On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, we want to highlight a local drag queen and a queer creative go-getter. Graeme Houssin is the host of Drag in the Peg, a podcast exploring the lives and careers of some of the most prominent drag queens in Winnipeg. Graeme dabbles themselves in the art of performing, recently sharing the stage with local queens featured in Alyssa Edwards‘ recent tour stop in Winnipeg. Their queen alter ego is Contessa Lestrange, a gal who doesn’t take herself too seriously, yet is dead serious about the quality of her performance.
Read on for a peek into the life of a queen, a podcast host, and an all-around creative person.
How was the idea for Drag in the Peg born?
It was partly born from an abstract fascination with drag, and partly from necessity. Drag is one of the only intrinsically queer art forms, and definitely the most mainstream – plus, it’s such an impressive combination of performance and presentation. I’m pretty wary of the way reality TV shows frame and commodify the human experience, and I knew RuPaul’s Drag Race (which is usually the most accessible entry point for drag fans) was no different, so I wanted to dive deeper into the local drag scene. Also, I needed to complete a final creative project for my degree, and what better way to spend my final year in college than with a bunch of drag queens?
What has the process of starting your own podcast been like? What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered along the way? What have you learned throughout the way?
I sort of stumbled into an approach that ended up working really well. I eased into the scene by just showing up to gigs and taking photos, then posting them on social media. The queens loved it because they had high-quality performance shots, and it gave fans a dependable resource for local drag coverage.
I was providing useful content to a community long before I ever asked anything of them in return.
So, when I began distributing episodes and asking my followers to give the podcast a shot, I had a really enthusiastic following that trusted me to provide them with relevant, entertaining content.
The biggest challenge was probably the time it required. Drag in the Peg is entirely non-profit, and sometimes setting time aside to regularly shoot shows, edit photos, post on social media, share events, edit episodes and stay engaged with the community was difficult to juggle while finishing my degree and working. But I’m extremely passionate about the project and the drag scene, and a lot of the work was fun, so it became more of a hobby than a responsibility for me.
I could write a thousand-page dissertation on all that I’ve learned from this project and I’d still find more things to say. I’m not being dramatic when I say making Drag in the Peg changed my life. It exposed me to this extremely positive, insanely talented community that I never really fit into before, and really pushed me out of my comfort zone. But probably the biggest thing I learned from the project was how to be a drag queen. As to whether or not I’m a good drag queen – scholars remain divided.
How do you end up picking the queens for Drag in the Peg?
I had to consider a number of variables, like prominence, diversity in perspective, relevance and a sustainable scope for the project. Essentially, I needed performers who had seriously impacted the drag scene and had enough to say about their experience to fill a 30- to 45-minute episode. I needed performers who represented a mix of perspectives, from queens who’d been performing for nearly two decades to performers who’d started less than a year ago, so every episode wouldn’t have the same stories and themes. And, on a more technical side, I needed dragoons who performed often enough for me to photograph them regularly and collect audio from their gigs. Lastly, I had to account for my own capacity as a full-time student and freelancer. I only have so much time a day, and I couldn’t feasibly make a 50-episode series to feature every active performer in the city without getting super burned out.
Can you tell us a little bit about your favourite podcast episode? Why is it your favourite?
I love every episode for a different reason, and my favourite seems to change every time I’m asked. Today it’s episode ten, featuring Peppermint Phattie and her “real” mom (as opposed to a drag mom). Pep is one of my best friends, and we spend a lot of the episode making dumb jokes and laughing very loudly. Also, the segment with her mom is one of the most sincere and heartfelt expressions of parental support I’ve ever heard. Lots of people tell me they cried in this one, which is pretty cool to hear.
Season one of Drag in the Peg recently came to an end. What’s next for the podcast?
Too much! Drag in the Peg is partnering with Beau Theatre Co. for The Student Body Project, running May 16-19 at Cre8ery Gallery & Studio. Before each run of the play (Student Body by Frank Winters), a new drag performer is taking to the stage for an interpretation of the play’s themes. Then, Drag in the Peg is co-hosting Finish Her, a lip-sync smackdown drag show with Slunt Factory at Club 200 on May 26 for Pride season. Lastly, I’ve been assisting local photographer extraordinaire Callie Lugosi with their art installation at Flux Gallery, featuring insanely gorgeous portraits of dozens of local dragoons, running late July. And then… season two, coming January 2020!
Do you have a dream guest for Drag in the Peg? What would you ask?
My dream guest is Miss Sheila La, a local drag superstar. She’s very enigmatic and I want to know her entire life story. Other than her, I can’t give away too much. Lots of my dream guests are booked for the second season!
Where do you look for inspiration these days?
My inspirations come to me in very abstract ways, usually from mediums that have nothing to do with anything I practice. I don’t typically use them to inform my work, but instead, they motivate the way I look at the world and people – which in turn, I guess, informs my work.
Lately, my biggest “muses” or whatever have been St. Vincent, Mortis Ghost, Bjenny Montero, Andri Kidd, and Richard Siken, among many others. Also, I get inspired by my peers. I hang around with a lot of drag queens and other creatives, and their work inspires and motivates me to push myself every day.
Is there someone, famous or not, who you look up to and who has inspired your path?
Foxy Beast, a local drag queen. In her episode of Drag in the Peg she told me that, when she competed for Miss Mardi Gay years ago, she snapped her heel on the first night jumping off a six-foot stage – and kept dancing. The next night, she lost her wig mid-number and still won (she was crowned wigless).
After relaying that story, her only follow-up was, “When you want something, you go get it, girl.” That’s kind of been my guiding mantra lately.
What do you do to get out of a creative slump?
Drink some water, eat a vegetable or something and take a nap. If I’m ever feeling unmotivated to do something creative, it’s probably just because I’m too burnt out to see the endless possibilities around me. So, I forgive myself and rest until I get bored (which is usually, like, four hours max.)
What’s the worst advice you have ever received?
To water myself down, and become more easily digestible.
I think it’s a cliché, but no one ever did anything cool by being the most palatable version of themselves.
What’s next for Graeme? What about Contessa Lestrange?
For Graeme: finding a job! I’ve finished college and I’ve been pretty busy with a bunch of projects, but I think it’s time to channel what I’ve learned and what I’ve done into something a little more sustainable. As for Contessa, she’ll keep doing what she does best: acting like a fool and making sure I don’t take myself too seriously.