While Halal Bae may have been the first queen to depart the Canada’s Drag Race workrooms, they also made a little “herstory” of their own while they were there. Not only did they help shatter stereotypes as to what a queer Muslim person truly is, Bae is the first North African person to hit the Drag Race competition. I sat down for an enlightening conversation with this dynamic and revolutionary queen, and we chatted about everything from their Drag Race experience, being a politically inclined queen, and making space for all of the “queer-dos”.
Michael Cook: Tell me about what it was like to be cast on Canada’s Drag Race, which is a dream for so many.
Halal Bae: It feels great. It is something that has been in the queer culture for ten years now and I’ve been watching it a really long time and meeting the queens of the US seasons in the past. It is kind of surreal being one of the queens on it right now.
MC: You have stepped into Canada’s Drag Race going from our world being a bit slower to stepping into the fast pace of Drag Race. What was it like making that fast of an adjustment to diving back into performing?
HB: You’re right, it has been a bit of a crazy ride and it is always “go go go”. Thankfully, I have very good friends and another drag daughter that is able to help out in the process. I think it is having that chosen family that helped me get through it. It really takes a toll on your physical and mental abilities for a good two months prepping. It was definitely the people around me that could pull me through.
MC: You are the first North African/Middle Eastern queen to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race. What kind of responsibility comes along with that?
HB: My whole drag career was based in creating spaces and creating a narrative. Honestly, I was willing to take that on and I knew that me presenting as Halal was an exclamation point to the people that I represent. I’ve taken that on since the beginning and now it is just at a much larger scale. You don’t go by the name “Halal Bae” and not expect to have some sort of responsibility for who you are representing, you know?
MC: You presented as a queer Muslim person with a mustache on the Canada’s Drag Race main stage, which many would consider revolutionary. Have you always been the type of person who lives in their truth in terms of your aesthetic?
HB: To a certain extent that has been who I was. I lived in the Middle East for 18 years before I moved to Canada. When I moved to Canada, it was me accepting a lot of the aspects of myself that were not allowed in the Middle East, being openly queer and proud of myself, both of which go against my culture and family. That was the first big “F U”, but not in the same way that my drag is, because that brings both of the worlds together; Canadian/Western identity with my Middle Eastern upbringing, and it just throws it all out there. That is going to ruffle feathers and I’ve never shied away from that. I have always been a politically inclined queen and have done numbers that represent societal injustices and things that my intersectional community deals with. It has always been a part of who I am and I enjoy that; it starts a conversation and breaks down barriers.
MC: Is it difficult for you to reconcile being a queer Muslim person in Canada when people always have their own perspective of what “that” is?
HB: That is a thing right, because a lot of people see Islam or queer Muslim people as queer-free in a sense which is largely untrue; there are actually large queer populations in the Middle East. They don’t have the same rights and protections that we do though. Everything is suppressed and it’s very much like the West was living in the 1950’s in terms of queer people. I think that it is changing though, our generation is becoming more accepting and open minded about the issues. Me being that representation will hopefully open that up a little bit more and we will hopefully see change in the Middle East. It pushes it to be looked at in a much more global view. Many of those countries are tied to majority Muslim nations that are tied to outdated belief systems as Christian nations have chosen to take on parts of the Bible that they agree with, a lot of Muslims do the same; not everything applies in this day and age. That is how I am able to reconcile those two parts of myself; I can be able to appreciate the abilities and a platform here, and I can hopefully use it to better the lives of queer people in the Middle East.
MC: What would you say are the rose and thorn of your Canada’s Drag Race experience?
HB: My thorn are definitely design challenges. I am not a seamstress, so I love trying to create visions and creating things in my head. The rose is the people that I have met and the relationships that I have been having with the queens and connecting with other people that do a completely different drag than I do. It’s seeing their story and experiencing them in real life; being able to share those experiences together is really remarkable.
MC: What do you think you are most proud about right now in your career?
HB: I started doing drag here in Toronto in the West End which was a heavily white scene, but with a lot of “queer-dos”. I felt like we needed to make more spaces for people of color in those queer-do spaces. I was really proud to be able to start my career there, do my shows there, and book people of color there. It wasn’t until it was announced that I was on Drag Race that I started getting messages from queer Arabs, Muslims, and people around the world who were telling me that I “was the representation that they needed to see”. It really does warm your heart to get that reaction from the people that you are trying to represent. You never know if being a politicized figure, how much hate vs. love you are going to get. The overwhelming amount of love that I received from the community that I represent has been unexpected and tremendous and just amazing. That is something that I am really proud of; that I am able to represent for someone that does not have the ability to be represented yet.
