QUEER VOICES: Vancouver Drag Performer Alma Bitches discusses the local drag scene, RuPaul's Drag Race and bearded queens - OUTtv
 

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QUEER VOICES: Vancouver Drag Performer Alma Bitches discusses the local drag scene, RuPaul’s Drag Race and bearded queens

Published On: June 7, 2019
Written By: Bianca Sutton
Photo by: @thedragseries

Cast your minds back to last year, we wrote, if we do say so ourselves, a rather darling piece about drag performers in Canada and some we thought were worth giving a little follow to on Instagram. Now, it goes without saying, we’re spoilt up here in the Great North when it comes to drag, so it was impossible to list them all. After sharing the post across social, we were thrilled to see everyone get involved tagging performers they thought should have been on the list (we totally agreed with all of them, and those we hadn’t heard of we were extremely grateful to be exposed to). However, there seemed to be one name that cropped up a number of times and it was of a queen we absolutely adore at OUTtv, Vancouver’s Alma Bitches.

If you’re a fan of drag and you live in Vancouver, then you’ll probably know Alma. She’s one of the most in-demand queens in the city and has MC’d for most of the RuPaul’s Drag Race girls when they’ve toured in Vancouver, including Bob the Drag Queen, Katya and even at OUTtv’s official RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 11 finale event! She’s a regular at numerous drag nights across the city and performs at nights such as Sanctuary, Werk it Wednesdays and Bye Felicia. Just by watching Alma command the stage it’s evident why she’s such a popular queen – she takes control of the stage and has her audience captivated from the moment she walks out.

As with all drag artists, everyone has to begin somewhere. For Alma Bitches that starting line was with The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (SPI), a queer not-for-profit organization who use the art of drag and religious imagery to call attention to sexual intolerance and issues of gender and morality. SPI’s roots go back to 1979 where it took up it’s home in San Francisco before quickly spreading, with over 50 chapters world-wide.

“I didn’t go into drag thinking I want to be on RuPaul’s Drag Race or I am going to be a bearded queen. I started with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence raising money. I did that for five years. Before that I had been watching drag artists a lot and never really thinking I could do it. I felt like these artists didn’t look like me so it wasn’t going to work. But then when I found the sisters, it was all body types, anyone’s welcome. I started performing as a sister at fundraisers and people really enjoyed it, and so did I. So then I started organizing more fundraisers I could perform at, until finally I was invited by local drag queens to perform in their shows with them. Then in 2015 I joined the Miss Cobalt competition and I came in second. It was pretty good to come in second to Rose Butch.”

Photo by: Evan Eye

It was from her time with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence that the name Alma Bitches came to fruition. Keeping with the theme of religion, Alma took her name from the iconic film Sister Act. The latter part of her name is a salute to one of the founders of SIP: Sister Vicious Power Hungry Bitch. Although her drag name is based on a character, Alma ensures that when she is up on stage, she isn’t playing a character.

“For me drag is just me with a microphone. I truly believe Alma is just like me. I’m told my voice changes when I am in drag, I am probably a little bit more outgoing, but pretty much it’s just me.”

Since their first gig with local drag queens Alma went on to have their own weekly show, which then turned into two weekly shows and now they’re performing five nights a week. If that doesn’t impress you, they were also recently crowned first elected Emprex of Vancouver, a charity title that will involve travelling to different American and Canadian Cities.

“It’s a charity title that’s been active in Vancouver for almost 50 years with a new representative elected each year. As well as travelling around as part of the imperial court system I’m going to be raising as much money as I can here in Vancouver to better our community. It’s a big deal and something I’ve been on the periphery of for a few years, so it has been exciting to run for it.”

With the popularity of drag continuously on the rise, thanks predominantly to the Emmy-Award winning show RuPaul’s Drag Race, a show which has catapulted queens straight into the mainstream, the question has arisen: is the art of drag what is mainstream or is it the format and stars of reality TV? And if it is the latter, what does this mean for queens who aren’t given the opportunity to take part on RuPaul’s Drag Race?

“RuPaul’s Drag Race definitely opens up opportunities. There are pros to it but there are also cons to it. It’s annoying to always be compared to what is going on in the show. I don’t get paid $6,000 a gig so I wear my costume more than once, or they might not look as well made or as expensive – because they’re not. The main difference is money. On the bright side it has brought drag into so many people’s homes and more and more I get to be part of their shows.”

With drag increasingly ebbing its way further into mainstream media, the door has now also been opened for all types of drag performances, not just the traditional drag we all know from Drag Race. We are no longer confined to one type. Audiences are wanting more, and there are plenty of artists out there who are ready to step up and take the stage. Alma Bitches is known for her distinct look, creating what could be described as a uniform for herself; a mint coloured wig (not turquoise as I embarrassingly thought), a crop top and denim shorts. If you see a queen rushing through town on her way to a gig, a sudden flash of mint, you can be certain it’s most likely Alma.

