Direct from Charm City, Iyana Deschanel is emerging as one of the leading East Coast drag performers around. Whether she is tearing up our nation’s capital or strutting her stuff in Rehoboth Beach, DE at The Pines, Deschanel is bringing her unique brand of performance. I caught up with Deschanel as the season in Rehoboth Beach was commencing, and we chatted about her drag origin story, how combining step parenthood and drag artistry can be beyond challenging, and how the queer history in her hometown of Baltimore, MD has made her stand in her own queerness that much more.
Michael Cook: Let’s start at the beginning. How did Iyana Deschanel come to be? Are you from the Baltimore, Maryland area originally?
Iyana Deschanel: Yeah I’ve lived in Baltimore majority of my life! I started doing drag back in 2012. Actually, my first time performing was at the Baltimore Hippo for a competition called New Faces. I wasn’t very good then, but I enjoyed the atmosphere and the four minutes on stage. I’m typically an introvert, but Iyana had other plans and it kind of took off from there.
MC: So many legendary queens have come through the greater Baltimore area and have laid the groundwork for you to perform; true legends. Who are some of your favorite queens that have come before you and why?
ID: Well my drag grandmother is Sabrina White and she was snatching crowns and winning titles before I could even get into the club. I see her as a legend because she has found a way to stay herself and change with the times. I remember one time in particular when I was first starting out at the Hippo. We were all getting ready and she showed up to the dressing room with a sewing machine and fabric and made a costume while painting for the show. If that’s not legendary, i don’t know what is! Also my mother Kristina Kelly; she’s not a Baltimore native, but she has frequented a lot of spaces here. She is a warm spirit and always trying to help someone succeed.
MC: Baltimore is somewhat defined by the legacy of John Waters and Divine. What is your first memory of being a part of a city that birthed queer history? How has that influenced how you represent your own city?
ID: It kind of weird being a part of a city that birthed queer history. Like knowing that these people John Waters and Divine have walked in some of the same places I have is kind of mind blowing; it feels like it was a different world. Now with drag and queer artists being accepted by the majority of people, it’s hard to relate with how hard they had to worked to be seen and respected. Thank God for them and many others because they have really made it easier for queer artists today in Baltimore; the crazy thing is they probably didn’t even know it. They were just being authentic. So in a sense, that what I’m doing; just being authentically me and unapologetic of my queerness.
MC: You have accomplished what many strive for, and have truly made a name for yourself in Maryland and beyond; what advice do you have for the kids that will come behind you?
ID: I have been blessed to be able to work in drag as much as I do and I thank all the promoter and bar/business owners that have allowed me to share my craft through them. Advice I’d give to someone starting out or people coming behind me is that it’s not easy, but it can be worth it. Always show people respect (kill them with kindness) and always do what you enjoy doing. Don’t allow people to tell you who or what your craft is. People can genuinely feel when you enjoying yourself; it’s a vibe. Find that, run with it and don’t let anyone take it.
MC: RuPaul’s Drag Race has given many girls a whole different kid of legacy. What are your thoughts on the show? Any thoughts on taking a crack at that crown yourself?
ID: I enjoy Drag Race honestly! People have to remember that it is indeed a “reality” show. Some people take it too seriously, if that makes sense. I love that it kind of sky rockets some careers, but it’s always a double edged sword; sometimes it ends them too. Would I ever try my hand at the crown? I would be lying if I said no. Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to show off your best things and get a chance to connect with people and help change lives. I think the better question is “is tv really ready for me?”
MC: You have been performing a great deal in the Rehoboth Beach, DE area which is seeing a drag rebirth of their own. What is it like being a part of drag and helping bring life to the city after a very challenging year?
ID: It’s really awesome to be a part of something while it’s in the making, before it gets actually rolling. It makes you feel like you really did make something happen for the better. My husband Brooklyn Heights and I actually are taking our “snatched” show to the beach this year with our friend Rebecca Blaqueout in May! My drag mother Kristina and one of my good friends Mona Lotts have an amazing Saturday night show at The Pines as well as a Sunday Brunch. Rehoboth is really coming together for queer nightlife and queer life style in general.
MC: Speaking of Brooklyn Heights, your relationship is very special. Tell me about that and the challenges and joys that come with it…
ID: You could say Brooklyn Heights and I have a special connection. We have been together for ten years and have two boys Brody who is nine, and Sebastian who is eleven. You could say life for us is a little hectic. A full time job as a drag queen, while being a stepfather for two boys is a reality tv show in itself! Any parent will tell you raising kids is not easy, but I wouldn’t have my life any other way. They are really great kids. Brooklyn and I actually do a lot of shows together. Sometimes people say not to work with your significant other because it never works, but I think we have proven that wrong. We have the perfect yin and yang and I love him to the moon and back.
MC: How have you stayed creatively fueled and inspired during this time?
ID: I get my creativity from literally everything. Music, fashion, tv shows, legit everything. I also surround myself with people who are always creating something new which kind of makes me feel like I always wanna step up too. I think that’s a great friend group to have. There isn’t one type of drag or queer art that I don’t like. I love it all!
MC: What do you absolutely celebrate the most about yourself and why?
ID: What I celebrate most about myself is how I treat people and what I say. To be honest, that’s what people will remember. People will love when you come out looking like a million dollars and throwing tricks, but people will always remember how you made them feel and how you treated them. I try my best to spread love and respect. (Sometimes it’s hard) but no one said it was gonna be easy.
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