Miss Gay USofA Missouri 2020, Charmed and Dangerous, Holly Haliwell lives in Herrin IL, where she still finds ways to perform across Southern Illinois. She doesn’t like to place her drag in one specific box, and instead combines different styles.
Transcription of above micro-podcast:
Carson Brimm: On March 30, 2021 I had the pleasure of interviewing Holly Haliwell, a drag queen currently living in Herrin IL. She began performing in drag when she was 21 years old. I asked Holly about what drag means to her and really enjoyed speaking with her about her experiences.
Holly Haliwell: It wasn’t me like wanting to transition or anything to gender dysphoria or any type of big extreme it was just my it was a version of performance for me and so its me its for me anyways drag is me putting on a character and stepping into that character for an evening or a show or a period of time and I put on that persona and at the end of the night it all comes off and that’s not the case for everybody some people use it as a way to uh cope and and uh get to understand more of their gender identity and whatnot and its kind of like a stepping stone that’s fine and that’s great but that’s not what it is for me but
Holly: I’m Holly Haliwell. I guess you wanna go with the drag name?
Holly: I’m Holly Haliwell, drag performer, drag queen. I don’t know what else you want me to say introductory wise
Carson: I think that’s good. Anything else you want to talk about we can talk about in the questions
Holly: That works
Carson: When did you first hear about drag and what was your initial reaction to it?
Holly: Um I guess my first exposure to drag was when I first went out to, started going to the bars um in Carbondale you can get into certain clubs at 19 so um I had recently moved down to southern Illinois area didn’t know many people so but I had heard of one local gay bar quote end quote gay bar in carbondale so I- I went uh shy little 19 year old to that bar and saw my first drag show there um with some of the local legends and uh fell in love. It was not a hard jump for me because i grew up in the theatre world in the performing world and for a while i had been on the production side of things and so I saw this new form of performance and thought it would be a great way for me to kind of dive back in to the onstage stuff versus the offstage stuff that I had been kind of accustomed to previously
Carson: How did your friends, family, or loved ones react to you being a drag artist?
Holly: Um i guess friend wise i stayed kind of within my circle and so i had bar friend and and that kind of community that i had developed and grown through a few years because i didn’t I started going out and being in the drag area and world kind of at 19 and slowly didn’t start performing until I was 21 so I befriended people and watched and and listened and and was a spectator for a while to kind of soak it all in and learned and so when I finally said ok I want to try and do this some of the queens were like girl you don’t know what you’re in for you don’t want to do this trust trust me you don’t want to do this like ok I want to try though still want to try
Carson: Was one of them Blanche?
Holly: and [laughs] yes. they were they were supportive though and they helped get me into it. And family wise, I didn’t tell my family for a long time and when i finally uh I finally told my mom and she was kind of confused and wasn’t really sure like what all went into it or anything but after I showed her some pictures and and we kind of eased into it a little bit and kind of explained that it wasn’t it wasn’t me like wanting to transition or anything to gender dysphoria or any type of big extreme it was just my it was a version of performance for me and so its me its for me anyways drag is me putting on a character and stepping into that character for an evening or a show or a period of time and I put on that persona and at the end of the night it all comes off and that’s not the case for everybody some people use it as a way to uh cope and and uh get to understand more of their gender identity and whatnot and its kind of like a stepping stone that’s fine and that’s great but that’s not what it is for me but
Carson: Where does your drag name come from?
Holly: Um I am actually [laughs] a TV nerd and so the tv show charmed I grew up with and was kind of a big nerd when it came to that show and so my favorite character of that tv show is uh her name is Piper, Piper Haliwell that’s the show is about the sisters named the Haliwell sisters and the actress’s first name is Holly, Holly Marie Combs and so I took holly and Haliwell and put them together and it fit for me because I really do love that show and it’s all about Paganism and witchcraft which I am a practicing Pagan and so I took elements of that in my own personal life and try and incorporate in my drag persona
Carson: So I know that there are a lot of types and styles of drag. Are there any particular labels you would use to characterize your drag?