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She may have been the second queen eliminated from Canada’s Drag Race this season, but Miss Moco has a head for business and her eye on global domination. From her own stunning photography work to her work in Portuguese on revitalizing their own drag scene, Moco relishing the platform that Canada’s Drag Race has provided her and is preparing to take on the world! I caught up with this Portuguese/Canadian stunner and we chatted about her Canada’s Drag Race run, the drag scene in Portugal, and what she has planned next!
Michael Cook: What does it feel like to have been cast on the third season of Canada’s Drag Race?
Miss Mocu: It is a dream come true. I have been working towards it for so long, so it was an overwhelming feeling of excitement and pride that I had accomplished something like this.
MC: After your push towards a goal like this and then going home second, do you think you got what you wanted out of the experience?
MM: I went in extremely confident knowing that I had what it takes and just being confident in my drag. When I got there, my introverted side took over and I realized that I was in deeper than I thought. Unfortunately, it took over and I become very quiet. I definitely didn’t take what I expected to take from the competition, I do wish I was able to show more, especially my runways. The runway and my looks, like I said in the first episode, that is where I really shine. I wish I could’ve shown that and gotten out of my own head during the experience.
MC: When during the competition did you realize that there was a pivot, and you had retreated into yourself?
MM: When I see interviews with past Drag Race queens and they say that “you don’t know what it is until you get there” that is definitely the case. I think I had realized, probably as soon as we all walked into the workroom and heard everyone screaming and shouting at one hundred, I just stood there minding my business and getting my bearings. As soon as we were all together, I realized that my personality is not as loud as others.
MC: What are your rose and thorn of your Canada’s Drag Race experience?
MM: The rose would be meeting so many incredible people. The cast, everyone is so honestly different and unique. I made so many friendships in my short time there. As for a thorn, it would probably be just not having enough time to get into my self. I am the kind of person that when I come into a room, it takes me a little bit to get comfortable. Unfortunately, I did not get enough time to get to that point, so that would definitely be “the thorn of it all”!
MC: When did you know that drag was going to be much more than a hobby and would now become something that you would fall in love with and take to a global stage?
MM: I started as a photographer, and I am been freelance my entire working career; I actually believe Instinct posted some of my photography work back in the day. In the end of 2015, I had moved to Portugal and started drag six months prior. I had moved to Portugal to just work on my art and have a little bit of a sabbatical. It was then that drag had sort of taken the front seat. I had started a drag pageant in Portugal called Miss Drag Lisboa that I fly back for every year for to host and produce. Being there and creating a bit of a drag movement in Lisbon, Portugal where drag is not that acceptable and then coming back to Toronto and diving head first in and already knowing what freelance life is all about and recognizing that drag is business. For me, I wanted more than just late night bar gigs. I wanted to do bigger better things, and this is before Drag Race was accessible to us in Canada. I’ve always kind of seen drag with a business mindset, pushed forward with it, and knew that it was what I wanted to do, I love it; now I just have to find out how to make a living off of it.
MC: What is the drag scene like in Portugal?
MM: When I got there at the end of 2015, there was one main drag bar that did actual performances. There was also a queer club that had drag artists not really performing, more just dancing on the stage. There wasn’t anything happening in the city like it was in Toronto when I left. The first thing I had done was start a Drag Race viewing party for the American franchise that was airing at the time, since no one had really thought to do that. That was my first jump into bringing drag to this queer community. It was a year later when I started the pageant and I have been told that it has become the largest drag event in Portugal that everyone looks forward to. That was the moment when I realized I had brought something to this city. I took all of the ideas in my head, plucked one of them, and ran with it.
MC: Now that you have the global platform that is Canada’s Drag Race, what do you want to do next?
MM: For me it is just running my drag as a business. I love performing and hosting, that is the one thing that I hope people will get to do is to see me live, that is where I really shine and where I am comfortable. What you see on the show is not what you are going to get in person. I want to continue on this ride, keep building my brand and see where it takes me. Also, with my photography I want to combine the two and just take over the world; the business queen of Canada (laughs)!
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