In light of National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11) and Arthritis Day (Oct. 12), I wanted to chat with ninja ballerina/drag artiste and spokesmodel for BC Arthritis Society, Tequila Mockingbird. (excerpts are up on The Snipe)
Not only sassy and creative, but also super smart, with an academic background in hard rock geology, it’s not entirely surprising that Tequila loves rock music. Here “The King Of Queens” shares some of her passions and hardships, which will hopefully inspire you in your own unique journey:
BS: Hey Tequila! Before we “officially” begin, I just want to clarify that I’m addressing you correctly. With respects to your gender identity as a drag artist, do you have a preferred term? Please correct me on anything with respects to this, as I want to get it right!
TM: I refer to myself as a drag queen vs. cross dresser or other terms because I feel I do “drag” style make up and performance whereas I feel cross dressers tend to dress and look more like real women and don’t seek the spot light. But in this realm nothing is defined. There are all sorts of variations.
I don’t identify as a woman. I am a man. I have a lot of “feminine traits” like creativity, empathy and I am a good listener. And I love tights, heels and dressing pretty. But I can also be one of the guys. When I was younger, I did more “manly” stuff, but now I like things like ballet and tend to do more creative and less rough things.
And feel free to ask questions for clarification. I don’t get offended by genuine questions.
BS: OK, awesome – I appreciate your candour. Second, as I am sworn to secrecy (I have my secret spy cyanide pill at the ready if forced to reveal your true identity!), I won’t dwell too much on your (slightly intimidating) accomplishments outside of your drag persona. HOWEVER, holy shit you’re smart! You’ve got a degree in geology and everything! Given your specialization in hard rock geology, it makes TOTAL sense that you like a bit of metal music! Or maybe a LOT of metal haha. Would you mind naming some of your fave bands/music to unwind to or even perform to?
TM: Some of my fav metal/rock bands are Metallica, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Van Halen, Motley Crue, KISS, Aerosmith, and Iron Maiden (a biggie). For doing drag I like to perform to Bif Naked, Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, Eurythmics, Cher, Abba (but haven’t performed to yet). Eventually I would like to do some Gaga etc.
BS: Speaking of Joan Jett, when you performed “Bad Reputation” at New West Pride (see video clip below), you used a GUITAR YOU MADE! Wow, we have to talk about that. Were you air guitar-ing, or did it actually play? It looked gorgeous – as did you.
TM: The guitar I made is just a prop, it doesn’t really work. I made it out of pine shelving that I had.
BS: Holy crafty, batgirl! You’re also a drummer, so do you have your own kit, or use a practice space, or how does that work?
TM: Yes I have a lovely red drum set. When I was married and owned a house I used to play all the time, but now they generally just sit in my apartment. I need to find people to jam with and a cheap space to practise. There are days that I wouldn’t be able to play drums even if I wanted due to my rheumatoid arthritis. I generally do pretty good health wise. Only when I go too hard for too long does my body shut me down and I flare up. So I need to learn balance.
BS: As far as props, you build a lot of your own costumes – even a pair of shoes recently! (see images below) You have mega talent. Could you talk a bit about your theatrical background and how it did or did not mould your drag life – also please tell me more about that: were you always interested in glamour/fashion, or was there a specific age you knew you wanted to delve into drag? How connected is ballet with your drag life? Basically dish on what led you to get into being a fabulous drag artiste!
TM: I have always known that I wanted to wear girl’s clothes. I can remember in kindergarten looking at the girls in their tights and dresses and being envious. I guess on some level it was always with me.
I have brothers, but the first 3 of us kids were 2 girls and me. I was in the middle of them (but I’m not a middle child as 3 brothers came along later). I got dragged to their ballet classes. I so wanted to take ballet and wear the pretty tights, leotards and tutus and dance.
However, I knew (kids know things in their guts at an early age even if they can’t express them). I knew if I told my dad I wanted to take ballet, he would smack that idea out of my head.
So I did the usual guy things like hockey, lacrosse etc. As a young man in geology I was very repressed. I had buried who I was deep for preservation.
Of course not dealing with who I was made dating tough and I had no confidence. I was a virgin until I was 23. I used to hide my muscles (I was very fit) with big, baggy clothes.
When I left geology to go into theatre, a new world opened up and so did my creative brain. I loved the arts and blossomed. I felt I was in a safe and supportive environment, so I started “coming out” to people, mainly family and close friends.
However, now dating got tough because this new me, didn’t know what he wanted to do with the dressing. I was awkward and all over the map. Plus, as it turns out, not tons of women want to be with a guy who wears dresses. lol. Who knew?
I bought my first drum set at this time and boy did I love it!
So after finally figuring out that I wanted to do more than just dress up and sit at home, I discovered the world of drag. I used to go down to the Seattle area a lot and go out in drag with a bunch of queens that I knew through 1 particular queen that lived with a friend’s cousin.
Then I met my future wife. We dated for 5 years. I fell in love and she knew that I liked dressing and also knew that I took ballet (oh yes, I started taking ballet when I started dealing with who I was). I only did ballet as a boy as no studio offered any other options…plus I wasn’t ready to go that randomly public.
When we decided to get married and buy a house, my soon-to-be wife told me that I had to give up drag (and ballet) if I wanted to be with her.
I took a long time to mull this over. Do I stay true to myself and potentially alone (as so far my track record with women who knew I dressed was terrible)? Or do I give up a huge part of who I am and experience love for the first time?
Eventually I agreed to give it up.
