#YEG: Edmonton’s a Drag

Before Grayson Thate met the queens of Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose, he felt intimidated by them. Now, they are family.

Illustration by Jeff Kulak.

I remember the first time I saw her on stage, before I really knew what the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose (ISCWR) was. Her statuesque frame, dancing in the glow of the lights. But tonight, standing in the glow of our kitchen window, she slides her heels over four pairs of tights and ducks under the door, careful not to hit her crown. When she’s finally ready, she stands about seven feet tall. A foot and a half above me, threatening the hegemonic masculinity I’m trying to unlearn.

Outside, the back door of the cab opens and I get in first, as usual. She crawls in, her corseted body trying to fit the confines of the yellow sedan. The driver turns off of Jasper Avenue and stops at the rainbow-flagged Evolution Wonderlounge, the only gay bar left in town. Before I turned 18, I would dream about coming here and seeing the seemingly untouchable black and white stage. Now, after countless nights spent here with her, it’s become a second home.

We hold hands and move across the icy pavement into the warmth of the bar. The newest remix of “Strong Enough” is accompanied by the click of her heels as I trail down the stairs behind her, where she is greeted by a chorus of queens. “Hello, your Majesty.” She offers a sarcastic curtsy and rolls her eyes — and I follow her, past the pool table, past the maybe-too-familiar gogo cage, and into the back room. Pictures of queens from Rupaul’s Drag Race stare back at me as I stand on my toes to zip up her dress. From the DJ booth, a familiar voice welcomes us to tonight’s show, put on by the ISCWR, and the performers are asked to come to the back for a photo. The room fills with local legends like Godiva and Vanity Fair. I reach up to clasp her necklace and straighten her gown. “Is that all, your Majesty?” I tease. She leaves a lipstick mark on my forehead as thanks, and joins the rest of the group.

Before I met her, these queens intimidated me, their statuesque figures, visible in all their shade. Now, after countless nights acting as a drag husband, they are family. Because that’s what you are when you come here, regardless of the haus you grew up in.

As the flash goes off, I exit the back room and make my way over to the main bar, where I see Bull. I used to see him here every night, intimidated by his bear-like body standing behind the bar.

Now, since meeting her, he’s family too, and is already pouring my Alley Kat and her gin and ginger when I walk up. I tip him and bring our drinks over to a table where a spot is saved for me, next to Kenya DeWitt and Carrie Du’Way. I remember seeing them all sit here before we met, standing in the corner, wondering what tea they were all spilling each time a performer came on stage. Now, privy to all the gossip, I pull up a chair as the lights dim. The audience cheers as Sister Mary Clarence, tonight’s host, takes the stage. As the music fades, I can see her through the glass doors, ready for her reveal. “Starting off tonight’s show, Her Most Imperial and Sovereign Majesty, Empress 43 of Edmonton and all of Northern Alberta… Morgen Fair!”

Grayson Thate is a 21-year-old writer and tap dancer. As Edmonton’s third Youth Poet Laureate, he primarily writes and performs poetry around the city, winning awards such as the Loic Cremer Creative Writing Scholarship in 2016. After co-directing the Edmonton Spoken Word Youth Choir in 2018, he has started trying out non-fiction writing, working as a content and resource writer for organizations around Edmonton.

This article appears in the October 2019 issue of Avenue Edmonton.

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