Holly: Um I don’t like to say that i fit any one specific box I mean you have your pageant queens and your glamour queens and your camp queens and your comedy queens and all that and I think I take a little bit from each thing um I’ve done pageants I still do pageants um but I also I do have that glamour side but I also have more of that broadway stage theatre side when it comes to like acts and so I can bring a little bit of comedy into my act as well so I don’t think great to have a niche and I do broadway and theatre will always be my go to but I don’t want to limit myself to one specific box
Carson: Who or what has influenced your drag? Besides Charmed of course [laughs]
Holly: [laughs] right um I say theatre and I mean theatre and just the broadway world influenced my drag a lot um one of the big aspects or or attributes that I’m personally known for is my celebrity impersonation of Liza Minelli um when I started drag people were like oh you should try and do her and I’ll be honest I didn’t know a lot about Liza I was a bad theatre kid that bad young 19 year old theatre kid but as I started researching more I fell in love with her and I’ve embraced my celebrity doppleganger and have really dove into her style of theatre and her style of performance and so even when I’m not doing Liza I’ll find myself doing a gesture or a stylistic move that maybe she would do so I would say and she’s helped actually just being able to do that type of character has helped get me bookings and has helped progress and and uh push my drag career forward some so I do owe a lot of my skills to her but I also want to like give credit where credit’s due and acknowledge the local entertainers that I drew from and helped me out as I got started but just the local legends that I never really had tangent sorry I never really had a specific drag mother or a person that one specific person that took me under their wing I had I was lucky enough to have two or three um and that I took little bits and pieces from that helped inspire me to uh grow and um find the energy I have today
Carson: Do you consider your drag political or like drag in general?
Holly: Um maybe not mine specifically but I think drag as a whole inherently is is has a touch of politics in it some of the greatest historical moments um were pushed forward by drag queens look at things like Stonewall and gay rights movement and a lot of those fights for equality and um progress in the LGBT community were spearheaded by drag performers and drag artists specifically black trans drag people personas and yes there is always going to be a note of politics to it but it shouldn’t be what everybody totally focuses on because at the end of the day we’re also here to have fun so its good to push boundaries here and remember what we’re fighting for and we’ve made so much headway so far and then always continue but at the same time to its still good to be able to laugh and still be light
Carson: Can you talk about like what your life is like as a drag artist like where and how often you perform, and what goes into getting ready for a performance?
Holly: Yeah um I obviously through the pandemic performance has been limited but we well personally I wasn’t able to perform as much as I probably would have liked to and that has to do with the area that we’re in currently um with the one establishment that local establishment that we had got closed down and so we were kind of nomadic and jumping around from establishment to establishment where we could find a place that would host a show here and there so we didn’t necessarily have a home per se but we have been lucky enough over the past couple years to find a few local kind of dive bar hole in the wall places that you wouldn’t ever expect to see a drag show like what would be considered super straight kind of country bars that actually have been very welcoming and one in Hurst Illinois that we’ve done and uh had many shows at and they have become really welcoming and it’s great to see some of these just odd small towns their side bars that have actually welcomed us in and wanted to see it and explore and just again want to come out and have fun ya know that’s what it’s all about they were just having a good night. And then outside of southern Illinois I’ve been fortunate to do a little bit of traveling to other towns and around Cape Girardeau, Evansville Indiana, um couple places in Tennessee and Kentucky few other places in Missouri so
Carson: What are the biggest challenges to doing drag and being a drag artist?
Holly: Um honestly it’s it’s probably the preparation like I’ll be ready I’ll get booked for a show and I’ll be like oh yeah i’m so excited for this show and then the day comes and I’ll be like oh no I’m tired i don’t want to do all this sh- at the end of the day its Holly and it’s a two plus hour process for me and i know some people who can put on a 30 minute face and look gorgeous and whatever and that’s not me I do like to take my time and uh I it does involve some preparation – both physically and mentally uh picking your numbers that you want to do, rehearsing those in your head and and and like trying words and all that and then just physically sitting down and basically reshaping your whole entire face and physique to uh come and perform the illusion of a female impersonator so
Carson: How do you identify in terms of your sex..
