will be relevant for everyone, as most people have faced obstacles to achieving some sort of dream.
“Whether it’s ‘I don't have enough money to buy a cadillac,’ or ‘I would love to own a comic book store but don’t have the time to start that because I need to work my 9 to 5 job,’ the struggle to be yourself is very relatable,” she pauses before adding, “Except for white men.”
The first episode of Dragged Out will drop June 26, but Collins’ says people need to talk to a drag performer to get the full story.
“You need to speak to them to understand the true story of where drag is, where it’s going and what Vancouver can do to keep it thriving.” says Collins.
Collins was assured by her interviewees that drag is never going to go away in Vancouver. People may continue to shut venues down, and favour more lucrative investors over supporting the LGBTQ2SIA+ community, but drag will persevere.
“It’s the sheer will of artistic survival. Creative people need to express their art, and they’re going to find a way to do it,” Collins says. “There’s something really magical about people who have gone through all that adversity and they’re still saying they’re going to do this because it’s who they are.”
Dragged Out Episode 1 premieres June 26th. Find out more at draggedoutpodcast.com, and subscribe to Dragged Out anywhere you get your podcasts.