The following interview is with Trixie Mattel, an Ojibwe Drag Queen performer who was introduced to the world on RuPaul’s Drag Race season 7. For those who might not know who RuPaul is or what Drag Race is about, worry not! It is a reality TV show centered around drag queen culture. RuPaul’s Drag Race won the 2017 MTV Movie & TV award for Best Reality Competition, on top of that RuPaul was also nominated for Best Reality TV Show Host. This most recent season drew nearly 1 million viewers and is arguably the best reality TV show currently airing. A number of contestants enter the show, and every episode someone gets eliminated based on a series of difficult, fast paced challenges that test a Queen’s charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. Miss RuPaul is the matriarch of Drag culture and her show aims to crown America’s Next Drag Superstar at the end of every season. Our dearest Trixie Mattel stole everyone’s heart – including mine.
Behind the glamorous dolled up Drag Queen Trixie Mattel is small town Ojibwe country boy, Brian Firkus. Being a huge fan of Trixie Mattel, UNHhhh (an online comedy short series), and the newly released hit album Two Birds - I was more than jittery while I waited for Brian to pick up the phone. He was in New York, crashing at Bob the Drag Queen’s pad. He’s released his first folk album Two Birds and it’s left drag, and country fans alike in a flutter. He wrote everything himself, both lyrically and musically, paid for recording, and released out of pocket; truly something from Brian himself to all of his fans.
Brian played music long before he started painting his face. Growing up he learned to play folk and country music from his grandfather back home. “People asked me why I didn’t release a club album like most drag queens, but that just isn’t me, I’m small town, I’m country. Two Birds isn’t about drag or being gay – it’s about being human and it’s about heartbreak.” This struck me. That’s what has made it so relatable. He writes songs that can speak to the heart and leave a tear.
Brian talked about being open and transparent with his audiences. This is something that requires unshakeable and shameless confidence. “Trixie allows me to be that confident, she allows me to be able to share my darkest moments with the audience.” Through comedy Brian is able to share his life – and laugh at the moments that others might find crushing. This kind of performance is healing, both for Brian and the audience. Being able to unapologetically be yourself as someone who is Native American and LGBTQ is something we don’t get to see often in the media, and it’s incredibly refreshing. “Part of my drag is a critique of feminine expectations, and to be so authentic and confident allows the audience to relate and have that in their own lives.” Being able to define femininity for one’s self is a difficult mold to break, but being able to see it in others allows us to be able to explore it for ourselves with a confidence that we might not be able to muster all alone.
Gender fluidity and sexuality in Indigenous cultures isn’t a new thing –it’s been around long before colonial notions of gender set foot on our lands. People Like Brian Firkus, and famed Cree artist Kent Monkman are blazing trail to decolonize popular notions of gender, sexuality, and presentation. Be it challenging the status quo of feminine presentation or challenging history, safer spaces are opening up for Indigenous people to confidently be themselves.
Pre-colonial people did not determine gender from a child’s biological sex; many cultural groups had different understandings of gender. they practiced that gender, and the roles associated with that preference were generally something chosen by the people themselves. Beyond male and female, there are Two-Spirited persons - a person with that which is masculine but also feminine - in today’s gender spectrum. Many cultural groups have historically had members like this, each group with their own definitions and labels, but currently indigenous groups have adopted this umbrella term to be able to reconnect to pre-colonial genders. Having a resurgence of acknowledgement and acceptance for choice in one’s identity allows for fluidity, and for societal morality to focus on a person’s character and contributions, rather than their sexual preferences or their gender presentation.
I can’t help but feel hope. Being someone that doesn’t feel as though they necessarily fit into standards of gender, and who wants to have the confidence to be exactly who they want to be, it makes me proud to know that there is visibility. The kind of work that Brian is doing is really heart warming and entertaining, it’s also clear to me that it is something sorely needed.
Also check out...
- Trixie Mattel's official website
Katie Webb is a Cree/Irish urban Indigenous woman born and raised in Montreal. She holds a BFA in Fine Arts and a Minor in Art History from NSCAD University. She is about to begin a degree in Fashion and Textile Design at Central Saint Martins in London England Fall 2017. She has a passion for contemporary Indigenous art and themes.