Photo by: Evan Eye

“You know when you see Hecklina or Peaches Christ who are two legendary drag performers; they are very identifiable. Peaches has very identifiable make up, it’s always been the same for like two decades. You know who these queens are from across the road. For me, that was a wakeup call about branding. So when I wear that mint hair, and I’m jogging down the street to my next gig, people can be like ‘Oh there goes Alma’ rather than ‘There goes some Queen.”

As well as their iconic mint wig, Alma Bitches is also known for being a “bearded queen.” Before even stepping into drag, when the idea of Alma Bitches was nothing but a faint idea, someone had mentioned if they lost a little weight and shaved off their beard, they’d have the makings of a great queen. Thankfully, these words went in one ear and out the other and Alma now represents the idea that drag can be exactly what you interpret it to be.

“When I first started in this town [Vancouver] bearded drag hadn’t really been around for very long. It had been around before, but not in my cycle. In the cycle I started it was a new thing and people always had something to say about it like ‘oh yeah I usually hate bearded queens.’ They just kept it in a separate category and I just think… it’s all drag,” they said. “Do I have a beard? Yes. Do some people call me a bearded queen? Sure. But what am I? I’m a drag artist. We’re all the same. That’s the good thing about Vancouver, when you go to different shows you can see different genres of drag all in the same show and people are living for it. One person is giving you full glam, unclockable illusion while someone else is giving you total alternative drag thing. That’s what makes our shows great.”

Photo by: Evan Eye

It’s not just Alma’s look that’s so intricate to her drag, Alma bursts onto any stage, a rage of energy that takes over the entire room and has every person jumping out that their seat. From watching Alma a number of times, it is clear to see the audience love her just as much as she loves them. She exudes an energy that would convert the non-believer – but you better believe she’ll call you out if you try and ruin the show!

“I want people to feel special when they come and see me. I try my best to give everybody a really great experience. The one thing I don’t tolerate is if you’re having a good time at the expense of other people. If you’re blocking the view or annoying everybody else, I’m probably gonna call you out.”

Alma has been part of Vancouver’s drag scene for almost 10 years, all of which she has spent sober. While most drag shows take place in bars or venues where alcohol and drugs are readily available, Alma credits her accomplishments in drag to her sobriety.

“I’ve been sober for 16 years. When I get paid for my gig, I put that money in my purse – I don’t spend it on drinks. I’m not doing things with it that are available to me on a night. When I’m out I am myself, I can be funny while I’m hosting. After the show I can be sincere and genuine when I talk to people. You are always going to get Alma, you will always get consistency and my sobriety definitely plays into that.”

Photo by” Evan Eye

That consistency will help as audiences for drag are getting even bigger. We do again most likely have to thank RuPaul’s Drag Race for getting drag in front of the eyes of the masses. Drag used to be an art form enjoyed mainly within the LGBT community, something which in the last decade has changed dramatically, with drag gaining more traction, especially amongst straight women.

“A lot of women love Alma. They’re like I love your body and I’m like go to the store you can buy it. Women react really well to my drag. Some people might see a bunch of women in a gay bar and feel like they’re coming into our space but I see it as they are sharing our space. We fought all this time for acceptance and understanding and you know, they understand and accept us. They want to party with us, and there are no creepy straight men trying to hit on them. You can look at it like ‘Oh RuPaul’s Drag Race bringing all these different people into our bars and spaces’ and I’m like good because these places are closing down. But also, these people are making the effort to come down and see local drag! So treat them like the gold they are because there are enough people not coming to shows who claim to be a fan of what we do.”

Photo by: Evan Eye

Not only has Drag Race created a dedicated fan base for the art of drag, but it has also inspired many to get involved themselves and given them the motivation to become drag performers. As with all art, it is not as simple as deciding to be a drag queen, sending off an application to RuPaul’s Drag Race, winning the series and becoming an overnight success (unless you are Valentina -minus the win), there is A LOT of hard work that goes into building yourself up, getting gigs and making a living from it.

“There are people who want this success overnight and when they don’t get it they are easily discouraged. It’s not going to happen overnight. It can be a slow burn. You have to build yourself up in the community. Go to local shows! If you are going out and spending $50 to see a Ru girl but you’re not going to any local shows, how do you expect to break into it? Almost every single person who has been on RuPaul’s Drag Race started in a bar. If you want us to invest in you, you have got to invest in us. Fill a seat, carry a bag. I became friends with a drag queen in the city and drove her to gigs, and then I met all the other drag queens, because when you carry the bag into the backroom that’s where all the performers are.”

With numerous shows in the city, her recent crowning as Emprex of Vancouver, it looks as though Alma Bitches has no plans to hang up her mint wig anytime soon as she tells us, “As long as the stages keep getting bigger, I’ll keep doing it!”

If there is one take-away from our chat with Alma it’s go to local shows and tip your local queens. NOW!