Holly: I have some really big bushy eyebrows too so they take they’re a good 15 to 20 minute process of making these disappear [laughs]
Carson: [laughs] sounds like so much fun
Carson: How do you identify in terms of your sex, gender identity, or gender expression out of drag?
Holly: I I identify as a male, cisgender male um and I people have um as times have gone on people have reassessed the term of drag queen and drag artist and drag performer and all that and I grew up kind of old school and so I will always be queen I don’t put labels I mean I don’t find it necessary to be neutral when it comes to identity and things like that um I mean I am a queen and I will be a queen if you want to be an artist that’s fine you can go be an artist be your whatever but I’m royalty so I’ll be a queen [laughs] um but yeah out of drag I live my life as a cisgender male – gay male
Carson: It’s weird because I know you but I still need to ask these [laughs]
Holly: Yeah well yeah that’s it
Carson: How has drag impacted your confidence as a person when you are out of drag?
Holly: I would say to an extent I mean there’s it there’s the a sense of um once you get all in it there is a sense of kind of like I know a lot of people have used this term before but it’s almost a sense of armor and you have this kind of protective forcefield on you and so it is empowering to an extent and it does help kind of help bring out a new side of you that maybe you wouldn’t normally in your everyday life present and so there’s this certain level of confidence and and armor that you put on I guess when Holly comes out and I can see that every now and then if when you’re in kind of a hostile situation or you you’re kind of in a confrontational situation in your everyday life there’s times where you can kind of tap into that um so to relate to and uh live your life but at the same time I daily normally I I’m an overall kind of quiet person I like to classify myself as an extroverted introvert I can be social and out there when I need to be or I have to be around people to be for work or for whatever and at the end of the day I would rather like I get peopled out and I need to be home and be the introvert that I secretly am and so Holly does bring out the more extroverted side of me and helps and fuels that side
Carson: All right here’s the Drag Race style question
Holly: [laughs] of course
Carson: If you could go back in time as Holly, what advice would Holly give to your younger self?
Holly: Um advice I’d give to my younger self I would say just listen, listen. I see so many younger queens starting out to that I guess you could talk about drag race for a second. That’s the only drag they’ve ever seen that’s the only drag they’ve ever been exposed to and they think that by watching that television show that they know how it works and they know the ropes and everything and drag race has has helped bring drag into more of the mainstream territory and has exposed more people to drag but what you see on that show isn’t necessarily isn’t how it works in the day to day world in the uh everyday drag performing world that’s a lot more grandiose perspective and a more over the top not everyone is spending thousands of dollars on outfits and and has a full stage and all that. that hundreds of thousands of dollars and a whole team to put their stuff together. so when you’re getting started, stay humble, and I would tell my younger self to stay humble and to listen to your mentors and to the people who seasoned queens that have done this and been around and is they know what they’re talking about and they’re going to help you. If you uh are receptive to it if you are receptive to constructive criticism you are given.
Carson: How do you feel about drag race?
Holly: Um I mean I touched on that for a second but I can say a bit more. Drag Race I had started drag Drag Race had already premiered I was 21 it was uh it was 2011 I think and season 1 of drag race was 2009 so they were in their third season or something but it was still early on enough in the show’s run that it had kinda taken off and so I started I think classify at the end of the old school age of drag where it was still a really much of a bar scene and a club scene and I think that was a great time for me to start because I I I feel I benefited from not getting caught up in the whole Drag Race phenomenon and Drag Race has been great again when it comes to bringing the style of drag in in to it’s been great in bringing in teaching the world and teaching more mainstream audiences about what drag is it’s been great for that for that kind of exposure its been great but at the same time it also has hindered what what people’s perceptions of drag can be and now a lot ya know a lot of kids think oh I’ve seen it on drag race how hard can it be? I can go and do pageants and you’re what I call Instagram drag performers that have never stepped foot on a stage in their lives but they have watched half a dozen YouTube makeup tutorials and can put on a clean and fun filter on Instagram and think ooo [imitates taking a selfie] I’m amazing I’m the shit I’m a legend and like the word legend gets thrown around way too easily like it takes a little bit more to become a legend uh and a star and all that so it’s a double edged sword. I say Drag Race is a double edged sword it has a lot of positivity on bringing the art form into the forefront mainstream but it does have its disadvantages.
