Gender may be a construct, but as Sasha Velour herself says, Joey Gallagher is doing his best to "tear it apart" as National Bearded Queen 2018. Bearded queens are becoming one of the biggest innovations in the drag scene today, in no small part to talented people like Gallagher. Historicaly, drag has always been about thinking outside the box; with people like Gallagher willing to completely blow the box apart to create his own art with the pieces, the art of drag will no doubt, continue it's gorgeous evolution.
So, you are National Bearded Queen 2018. Tell me how you got started on this path.
Bearded drag for me almost happened by accident ! I was in a local singing competition in Philadelphia called "Songbird" four years ago. The fourteen week competition rolled out the big guns right in week two “Beyonce week"! I needed to put my mug on the map so, I made a twelve song mashup. My good friend Jose Corrigan (JC Designs) (whose work is mainly within the drag pageant circuit) said “If you’re gonna do Beyonce, you need to serve Live in Concert & sparkle to the Gods"! So in a white blazer encrusted with stones and rhinestone fringe at the shoulders, matching jewelry, and a glittery smokey eye, I took the win for that week!
With a local competition being months long, a stiff competition pool of twenty three contestants, you have to outdo yourself. I’d done drag before, but not in bearded face. I didn’t want to change fundamentally who I was, so it stayed along with my name; In and out of drag I’m Joey Gallagher.
After winning , I had a photo shoot with an amazing photographer Alexander John Ortiz (Alexander John Photography) who still does the majority of my shoots I was scouted on Instagram by one of the promoters, Morgan Davis for the first ever Florida preliminary. Being around pageantry for so long and missing the stage in general, I had to take an opportunity. To be the first ever titleholder in a system is a big dea,l let alone the first ever in history? It's something very few get to say. The journey to the point of capturing the National title altogether was a three-year process from the moment I said “ Let’s do this” to today. I was crowned in May and I think the realization still hits me from time to time.
Were you always a fan of the art of drag?
I’ve always been a fan of art in general. As a kid in Philly, I was singing professionally with the Philadelphia Boys Choir and Chorale. To this day, very few things come close to how amazing that was!! Benj Pasek ( La La Land and Greatest Showman) and I were actually tour mates in Australia, South Africa and Europe! Performance has always been a place I could call home.
My first in person exposure was to my sis Chasity St.Cartier, now co-owner of “Wigs by Chariel”. Jose and I were already friends and we went to go see a drag show where Chasity was performing. Jose being the one to push “live in concert”, approached her offering for us two to be backup dancers. It was something at the time we hadn’t seen anyone do. Bearded drag and this pageant has allowed me to see how fully accepting I can be of ALL of my talents at once.
What do you think was the tipping point going from being a fan of the glamour and art of drag as opposed to actually entering a competition and snatching the crown?
Artists without an outlet to express themselves are bursting at the seams and I was just tired of not having a platform or a stage to put everything I feel. I had to get fed up and tired of not being visible or feeling good enough to just be myself . Like I’d said before, My drag name is my name. This isn’t an art of illusion for me, it’s very much a reality.
I think it was just actually seeing that someone saw possibility in bearded drag as being just as excellent as any other form of drag. It was amazing to hear that Richard Van Stone created “National Bearded Queen”. I realized it was “a thing” and it excited me! It sounds so cliche, but when I was approached about running I knew it was for me. The promoting team of the Florida prelim Morgan Davis , Michelle Bones Woods, and Alyssa Lemay in their ongoing support to get to nationals was awesome.
So it sounds like much of what helped push you in the direction of competition was actually the support system you have.
I couldn't’t have done it without my friend, sister, and pageant tyrant, Jose Corrigan. When you have friends and supports who believe in you, it changes the way the world looks. His creativity is something many others strive to have. It just comes naturally to him. I’ve really learned a lot from him. People who really care for you push you to be the best you can be. He’s someone whose done that for me, and he learned from some of the best including his drag mother, the late Sahara Davenport.
What is your performance style like? Any favorites to perform and what really gets you charged up to turn the party?
So while I’ll every now and then give a good ole’ “bucking number” a go and dance the house down, I’ve been a singer for so long, that live vocals are my wheelhouse. I’m definitely known for my mashups and trying to present something with production value. I think I find excitement in telling a story in the arrangements of music. I can’t wait to have more time to be on stage and have a real good piano moment too!
Any favorites that stick out?
A favorite of mine was probably a Disney themed gig where I transformed from Quasimodo to Esmeralda. The production elements and the surprise of it all! I’ve done so many different things from musical theater to pop music . Parody writing to acapella arrangements or accompanying myself. I want people to feel something when they see me. I’ve always felt that performance is never a “me” thing it’s a “we” thing. I thrive off of the exchange with others. It’s more than just entertaining i want to do, I want to connect.
It sounds like your drag has a lesson for the audience as well, correct?
I think as I have come to fruition as an entertainer, I continue to challenge my own views of the question “ What is Drag?”. I have learned that drag is first and foremost art. I recently posted about the Mona Lisa as an analogy to explain the purpose of my drag.
