On this episode of the Behind The Drag podcast, three queens from New York City– Paige Turner, Merrie Cherry, and Serena Tea– share what it’s like to be a part of the legacy of New York City’s iconic drag scene.
Daniel Kelley, aka Paige Turner is a New York City-based drag queen whose upbringing in a “mean, nasty, little homophobic Republican town in Indiana” found him using theater and performance as an escape, ultimately leading him to New York City and drag.
Kelley has been performing as Paige for a decade in one of New York City’s longest running drags shows, Slurp!, and describes his drag alter-ego as a “tawdry, blonde bombshell, theater-loving queen.”
“A Paige Turner show is nonstop mayhem, foolishness, riding on rainbows, and just really about laughter and about community and having a great time,” says Kelley. In other words, it’s like “a kid’s show for adults.”
Kelley made the move to New York City when he was 18 to go to theater school “and to really find myself.” And Kelley did find himself—through drag.
“When you’re performing in theater you have to fit in a certain mold where you can’t normally be yourself and express who you are,” says Kelley. “And when I decided to be Paige Turner I was like, ‘I can just kinda do what I want.’ Which is the great thing about drag.”
Kelley’s partner of 15 years, Matt, is a huge supporter of his work. Even if it means giving up some closet space. Matt admits it’s like three people live in their home instead of two. “There’s my stuff, there’s Daniel’s stuff and there’s Paige’s stuff,” Matt jokes.
Kelley says he’s learned that “life is about finding something you truly love and being able to do it,” and for him, that’s drag.
“Performing in drag uses everything I’ve ever loved or everything I’ve ever done in my life or was scared to do,” says Kelley. “I get to use it through my drag character to fully express myself unapologetically.”
Merrie Cherry is a Brooklyn drag icon and the alter-ego of Jason Ruth.
“Merrie Cherry is definitely an extension of who I am,” says Ruth. “Merrie is Jason and Jason is Merrie. The only difference is one of them makes more money,” he jokes.
Ruth describes a Merrie Cherry show as, “insanity, messiness, laughter and soul,” and characterizes his drag persona as “that kid that gets into their mother’s closet and just goes nuts.”
Born and raised in Berkeley, California, Ruth says his younger self was always getting into trouble.
“I just had so much energy and my being talkative and flamboyant, I basically put a spotlight on myself,” he says
Feeling like a “loner” in high school, it wasn’t until college that Ruth found weirdos just like him. And it wasn’t until moving to Brooklyn and getting involved in the drag scene there that Ruth was able to further explore his own drag identity as Merrie Cherry.
Ruth started working coat check at Metropolitan Bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and eventually asked the manager if he could put on a drag show.
“He said, ‘Well, you get one chance and once chance only,’” Ruth says. “That bar was packed. The party was a huge success.”
In fact, DRAGnet earned Ruth the title of “Mother of Brooklyn Drag,” because it provided a space for so many queens to perform and flourish.
At the end of the day, Ruth’s goal is to remain true to himself, and Merrie Cherry allows him to do that. “I move through this world being loud, being free, and being me,” admits Ruth.
“Over time I’ve noticed that so many people want to be in boxes. They feel comfortable in boxes. I say ‘Forget that box. Live outside the box and just live,’” he says.
Anderson Lopez is a ballroom queen who walks balls as Serena Tea.
Lopez went to his first drag show when he was 19 years old and was instantly inspired by the queens’ confident performances. “I remember watching and thinking, ‘I could do this,’” and he went back the next week and performed himself.
The ballroom scene is something that Lopez was always interested in, so he started incorporating vogueing into his performances early on. Another major aspect of his drag performance is making his own outfits—which is also inspired by the ballroom scene.
“They pick up scraps and cut up clothes, and make their outfits and show them off at the balls,” he explained.
But Lopez admits that his personal creative process is “kind of messy.” He first comes up with a silhouette, then chooses a fabric and cuts patterns out into the shape of his body, adding trimming and details that catch the light.
And if you’ve ever wondered if drag queens commute in full drag, Lopez definitely does.
“I ride my bike everywhere. Literally I will go to the gig in full drag on my bike. Literally everybody is looking at me, but it’s fine,” says Lopez.
But Lopez didn’t always have the confidence of a drag queen on a bike. “I think my confidence started to grow when I started playing around with my queerness and my queer gender expression,” Lopez admits. “I had a friend tell me, ‘If you leave the house and you don’t feel like a fool then you’re doing it wrong.’ And so everytime I would leave the house my hoops would be a little bit bigger, my heels would be a little bit higher, my crop top would be a little bit shorter.”
Even though Lopez got stares, he always reminded himself that he was living his life, not theirs. “So I have no desire or need to worry about what they’re doing, because I’m here looking like a f*cking bad b*tch and they’re going to remember me and I’m not going to remember them,” he says.
Lopez says that he tries to be as visible as possible whether he’s in drag or not, because he knows his younger self would have appreciated seeing someone like him living out loud.
“It was really, really important for me when I was growing up to see queer people just like me on the subway, or people on runway,” he says. “They were holding space for me and I want to be able to do that for the people that come after me.”
If you enjoyed this story, read about a Black, proud and resilient Miami-based queen.
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