Drag is Always Political: An Interview With MARTI GOULD CUMMINGS Star and Producer of ‘Shade: Queens of NYC’ – BY SETH LOFTIS
At first glance, it’s easy to misunderstand drag queens as superficial or materialistic, especially since mainstream media depicts the idolization of expensive gowns and fashion accessories where the prettiest and best dressed takes home the crown. However, Fusion TV’s newest docuseries, “Shade: Queens of NYC,” provides an inside look into the quotidian lives of several NYC drag queens as they live their lives offstage. From financial troubles to relationship problems, the series’ aim is to showcase the hard work and dedication it takes to be a drag queen and the sacrifices they make to chase their dreams.
For this interview, I sat down with one of the show’s stars – Marti Gould Cummings -who also happens to be a producer on the show. The interview was less than conventional (appropriately so) as I caught up with Cummings at one of her gigs as a bingo hostess in the West Village. In between calling numbers – when O69 is called, the audience screams, “A FREE SHOT FOR EVERYONE!” – I ask Cummings about her intentions for jumpstarting the show and about her political activism on the heel of her political club’s two victories in last month’s regional elections.
What was the inspiration for creating “Shade: Queens of NYC”?
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” kept telling me “next year, next year, next year,” and next year always came, and I never got it. So I said, “Why should I rely on someone else’s platform?” So, I created my own TV show. But, blessings to “Drag Race,” because if that show wasn’t on the air, we wouldn’t have ours. So, you have to pay gratitude to RuPaul for giving the opportunity for drag queens to pave their own way.
What do you hope the audience will learn about drag that we haven’t learned from any other program?
I hope the audience learns that drag queens are human beings who have financial issues, job stresses, family issues, marital issues, etc., and that they want to have kids. … We’re real people, but we just happen to put on dresses for a living! We’re not just clowns that entertain you, but we’re people with feelings underneath all of this. We’re emotional!
And I hope that they learn to buy my [holiday] album that I just recorded. [laughs]
What was the most important aspect, for you personally, to get across to the viewers?
I hope that this show prevents a teenager who is being bullied from killing himself, and it lets him know that people are like him in the world. I hope that a parent who is questioning their relationship with their child for being LGBTQ watches this show and realizes that their child is still loveable and worthy of their parents’ love.
What is your hope that this show will accomplish, and how will you know if it’s successful?
I hope it helps LGBT people respect all people within our community and to stop this crazy “masc4masc” racist bullshit within our community. And I know that it will be successful if one person’s life is changed.
How does drag relate to politics?
Drag relates to politics because drag is an act of political revolution in and of itself. We are fucking shit up!
The club you founded, HK Dems, recently won two District Leader positions in Hell’s Kitchen. One of the victors, Tom Shanahan, worked as a pro bono lawyer and developed a program to help people battle substance addictions and live healthier lives. The other victor, Marisa Redanty, works to ensure access to affordable housing and is a breast cancer survivor. What about their stories and backgrounds relates to your experiences and goals behind creating a new Democratic club?
I think it’s important to have elected officials who are relatable and real people who come and shake things up and not just career politicians representing us. And it’s important to show that everyday people can make a difference.
The 2016 presidential election caused a lot people who were previously “silent” to start getting involved. What advice would you give others about how they can get involved?
Don’t let career politicians run your life. They work for you; you don’t work for them. And you have every right to run for office, because you are a part of this democracy, and you are the person who will make change. So, get out there and vote and educate yourself. Without education, you cannot make the change needed. Donald Trump doesn’t want to help Puerto Rico; we must help Puerto Rico. That’s how we do it as a “people.”
Can you make any connections between your desire to jumpstart “Shade: Queens of NYC” and your creation of the HK Dems?
I’ve had people tell me no my entire life: “No, you’re not talented,” “No, you’re not pretty,” “No, you’re not smart,” “No, you’re not this…” So go out and prove people wrong, and do what you want to do. Don’t let someone get in the way of your dreams. If someone says no, do it until you get the yes you want. And the yes has to come from you, not from them. And that’s what I do.
The 12-part docuseries airs Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. on Fusion TV starting October 5.