In 1503, Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa. so many onlookers of this piece of art would question if Mona Lisa was smiling or not, but they don’t question Mona’s gender. My drag isn’t about a clear picture of any gender expression. But when I perform, there is no question about the expression or emotion on my face. Emotion is where we can all relate. It’s the point of my art.
Have you received backlash from both outside the community as well as inside the community? Tell me about the backlash from inside our community and how that feels?
You know, I’ve felt pain before of not being included or being set aside, but within our community not necessarily of pageantry or drag but the LGBTQ+ community as a whole seems more at odds with one another. That hurts more than any read about my beard.
Philadelphia is known for queens that are diverse and think out of the box. If there was ever a place to try a different kind of drag, it's The City of Brotherly Love!
The Philly LGBTQ+ community as a whole seems to be turning their focus to embracing diversity. Our infrastructure is being pioneered and guided by community leaders like Amber Hikes. She’s doing some amazing things in Philly. It’s really good to see people helping make the community what it always should have been. I talk to queens all over the country, and my outreach has gotten even as far as a bearded queen in Paris, Maria Allas! There are places where there are few drag queens who brave deviating into their own creativity, at least “ too far” from what is considered to be good drag in the areas they are from. In some areas of the country, there may only be one queen who is a bearded queen; now they get backlash! think if anyone reading this took a bit of time to consider what that could be like, maybe backlash wouldn't happen.
At the same time, I have to also respect the history of drag. A lot of the pageants that we know today got their start when the community was experiencing some serious hardships. The older generations of drag supporters and queens or what I like to call “ seasoned queens” cherish their hard work and they should! One day, all of us are going to be at a point in our lives where all we want to do is tell someone parts of our story. Everyone who was gagging and throwing dollars won’t be there forever.
Who are some of your favorite bearded queens around that are killing it today?
My favorites really are compiled of the contestants i ran against and the ones currently qualifying to take my title after my reign.They’re pioneering bearded drag exposure on such a large scale level! Miss Morgan Davis my first promoter from the Florida prelim was and still is a shining example to me of what it means to love something with all of your heart and take a risk. This queen was a bearded queen when it wasn’t as popular and has remained resilient through adversity. She was a really big inspiration for me as I was preparing for Nationals this May!
People like Jerfay of Chicago, Boujetta Beaverhausen of Iowa, Anthony Chiocchi) and Krystal Paige (Dakota Chase Ruthardt) of Oklahoma. Outside the pageant world, Lucy Stoole, Blackberri, and Hellvetika, of course! One I have to say was a standout recently was Kizha Carr of New York City. She made a post about the residents of Michigan and their water crisis. It’s great to see people who have platforms using them.
RuPaul’s Drag Race; any thoughts on trying to be the first bearded queen cast on the show? Do you think they should open it up to bearded queens?
cannot help but know one fundamental truth about drag in general. It has to stay relevant to what an audience wants to see. I have seen this topic discussed before and even recently. I think there are conflicting opinions of what Drag Race should feature. I’d love to see bearded queens featured on the show. I’d love to see more diversity in drag entertainment on the show. Right now, I feel like trans people in the drag scene has most recently been featured and is a group of dedicated entertainers that I feel deserve to have the light on them. I think I can be patient in seeing bearded drag on the show while attention to these artists is being brought to the forefront. When the time comes, I dunno, maybe i’ll submit a tape!
What is next? You have accomplished so much with your reign so far!
I try not to plan too much for the future because I want my field of vision to stay as broad as possible, but I’m definitely not planning on disappearing. I also try to stay present in the moment so that I can invest fully into whatever project I have going on.
I’m currently working on casting a show to feature artists within the Philadelphia entertainment scene called “DEconstructed” at the new Tabu in Philadelphia on January 11th at 9pm. My goal is to give stage space to people within our community who are talented but don’t quite fit even the “norms” of drag entertainment. I’m looking beyond the binary. If the kids turn up and turn out, they can have a space and know their community hears their voice.
Prelims for National Bearded Queen under the direction and ownership of founder Richard Van Stone is continuing to expand ! Ohio, California, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Mexico, the list goes on!
In the future, I’d love to expand my musicianship and collaborate with other artists or even write some music! It’s been a hope for a long time! It’s encouraging to dream of what may be next for me! I’d love to work with designers who would want to feature androgynous drag on a runway. MARCO MARCO or ABRAHAM DAVID LEVY where you at (laughs)?
What inspires you to keep pushing to be an example to both the Bearded Queen circuit as well as the community as a whole?
Anything and everything that happens to a person in one's life can be inspiration. I draw inspiration from support and a lack thereof. When met with a challenge or resistance, I know part of that is others fear of change. It's not a comfortable thing. I see members of my community posting on social media about how they feel left out or marginalized. Where many even came out in efforts to try to find a place that was “for them”. It must feel so disheartening to feel turned away from a community that is perceived to be inclusive and inviting. I want that perception to be a reality, particularly for the youth coming up behind me.
If I could just take a moment to write to all of those drag kids “on the island of misfit toys” that you are loved and no matter where you are, someone sees you. No matter how broken you may ever feel or be, you are art. Take those broken pieces using your instinct to repurpose and refashion what was shattered into a stained glass window of your story. When you’re finished, stand in the light. It will make for a better Instagram shot!