The New York City drag and performance scene has had many famed names grace stages all over the city with their presence, but there is simply no one quite like the divine Raven O. A gender hybrid who consistently gives the finger to the establishment, this dynamic performer can still be seen performing all over the city, with a new show Raven O One Night Only at The Box in New York City on January 25th. I was lucky enough to sit down with this legendary performer recently and we chatted about starting in the New York City scene, working with her fellow legendary sisters Sherry Vine and Joey Arias, and what surprising gig she may still have up her sleeve.
Michael Cook: For those that have never seen Raven O on stage, how would you describe your performance style and style of “drag” as a whole?
Raven O: I think the best description of my style was this.”the downtown nightlife fixture, who for decades has channeled pop icons from Bowie to Sinatra while remaining an androgynous, boundary-shattering exemplar of alternative cool”-New York Times
MC:Your performances both with Sherry Vine and Joey Arias, and on your own are absolutely exquisite and unique. When did you know or realize that you would not be the standard archetype of a “drag queen”?
R: I never tried to be a drag queen in a traditional sense, although I have gone there in my career depending on the show and hey, I’m a whore; so you pay enough, I’ll put on a fucking monkey suit. I wanted to create a real alternative to “drag” not just a man dressed as a woman. Im a performance artist first, so I was able to have a wider range to work with because I didn’t focus on just being a drag queen. Yes more feminine overall, but still much more gender fluid…Androgynous.
MC: Take me back; How did Raven O get her start in the extremely competitive New York City drag scene?
R:How I started in drag was an emergency situation. I was the choreographer for the Boy Bar and one night one of the queens didn’t show up. The legendary Princess Diandra was doing her amazing Diana Ross and the Supremes number. I choreographed the number and “helloo” one of the Supremes didn’t show, so I stepped in. From then on my fate was sealed (hahaha)!
MC: You were part of a legendary time for New York City drag; what do you recall as the best aspects of that era? ‘
R: Back then there was no real competition going on. Everyone did their own thing, everyone was very supportive and it was fun. Perfect people weren’t jaded and it really had a fantastic energy of wonder, danger and creativity, it was special, social media has completely taken that out of drag, fuck it’s sucked all the wonder and excitement out of everything. Everyone and their dog is doing drag now hahaha. Oh and Great cocaine and a lot of sex in the bathroom (laughs)!
MC: You were playing with gender and trans before it was in vogue; what is it like to have been someone who laid that path for so many?
R: At the time I had no idea we were doing anything other then living our lives and I’m not trans although I had a period for about two years that I believed I was. I lived as a female or my version of a female and I was a roommate with two trans women the iconic Connie Fleming and Gina Vetro we were all going through our transition together but I realized I wasn’t trans so I stopped and they continued. It was a great time in my life that whole period changed my thinking and opened my understanding of gender and the human spirit, my two sisters Connie and Gina..oracles.
MC: You have so many legendary stories about that time; what is one experience or story that truly stands out about that era?
R: Me throwing a rude gay across a bar into a wall of glasses in Tokyo because this asshole was being rude to Joey Arias and as we walked out Joey and I turned around threw our drinks at the stunned, scared and silent Japanese crowd and I said..”Fuck off!! Let’s go Joey” classic Raven O moment!
You just had your annual Bar D’O reunion show with Joey Arias and Sherry Vine. Tell me about.
R: BarD’O is always chic, funny and all live I didn’t do these reunions for a long time because I was always touring with shows and doing projects around the world. I started again because I missed working with Joey and Sherry and I wanted to make sure the BarD’O legacy was not getting too “drag showish”. I told Jean Marc, the owner of BarD’O and Joey and Sherry more of us three and less guest performers and we all agreed. We lost Sade, Cashetta and Edwige, so I wanted to keep it tight with Joey, Sherry, and myself.
MC: Speaking of…I want to hear you deep dive on a couple of your sisters if you don’t mind. Simply share your feelings, thoughts, or favorite memories of them…
R: Sherry Vine is my drag daughter. She’s brilliant, kind ,insanely talented ,smart as fuck and never lies. She knows me so well and is one of the only people who can calm me down when I’m pissed off.
MC: Joey Arias…
R: Joey Arias..whewww what can I say about The Goddess. She’s a living, walking personification of art. An honest, kind and gentle soul. Joey’s on another frequency from the rest of human kind …alien.. .with a super high fashion sensibility and style. My best friend, my sister my life saver, the reason I even have a fucking career today.
MC: The gay community has had a very trying year and politically things are very dark. What do you think are the biggest issues facing our community and what do you see as your part in helping to address them?
R: Politically we are in danger and people better wake the fuck up..our biggest issues hmmmm so many. Violence is up , our trans sisters are being murdered and we have a real race issue within our community. I use that word lightly. I see and hear more racist shit from white gay men and I’m really getting sick of it. White male privilege is alive and kicking in the LGBTQ community and it needs to stop. Hey look …queer culture has always been segregated, we all have our own tribes we run with but when the enemy is at the door , we all need to come together and fight and resist together. My role is …I say what needs to be said and I use my very public life to call people out . I urge all people to vote and encourage young folk to get involved and vote and protest and get active.
MC: Your music career is so well versed and you are truly the performer’s performer; what is left that Raven O possibly could want to do?
R: Porn haha! seriously i want to do porn, but no one what’s to see this old hag naked with her legs in the air.
MC: What does “pride” mean to you?
R: Pride well it’s all in the ultimate queer anthem by the great Jerry Herman..”I am what I am” listen to it it’s all there baby.
All Art Courtesy of Raven O (Facebook)
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