Johnny Ford

Johnny Ford is a drag queen from Chicago, Illinois. He loves makeup and fashion and considers himself to be a “looks” queen.

Johnny Ford’s Instagram – @jahh_knee

Micro Podcast: Featured Excerpts From Interview
Full Audio Interview

Interview with Johnny Ford 

Quaritsch, Rachael. 2021. Interview with Johnny Ford. The Art of Drag, SIUE. April 27th.

Rachael: So, the first one is, when did you first hear about drag and what was your initial reaction to it? 

Johnny: When I first saw or heard about drag, I was a little apprehensive because I didn’t fully understand, like why people wanted to do it or you know what the value was. I thought it was a little over the top, a little too crazy for me. But as I got closer to it, and really started to understand the art form and, I started to really appreciate it and get more into it and then eventually get involved myself. 

Rachael: Love it. For the next one, when did you start performing as a drag artist and why did you start performing?

Johnny: About two years ago, in the gay scene of Chicago. So, one of my first opportunities was actually a charity event where they were raising money for some local nonprofit and they had us do drag to raise money.

Rachael: Oh, that’s cool. For the third one, how did your family, friends and other loved ones receive you becoming a drag artist?

Johnny: Yeah, I had a lot of support from my friends and my family, as it relates to drag. There weren’t a whole lot of questions, I think it was like a very slow evolution. People like starting to see me play around with makeup and like do this charity event and then, you know, picking up from there so it was pretty natural and I’ve gotten like a ton of support from my friend group, who like would actively go out to my shows or share my posts and stuff like that.

Rachael: That’s awesome. For the next one, there are a lot of terms for types and styles of drag from Drag Queen and Drag King to Glamour Queen, Male Impersonator, Comedy Queen, Bearded Queen, Queer Artist, Bio-Queen, Camp Queen, among others, are there any particular labels you would use to characterize your drag?

Johnny: I try not to label myself as it relates to my drag because I really appreciate the flexibility for being creative, but if I had to describe my current drag aesthetic, it’s definitely more of like a look clean. So I really am drawn to the aesthetics, and putting an outfit together, a cohesion with the makeup and so I guess I consider myself as an artist, more of a like a look, or a fashion girl.

Rachael: For the sixth one, who or what has influenced your drag? 

Johnny: So um, lots of other Drag Queens. So lots of like, female artists. So I’m really inspired by artists like Brooke Candy, Rico Nasty, like Pabllo Vittar, really empowered by these artists that are out there, kind of sharing a new vision or paying gold and doing something different, absolutely love that.

Rachael: That’s awesome. Do you consider your drag political why, or why not?

Johnny: Drag is 100% always political. So there’s no- I don’t think there’s a way that you can do drag without it being political. It is a statement in itself like when you put it on. But I think there’s an advantage to that, and being able to command a presence and then share a position or platform.

Rachael: Gotcha. Yeah.

Rachael: Can you talk about what your life is like as a drag artist, like, are you a part of a drag family or house or collective, like how often do you perform? What goes on getting ready for performance, and like what are your challenges?

Johnny: The drag community is like, so energizing and incredibly diverse. Which I appreciate so much. I’m not in a drag family, but I have met so many really incredible artists through drag, that inspired me to do more. I love to collaborate with other artists. In general, I am not part of a family or collective necessarily, but I still consider myself pretty fresh in the scene. And so, I’m sure, as I grow and make more connections, you know, who knows. The sky is the limit.

Rachael: Right. How often do you perform and where do you perform?

Johnny: I performed a hell of a lot more often before covid happened. But you know, before it was a lot of performing at the bars. In Chicago, we’re very lucky to have several queer spaces include us and pay for it. So I’ve performed at several Clubs in Chicago like Splash, Berlin, Scarlet. So, I’m very lucky to have done that, in general, performing, I would do it a couple times a month, and then you know if I were to enter a competition like I did a couple years ago, I was performing every week.

Rachael: Oh, that’s cool! What goes into getting ready for performance?

Johnny: Getting ready, oh my gosh, so much. Physically, obviously, you have to sit down and put yourself together. A lot of listening to music and putting on your face and you know putting your outfit together, always running late, to the bar. And then mentally. You know it’s a lot of you kind of just hyping yourself up to get you into that state of mind where you can step in front of the crowd, and feel confident and be able to, you know, really put on a show. So it’s a lot of that kind of hyping yourself up for two hours to be your own hype man.

Rachael: What would you say are your biggest challenges to doing drag and being a drag artist?

Johnny: I think the biggest challenge often, is having guts to stand up in front of a crowd of people. In front of gays especially because we’re notoriously judgmental. We know you know in this day and age of Drag Race there is like an expectation of high quality. And so, you kind of have to wheel that in your head, what are people’s perception of the crowd. Are they enjoying this, am I not living up to their expectations? And then there’s a whole other side of that in your personal life of, you know, how am I being considered by my friends, as a drag artist, you know. Am I romantically, does that hinder or help that you -when you reveal to somebody that you’re interested in that you do drag, you know what I mean? There are layers to it, not only in drag but it kind of touches other aspects of your life.

Rachael: Yeah, I gotcha. How do you identify in terms of your sex, gender identity and gender expression, out of drag?

