The Sex-Positive Muppet Drag Queen of New York
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 Shirley U Jest.
You grew up in Ohio. Do people from your hometown know you do drag?
Yes. I went to my ten-year high school reunion in drag and my mom took photos like it was prom. I was hoping for a bigger reaction when I went. I was hoping to really stir the pot and I ended up getting a lot of people saying, ‘You’re so wonderful’, ‘I love what you’re wearing’, ‘Your make-up’s incredible’. It turned into such an accepting moment and I was very taken aback.
You’re the Advocacy Manager for LGTB HQ. What does that organization do?
LGBT HQ is a non-profit organization that provides queer visibility for the comic conventions. There’s a slew of comic conventions all over this country, not just New York Comic Con, they’re everywhere. What we do is provide people who need that representation, need that visibility with guides as to what is queer focused or body positive. We do a lot of fundraisers that provide visibility through cosplay and empowerment. We do a lot of cosplay inspired nightlife performances. We believe that every body is beautiful and that everyone deserves to be seen. I’m finding such wonderful joy in hearing people’s stories and going to all these various conventions and seeing how the community is growing within the nerd and gaming communities.
It seems that two big parts of your life, LGBT HQ and drag, both involve dressing up.
True. One of my favorite things is costuming. I feel very much like a chameleon. There’s something very gratifying in that for me. I call myself a Muppet in drag. I love to just be the clown and make people laugh.
Why do you call yourself a Muppet in drag?
Because I tend to speak in strange voices, flail around wildly while singing odd songs, and I’m not unfamiliar with having a hand up my ass.
What’s the most shocking thing you’ve seen another queen do in their act?
This queen came on stage and I thought to myself it’s a DIY queen, she’s wrapped in a plastic tarp and she’s got a ratty wig, I’m sure Brooklyn produced her. She sang Kiss The Girl but changed it to Fist The Girl and halfway through her song she reached underneath the tarp and pulled a life-size rubber fist out of her ass and plopped it right onto the piano. For the rest of the song she’s gasping for air because she can, all of the sudden, move her diaphragm again.
What’s a hobby or interest you have that might surprise people?
I’m doing a lot in BDSM and kink and fetish. That’s a growing hobby. I’ve been bartending some parties working with a pro-dom who works out of a sex club in Chelsea and I’m learning a lot about BDSM and kink through all these people. I’m helping to introduce a lot of people to kink and fetish and trying out new fetish things myself like bottoming for people and topping different people and creating a sex-positive atmosphere. I’ve gotten myself into electro, I love getting flogged. A lot of people don’t get my kink but I want everybody to be happy with whatever they want. Live your life, live your truth you’re the only one who can live your journey. There’s no judgement. I love creating these spaces for people.
What’s been your best night in drag?
I love the nights when I’ve been performing in my hometown. The first time I got to do that my mom was in the audience with my cousin and my high school choir teacher. It looked like an old PTA meeting. I was so happy to be able to do that, to be able to go home to a place where I was afraid, growing up, to really speak out and be myself and now everyone’s waiting with open arms for me to do it.