Drag *looks* expensive, but in reality, being a drag artist is a working class gig. (Unless you’re on RuPaul’s Drag Race, duh.) To find out what it’s really like to try to make it as a queer artist in one of Canada’s expensive cities, FLARE asked nine Toronto drag performers on the rise to show us what’s in their drag bags—and then we got down to real talk about their finances, from tipping culture in Canada to hustling to make rent to shopping for fake boobs.
Drag name: Manghoe Lassi
Time doing drag: 3 years
Non-drag job: Veterinary technician
“I’m registered under the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians. My day job isn’t glamorous. It’s the completed opposite of what I do in drag. I’m in surgery almost every single weekday, or looking after sick animals. It’s really stressful and drag is my getaway. And because of my full-time job, I’m able to afford what I need for drag. My career has definitely allowed me to be more extravagant with my drag.
I’m still cheap, though. I know you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for something to look good. Even with makeup, most of my palettes cost less than $15. I get sent a lot of jewellery, too, so I don’t have to buy much of it. When I do buy jewellery, it’s on sale. The cuffs I’m wearing today were only $3 or $4.
At first, I’d only buy South Asian clothes and South Asian performance clothes are *very* expensive. I’d spend $150 to $200 on an outfit I’d wear once or twice. Now I find cheaper options for clothes, like Fashion Nova. I’ll buy things that are very western and pair it with South Asian jewellery or my turban; something that clearly shows I’m South Asian.
I’ve only been performing in drag for a year. Before that, I was doing drag online and posting looks to Instagram. Now I get offers to perform, which is super cool. I perform a couple times a month. Since my numbers have grown, I’ve started to get a lot more offers. It’s not always an offer to perform, sometimes it’s a modelling gig or a jewellery brand that wants me to wear their jewellery on Instagram. I get a lot more social media offers than performance offers.
This Pride I’m working with TD, doing sponsored posts for them. What I’m getting paid for TD is way more than a club because TD is a huge financial institution. In the past I’ve done sponsored posts for makeup brands. The social media deals often pay more than performing at a club.
The way I see it is, I would have done the look for Instagram anyways. I’m spending that three hours doing what I love and then I incorporate one or two items from a makeup brand who will in turn send me product or pay me. To me that’s more worthwhile than performing at a club. Some queens need to be on the stage but I really don’t. I enjoying performing but it’s not why I got into drag.
I’m also not focused on trying to make it in Toronto—it’s already saturated with drag. I think I’ve proven I can make a name for myself without having to be in Toronto’s gay village. I’ve performed there maybe twice. I’ve recently started to do more drag in Mississauga, where I’m from and still live, with the Mississauga Arts Centre and the Peel HIV/AIDS Committee in Brampton. Mississauga is trying to push artists to look outside of Toronto. There’s a need for queer representation outside of Toronto. I really love the suburbs. It’s nice to get away from the noise.
1. Bag: “This is from Aldo. I’m super cheap and always look for a deal.”
2. Jewellery set (red): “In New York, there’s this place called Earrings Plaza. They sell the cheapest stuff and it’s so good for drag. This set for $10? Come on.”
3. Purple pouches: “These are nose rings. I got them for free!”
4. Shoes: “Thankfully I fit into a women’s size 10. These were $20 from a store in Brampton, Ont. But I actually don’t usually wear shoes when I perform.”
5. Pads: “I just bought these from Planet Pepper. I debated for months whether to splurge and spend the $200. I do not regret it—I can get ready in like five minutes now.”
6. Bangles: “Bangles are typically worn by South Asian women – they’re worn like 20 on a hand. That’s why I have so many. I got these ones from Urban Planet. It was a two-for-one sale and I stocked up. My mom gets them from Pakistan where she’s from, but they don’t make sizes big enough to fit onto my wrist, so I have to go with the western equivalent.
I have to squeeze them on. I use the shopping bag method: you put a shopping bag over your hand, then slide the bangle on. Real Indian bangles are made out of glass and if I did that with a glass bangle it would break, so I stick with metal.”
7. Palette: “Juvia’s Place is great. It’s pigmented enough to show up on darker skin—and that’s super important for me. With a lot of palettes, I can end up looking washed out. I also like that Juvia’s Place is owned by people of colour. I try to support as many POC-owned brands as I can.”
More What’s in Your (Drag) Bag:
Tash Riot: “I Was Raised to Be Careful With Money, but to Be Honest I Don’t Really Think About It”
The Ugly One: “There’s a Lot of Instances Where, if It Wasn’t for the Tip Bucket, I Wouldn’t Have Gotten Paid”
Manny Dingo: “I’m Very Cheap. In a Month I Might Spend $40 or $50 on Makeup”
Archie Maples: “I Make Sure My Bases Are Covered Rent-wise, but It’s All $100 at a Time”
ZacKey Lime: “Drag Kings Don’t Really Get Tips. I Can’t Tell You Why, But It’s a Problem”
Halal Bae: “On a *Really* Good Night I’ll Make a Few Hundred Dollars”
Priyanka: “The Way Drag’s Blowing Up Right Now, There’s Definitely Potential to Work Full-Time”
Maris: “I’ve Performed for Free in the Past, but I Try to Stay Away From That Now”