Tamisha Iman has set standards and broken barriers during her thirty plus career in the world of drag; in short, Tamisha Iman is a legend. As this established performer entered RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 13, she quickly proved that her classic aesthetic and strive for professionalism were going to serve her well in the competition. While Tamisha’s now legendary scuffle with fellow competitor Kandy Muse became an Untucked viral sensation, it is her dedication to the art of drag that many of the fans and her fellow competitors are going to remember this dynamic performer for. I sat down with Tamisha post-elimination to talk about her legendary career, what it took to get to Drag Race, and what it takes for an established performer like Tamisha Iman to take you under her wing.
Michael Cook: You are an established name and a force in the drag world. Going into a competition with performers who are not as seasoned could be a challenge for some. Did you find it to be difficult?
Tamisha Iman: It’s not hard to bite my tongue, but you have to pick your battles; in life you have to pick your battles. Often times, when you get wisdom and I guess hunger in the same group, hunger seems like they want it more, but wisdom knows how to get it. Therefore, I just sometimes sit and listen. I forget, I’m making faces, especially when someone is saying something and I’m thinking “oh girl, that’s not gonna work” (laughs). It’s better to make a face than to say something though.
MC: Now that it’s in the rearview mirror, how do you look back at your RuPaul’s Drag Race experience? You certainly overcome some serious obstacles to get there…
TI: It was a roller coaster for sure, but it was one that I had sat and watched and I knew that my aesthetic could handle the challenges. I surprised myself; I was just so eager to get there after I was chosen for Season 12. Just that phone call was motivation for me to get back there for Season 13. I was going to make that dream a reality at any cost.
MC: How does one become part of The Iman Dynasty? The world of drag can be unforgiving, so having a mentor like you can be crucial. How do you see a certain performer and decide to take them under your own wing?
TI: It depends on your passion for the art form and where you are in your life. All of my kids know, I am not accepting kids just because they want do drag. I want to know where you are mentally, where you are in your life, what is your struggle in your life if there is one, and how I can be a beacon of light in your life if I can be. Often times, what we do as mothers of our community, we will have a conversation with a “baby”. If they don’t mesh with our particular family, we know they will mesh with someone else and we will introduce them to that person. For me, when kids come to me, drag is one thing. But what is going on in your day to day and how can we improve life? Those are the family members I want in my family. I don’t just want drag babies, I want family members who are on the right path and really understand their lives matter. It goes way beyond drag.
MC: Your Untucked battle with Kandy Muse is going to without a doubt, go down in Drag Race “her-story”. You are now the second Georgia peach next to Real Housewife of Atlanta Nene Leakes to emphatically say and mean, “I said what I said!”
TI: I just want my Emmy (laughs)!
MC: What was it like to see your conversation totally go left from what it started as and become as heightened as it did?
TI: That’s normal for me (laughs). I tell people all the time, if you are a real entertainer you are going to have those problems, you are going to have those problems with the girls. It takes those run ins with each other to sometimes develop the best friendships. Because now, you have an understanding of who they are, they have an understanding of who you are, and it’s like “oh okay, I love it”. It’s not that I challenge it, but as long as you don’t challenge me we’re fine. When you challenge me, that is when the problem presents itself. Nevertheless, I didn’t take anything personally, I am sure Kandy didn’t take anything personally either; keep in mind, we didn’t really know each other at the time. The blow up was us introducing ourselves to each other; it’s nothing personal. There is a lot going on and I’ve seen people dividing fans or whatever else, but it is nothing personal between Kandy and myself.
MC: You mentioned the fandom of Drag Race, and it is notoriously vocal. How do you feel as a queen of color to see another queen of color get this type of response from fans that is very vocal and in some cases, somewhat aggressive?
TI: My wisdom has always taught me that sometimes a fire can start, but eventually if you ignore it, it will go out. If you are adding fuel to the fire it is going to keep spreading. The thing between Kandy and myself, she doesn’t have to respond to this and I don’t have to respond to this. Allow the people to talk about it, don’t engage, and move forward. We’re taking about something like one hundred thousand people, you can’t control these people. They are not operating on your voice anyway. So for me to say “hey don’t do this to Kandy”, who’s listening to me? That to me, is putting fuel on the fire. Reaching out to check in on Kandy and make sure she’s all right, that is me handling it as an adult.
MC: You have been a mentor to so many performers and other than Miss Kim, who you mentioned was someone in your community that saw something special in you, who has been a mentor to you during your career?
TI: Her name was Candy Johnson, she was pretty much at the end of her own career as I was starting my own career. She was the Show Director at a particular club that I worked at. She handled me differently than she handled everyone else. It wasn’t just me, there were three of us that came out at around the same time. She handled us like delicate flowers and babies, compared to the other girls. She sat and had a conversation with us. The older girls, she would tell them they were late, their music had to be there at a certain time, things like that. With us, she explained. “If you’re ever on time, you’re late. You always want to get to your gigs early so you are on time” things like that; she nurtured us about the industry. She told me, “you’re not going to be good, you’re going to be great”. She said that she could tell by my spirit; she told me that I had humility, and that I was very humble. I was very soft spoken because that was how I was brought up. That has always stuck with me. Whether I was introducing my style of drag or being a baby drag queen, it is a very scary time. You have the vets that are kind of sometimes overbearing. To have the Show Director, the person that is in charge, having the most patience and humility with me, it set a precedence in me. I have been like that ever since. I don’t care who you are, I want people to feel comfortable, because I know what it feels like to feel uncomfortable.
What is next for Tamisha Iman?
TI: With the opportunity, I started my show, The Tamisha Iman Virtual Drag Battle. I have always been a teacher; I think with drag you have to be invested. You have to be willing to share your time and expertise about the different aesthetics of drag. Camp drag is not the same as a drag queen. It seems as if it is, but they’re not. Now that I have this spotlight and I have experienced this for thirty plus years, let me educate the next generation. Without knowledge you don’t know any better; therefore, I want to educate our community and beyond on the aesthetics of drag. I don’t want to limit anything, but to define everything. They can start to identify camp drag, drag queens, trans drag. Even with a performer like Gottmik, it does not have to be put in a box, but it does have to have the right presentation to be received.
MC: How have you stayed inspired and creatively fueled during the truly surreal time in our world?
TI: Thirty years is a long time. I took a ten year hiatus, so this is part of the comeback. I never thought of the cancer as part of that, but for me now it is part of a rebirth. I have no obligations. From the pageant world, you have to be poised, you have to stay out of trouble, there is so much you have to do in terms of perception. Here, it’s not about perception, it’s a moment. The moment allows me to go back to being creative. I didn’t have the materials at the time the show was going on to really bring Tamisha’s ideas to life nor did I have the finances; let’s be real, it take a lot to go to Drag Race. Even though it didn’t cost me as much as it cost the other girls since I am a designer, I still had my expenses. Right now though, the sky is the limit for me. Creativity for me starts within. I can’t look at a picture and say “oh that’s creative, I’m gonna copy that”; that’s not me. I want to look at a picture and think how I would take that to the next level, that is my mindset. So now, I get to be creative and I am over the moon right now. I get to crank up this new sewing machine and these new glue sticks and I am ready to take on the world.
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