Carson: What are some other misconceptions you think people have about drag?
Holly: Um I’d say again that the most common that I encountered when I first started like I said before was um oh you do drag you wanna be a woman right. Just that’s a common assumption oh you dress in a woman’s clothes that means you want to be a woman right and no when I first started I had no interest in transitioning I was very secure in my gender identity and sexuality and I was it was I grew up in a theatre background it was a character and that’s what I saw it as and uh another common misconception is that drag is inherently deviant and sexual I’m sure there are some queens who do more risque music but that’s no different than turning on the radio and hearing Cardi B singing WAP or whatever. [both laugh] It’s really just whatever you make of it there’s nothing inherently sexual about drag of performers performing in. I’ve done family friendly shows I’ve performed for audiences that had toddlers in it and I’ve had little princes little girls dressed as princesses come up to me and hand me a dollar and are just beaming beaming glowing because at the end of the day it is a character and a fun show and you and it’s how you perceive it and there’s nothing inherent but I’ve also performed in more R rated facilities before too and again it’s a balance but drag itself I don’t think should be ever seen as inherently like inappropriate or oh my god they’re coming to convert you or to corrupt our children type thing. So the notion of drag queen story hour that was kind of in the news and a couple different communities a while back about we can’t expose our children to drag performers and drag queens because oh the thought of it and it’s the same way as I look at it the same way as teaching LGBTQ history in schools. like that was recently passed um and should be approached from an educational standpoint and teaching our history and the community’s history is just as important as American history and African American history.
Carson: If you could change one thing about drag, the drag scene, or the drag community, what would it be and why?
Holly: Um I would part of me would say the drama but sometimes the drama is the most fun too so um [laughs] but yeah but it is an inherent competitive nature, even if you’re not competing in a pageant just in the community there’s always an inherent dramatic and competitive nature to it and so that can be stressful sometimes but it’s again a double edged sword when there’s competitiveness but there’s family and camaraderie and there’s the idea of a chosen family and when you work with especially a smaller community that southern Illinois has when it comes to the drag world these performers you’re performing with on a semi-regular basis so you develop this bond with them and I think that’s really special versus some of the bigger cities, you look at Chicago, or St. Louis and you have a hundred plus different queens all vying for one or two spots a week at a couple different nightclubs and that competition can get intense and you can keep you on your heels sometimes and kind of scrape and scrounge for bookings and trying to get yourself known and out there and well there’s still some of that in our area I still think we’re lucky enough to have that nice knit community here. We’re small but mighty I’d say.
Carson: If you could choose one thing you want people to know about or learn about drag, what would it be?
Holly: Um that at the end of the day it’s a show, it’s a performance, it’s no one trying to push or do anything on you per se. It’s fun we’re here to entertain, it’s a form of entertainment and it shouldn’t be seen as anything more than that I don’t think. It’s an art form it’s an art form it’s a form of entertainment at the end of the day and if we can all come together and just enjoy a show the way you would a concert, or going to the movies, or a theatre production on Broadway or whatever it’s it’s we’re here for a few hours for a good time.
Carson: Is there anything else that you want to share about your experiences?
Holly: Um I guess I’ll go back I can talk again about how I got started and just would like to acknowledge the legends that I’ve been that have helped me out Blanche du Bois, Jodie Santana, Rochelle Delight, Aida Headley, Veronica J Bell, Kierra Bell. All of them, I mean again i didn’t have one specific drag mother or mentor, I had a slieu of them and they all contributed to shaping me and my persona in some way or another and I think that so
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