We bought a house, got married and then less than a year later I became ill with my rheumatoid arthritis.
This changed everything.
Anyway I will skip the rough 5 years together as that’s a story unto itself.
My wife eventually just left me out of the blue. It was horrible and I lost everything, including my house and dog.
I had to start over on all levels.
I had no transferable skills as all my jobs and careers had been physical ones (anyone who thinks that working in theatre, film and special events as a technician and builder isn’t physical, well I challenge you to try it!).
So I went back to school. I took writing, editing and PR. During this time I had a few surgeries and one of my brothers passed away. I graduated in 2008 when the economy crashed. I could not get work.
I eventually got work as a shipper/receiver at Save On. It was horrible as someone with a disability. Eventually I left and got some work as an editor and writer, but then my back was so bad that I had to have spine surgery (unrelated to my arthritis). It took a year to recover and I was once again flat broke.
Eventually I got back on my feet (literally, lol!) and have the job that I have today. I do communications for a well known organization in Vancouver.
All during this time, I had been with a wonderful woman who had embraced all that I was. I thought we were going to be married. Then in September of 2014, she dumped me out of the blue. I was devastated.
Over the last year, Tequila has really blossomed. She had to. She was on her own and couldn’t stay home as it was too depressing.
Of course now I look at who I am again. It’s really hard to love yourself when it feels like no one else ever will.
BS: Yeah, and I’m guessing from some of your humorous posts on your twitter account that craigslist isn’t ideal for finding a suitable partner lol. How difficult has your diagnosis been in terms of being able to build your costumes and props? What are some of the biggest challenges you face with respects to your condition?
TM: One of the big challenges with my rheumatoid arthritis is the unpredictability of the disease. I never know when it’s going to flare up. There are days when I wake up and I can’t close my hands.
Stress is a huge trigger. If I get super stressed, I am likely to have a flare up. When I found out that my wife was leaving me I had a huge flare up. All the joints in my body hurt. I could hardly walk and I couldn’t get a glass of water to my mouth. Lack of sleep can cause flare ups too. I guess lack of sleep is putting a stress on your body which can cause a flare up. My hands are really affected by my RA. It’s frustrating when I’m working on a costume or a prop and my hands flare up. I either have to start popping corticosteroid pills to try and get my hands back under control or I can’t work on things.
As a drummer, I don’t get to play much these days because I live in an apartment, but I could see that if I was in a band, there would be days when I wouldn’t be able to play. My disease also makes it really hard to exercise on a regular basis.
When you can’t do what you love to do, because of your condition, that’s when I really hate my RA.
People who have chronic pain are also susceptible to conditions like depression. That makes sense to me, because if you are in pain all the time, it does wear you down. I, fortunately don’t suffer from depression, but I can see how that would happen. I would say that every day, I have some level of pain. Fortunately it’s usually what I would now consider minor.
The unpredictability of the disease is also scary. I don’t know what the future will hold for me. One doctor who has done a couple of surgeries on my feet believes that one day my joints will completely fail and I will end up in a wheel chair.
I know life could always be worse, so I try not to complain and I try to do as much as I can while I can. Which is why I wear heels as much as I can. lol! One day I may have to give it up. That will be a sad day, if it happens.
BS: I totally hear you with respects to depression and stress, as someone who has struggled in these areas for years myself. Unfortunately bodily aches and pains can be part of the manifestation, so it must be difficult at times to distinguish between the RA and other symptoms.
TM: I have had my RA for 14 years now. For the most part, I can tell when it’s my RA acting up. However, there are times when I’m just not sure what my body is up to. It could be perhaps an injury or something that either triggers a flare up or is something that is similar to my RA symptoms.
RA is a hard thing to diagnose because it has a lot of similarities to other diseases.
BS: You have nonetheless managed to carve out a unique career path for yourself, including your work with The Arthritis Society. How rewarding has your work with the society been?
TM: My work with The Arthritis Society (BC and Yukon chapter) has been quite rewarding. I think that it’s awesome how they embraced my idea and ran with it. I have always wanted to help people (I almost became a cop and I believe I would have made it except my RA struck me down). So being able to tell my story, raise awareness and inspire other people has been amazing! People from the Society really embraced who I am and have been super. I have been on TV, I have attended classy functions and part of my story ended up in their annual report. They also did a video interview with me that I’m looking forward to seeing.
It’s funny how a horrible disease like arthritis can lead to a life with so many amazing people in it. I feel blessed to have gotten to meet and know so many awesome people. That in itself has inspired me.
My ballet teacher is toying with the idea of having me perform in the next recital in drag as a ballerina. That has been a dream of mine ever since I can remember. I sure hope it happens. It would be a comedic piece. I love dance and I love comedy, so I hope she can find away to create such a piece.
“Coming out” over the last few years has apparently also inspired other men to come forward and face who they are. That has also been very rewarding to me. Who knew that by just being yourself, you can help and inspire others?
BS: You really have had quite the trek (in wicked heels, no less!) thus far, and I’m sure many people – not just within the drag community – find you to be a source of inspiration. Where can people see you perform next?
TM: Coming up on November 15 (Sunday) out in New Westminster, I will be at The Arthritis Society Jingle Bell Walk/Run fundraiser.
BS: And this is where your fans can totally chime in with, “I’ll be there with bells on”! Your fans DO love you, and very much appreciate your willingness to share this part of your story. Thank you for your tough-as-rock and metal (with lots of glitter) attitude, Tequila!