NYC Drag Queen of the Week – Emi Grate
There is no shortage of drag queens in NYC. You can’t throw a rock without hitting some twink in a dress thinking he’s got what it takes to shantay down the runway just because he’s seen every season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race while practicing YouTube makeup tutorials. There’s a difference, though, between learning how to just paint your face and turning that face into a work of fucking art. This weekly series highlights the queens who stand out from the crowd and rock those heels til they bleed.
Meet Emi Grate.
You’re from Myanmar. What’s it like being gay there?
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I really can’t speak for the overall queer experience there, because I have mostly been “out” in the context of Western culture. I can, however, attest that people have a completely different understanding of gender and sexuality there: there are anti-sodomy laws, queer people exist in shame and social ostracism for the most part, but we’re around.
How would you describe your look?
Whether it’s looks or acts, I have two extremes and no in between; it’s either absolutely serious or absolutely silly. When I am serious, I look to glamourous Asian women. How would my mother dress for a certain occasion? How would a head of state or royalty present themselves? I use traditional cultural styling elements: heavy jewelry, dark hair that’s long and straight, in a bun or cut short, flowers and headpieces, and perfumes. I also like to be silly and dress badly for different reasons: (1) Not all that glitters is gold. (2) Sometimes, you have to not care about what you look like. I am notorious for wearing this pair of denim overalls in and out of drag. I’ve worn a see-through mesh dress with no undergarments. I just bought a camouflage jumpsuit and I am going to strip down to my camo undies in some act, some time soon.
What’s been your best night in drag?
The best night would be when I won Mr(s) BK back in April: it was my first title and $500 in cash. She’s business fish!
What’s been your worst night in drag?
Any night I don’t get paid, don’t make good tips, have to take the train home, and the MTA service is out, those are bad. The worst night? Once I got kicked out of a hostel for doing drag – yes, in New York City – and I still went out and had fun. The most frustrating and stressful nights though are when I am producing, turnout is low and, not only am I not walking away with any money, I can’t pay the people I booked and I’m losing money. Those are rare but they’ve happened a couple of times.
What makes you feel beautiful?
Money, validation, popularity … I’m a simple millennial. Just kidding! I feel great when I make genuine human connections. I deal a lot with identity politics, and actively work on creating space for fellow artists and audience members from marginalized or oppressed groups. When everyone feels safe and comfortable to unpack their personal emotional baggage and manage to connect with and relate to each other, I feel the best.
What makes the NYC drag scene different than anywhere else?
The hustle. The struggle is real but the hustle is deep. The scene is very saturated and there is intense competition, but it also gives rise to many smaller drag circuits with distinct aesthetics and goals – since everyone’s trying to stand out and the best way to do that is to be yourself. There are as many opportunities as there are obstacles.
With the success of Drag Race drag has gone mainstream. Is that a good or bad thing for the art?
Drag Race represents a particular type of drag – one that can be consumed by a mainstream audience. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is a very good thing for the queer community, in fact, to have faces from amongst us showcase not just their skills and talents but also their hearts and souls. There is harm, however, in the show, its participants and its fandom branding it as the end-all, be-all of drag by calling it “The Olympics”. No, bitch! Drag Race is the figure skating of drag – extremely glamourous, nobody really understands how the rule works but they pretend they do, and scoring seems arbitrary. We need to keep cultivating spaces and platforms for different genres of drag. There is Dragula, The Switch and Drag Race Thailand, and I believe it will keep happening. Drag uses gender as a medium, and in a world where everything is aggressively gendered, anything can be drag.
What’s the shadiest thing another queen has done to you?
Hmm … nobody’s wronged badly me really. And when you’re true to yourself and genuine and transparent in all interactions you have with your co-workers, and have good intentions for your audience, I don’t think people can hurt you in this business.
Emi Grate performs every third Saturday, 7pm at Monster, every Sunday, 1pm at Bizarre Bushwick and every last Tuesday, 10pm at The Rosemont. You can also catch her being roasted for her 25th birthday at Bizarre Bushwick on Tuesday June 12 10:30pm.
Follow her on Facebook.