Johnny: I’m a pretty flexible person. I said this earlier but I don’t really feel the need to label myself alot. In the most basic terms, I don’t consider myself a cisgender public homosexual male. You know I love to wear my drag clothes as boy clothes and just play with gender expression as much as I want to say every day.

Rachael: I gotcha, yeah. How has drag impacted or changed you?

Johnny: Drag has made me 1000 times happier. It just feels like you unlock something when you do drag. I’ve always encouraged people to try it at least once. I feel like you learn a little bit more about who you are when you step into the bravado that it gives you. I think it opens up your world and your view, and your understanding of the like the queer community when you do it right. I think it has just made me more mindful more celebratory and more queer person which I absolutely love.

Rachael: Would you say that it’s like,impacted your confidence as a person when you’re out of drag?

Johnny: 100%. 100% I think it has impacted my confidence out of drag. Like being able to command a presence or- like the people I don’t know, and, you know, I’ve never really been a shy person. I definitely think that drag has had an impact in my overall confidence as a whole.

Rachael: Yeah, I gotcha. One last thing. How do you define drag, like your own definition.

Johnny: My own definition of drag. My own definition of drag is pretty wide. Drag can honestly be anything that pushes you out of your normal comfort zone. Like it doesn’t have to necessarily be makeup, like you could throw on a piece of clothing and that could be drag for you. It just changes how you see yourself and how you present yourself to the world. So drag for me is sharing your expression outwardly, and pushing yourself into a new element.

Rachael: I love that. Okay, next, what do you think is the purpose of drag?

Johnny: Oh my gosh. For me, the purpose of drag is -it changes for each person. Some people may want to do drag as an escape from their current situation and may want to step into a new personality or try something new. There may be more people that choose to do drag because they love to entertain and be onstage. There may be people who do drag, because they love, fashion and creativity. And so for me, it’s completely based on the person, because there are so many different reasons that you could do drag and what I love as well, is drag is ever evolving. You might get into drag because you love clothes, or you love doing hair and makeup, and then you learn something new and directing something even more fulfilling in the future.

Rachael: Okay, so do you think drag is sexual why or why not, if so, how in what way?

Johnny: Is drag sexual? Is that the question? 

Rachael: Yes. 

Johnny: Yes, absolutely. I think in drag there is a higher in being able to fit the narrative around sexuality and express something new and something different. I think there is kind of this expectation too that in drag you have- to be a drag queen and beautiful. Right, I think there’s always someone to have an innate sexual nature to grab people. You’re fixing gender expression, and gender and sex so infinitely linked.  I think there’s absolutely kind of an underlying tone of  sexuality and whatever kind of drag you do.

Rachael:Yes, for sure. Okay, how do you feel about RuPaul’s Drag Race? 

Johnny: Ummm very mixed emotions. Drag Race has been really fantastic and just elevating drag to an art form that people recognize across the world. I appreciate drag race for being able to take what was considered cringe and maybe considered weird in the queer community and really taking it to this level that people are so invested in and it really feels like a competition or sport and an art form. It gives a platform for all of these artists who are doing incredible work and deserves to be recognized. Obviously on the other side of that is that Drag Race isn’t perfect. There are tons of really incredible diverse performers who don’t fit into the mold that drag race has created and not given the same attention and platform. And of course, there is this level of polish that people tend to accept in drag because of Drag Race. And so we want to kind of deal with that too and like maybe the local artists and the artists that don’t have those resources or that  attention are kind of looked over, because people are looking for Drag Race quality drag. So that is kind of the double edge of Drag Race.

Rachael: Okay, we have three more. If you could change one thing about drag, the drag scene or the drag community, what would it be and why?

Johnny: If I could change one thing about the drag scene, I would try to get rid of as many barriers as possible for the drag artists that are overlooked, like the bio queens and more like gender nonconforming performers, and, of course,Drag Kings and Queens of color. I feel like there are a lot of barriers that still exist for those performers to get the same kind of attention, and are passed on shows like Drag Race. I think that’s changing. And that’s something that if I could snap my fingers, that’s what I would do is make those same performers in the same spotlight and in the same positions with the same resources as the queens that you’re seeing on Drag Race.

Rachael: Yeah, totally. Okay, what do you think are misconceptions people have about drag, and where do you think it comes from?

Johnny: Yeah, I think, there are definitely several. People have a general misconception about drag in that, I think a lot of people think that to be a drag queen, you must want to be a woman, or you may be, like, overly feminine or there’s something going on in your psyche that you’re not like, -You know, whatever your general gender expression is and you want to be somebody different. For me that’s not the case. Generally, people have a misconception as to why you want to do drag. I think people are starting to recognize more now and see it as like a sport and an art form that is separate from a struggle that someone may have related to their gender identity. Yeah.

Rachael: Okay, last one. If you choose one thing you want people to know about or learn about drag, what would it be?

Johnny: What I want people to learn about drag. That it is accessible and that everyone should do it and it’s for everybody. It’s absolutely something that everyone should touch. Everyone should see. Everyone should do. If you can demo who you are, you can learn something about yourself from it.

Rachael: Well, thank you. That was all of them.

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