Despite having quite the stationary adolescence, residing in her childhood home on the outskirts of the Bronx until college, Brooklyn-based experimental theatre creator and drag performance artist Venus Celestina’s pubescence was anything but.
"Growing up as a trans woman was very difficult, as a child I was very creative but shy. I had many friends but I was always cautious about who I let into my life.” -The Great Fairy Venus Celestina
Some of Venus’s emotional guardedness could be attributed to her attendance of a catholic school that often invalidated her experiences: “I believe my rebellious nature comes from always feeling like I was breaking the ‘rules’ of Catholicism. I wasn’t allowed to express myself in the ways I felt most comfortable with, so I think that had a huge impact on me starting drag.”
However, since Venus’s departure from her hometown, and the homophobic negativity within it, she’s graduated from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and began writing and performing in her own theatrical project, “Pretty Girls Don’t Light Their Own Cigarettes.”
Venus also plans on producing two upcoming shows, one ongoing show at Dream Baby in Manhattan that happens every Wednesday of the month and another, a one-off performance entitled “THE PHONY’s”, which Venus is both co-producing and co-hosting with her drag child Loy Weissman.
What inspires you and your creative process?
I’m inspired by the people around me. I see love, and injustice and feel compelled to talk about it. I’m a trans non-binary person and that also tends to be a focal point for my art.
What is the connection between your drag and social justice? Why?
Drag is social justice. I believe that drag is a form of protest in and of itself. It protests the ideas of gender, masculinity and femininity . It questions beauty and sexuality. I use my drag as a platform to talk about mental health issues or gender inequality. I do drag because I feel that I have to and there for I feel that I must tackle the inequalities that plague our nation.
What inspired you to pursue drag? What were the challenges you overcame in this?
Ever since I was little I dressed up. I used to watch “The Wizard of Oz” every day, and I’d play every single character. I used to dress up like Dorothy, I’d wear a blanket on my head and wear my mother’s heels.
I started doing drag officially for my show “Pretty Girls Don’t Light Their Own Cigarettes”, which is a solo episodic performance piece. I felt drawn to drag after watching a couple seasons of Drag Race.
I feel that drag called to me, as if I was meant to do it. Drag helped me find my Trans-ness and my trans-ness helped me discover more about my drag. I learned how to be the woman I wanted to be through my drag, and I’m still learning so much about myself! Makeup was another factor. In middle school I would wear eyeliner to school but because I went to a Catholic School with strict rules, I was reprimanded for it. It deterred me from exploring makeup until I attended NYU, where I found my love for it. I now wear makeup regularly and love how it makes me feel. At first, drag was very challenging, there are so many things that go into it. I had to learn how to paint my face, pad, corset and walk in heels, plus so, so, so much more! It’s daunting at first because you don’t have the resources to be the queen you want to be, but with practice you learn tips and tricks that make it much easier. On top of the challenges of just doing drag, there is also a social stigma around it. I can’t walk by myself when I’m in drag, I’ve been harassed every time I do. People in bars also tend to think you’re more of an object than a person. Sometimes I think it would be easier not to do drag but every time that thought creeps in I think about how much drag has done for me and it truly is all worth it.
What’s been the most rewarding part of being an artist for you? Do you have any advice for future drag artists?
Being an artist is a reward in and of itself. I love having the opportunity to grasp hold of an audience’s emotions and take them on a journey. I love being able to make people laugh, it’s honestly one of the best rewards.
There are no rules to drag, if you want to try it go for it! There is no way to mess it up. The ability to express myself as 100% me is one of the best feelings in the world. I encourage everyone to pick up their best heels, a cute wig, and prance the streets!
What is the story behind your drag name and persona?
The Great Fairy comes for my love of video games, particularly the “Legend of Zelda” franchise which has a character named “The Great Fairy”. The name “Venus” comes from the drag queen Venus Xtravaganza, most well known for her appearance in “Paris is Burning” as well as the roman goddess of love. At around the time I started doing drag, I got really into astrology and I found out my star sign, Libra’s ruling planet was Venus and it felt like fate! Celestina is an homage to my late grandmother whose name was Celeste.
How has mainstream society's mainstream incorporation of drag affected your art, if at all?
Being incorporated into mainstream society has been both good and bad. On the one side, I see more drag performers in the media which is good to help create more love and acceptance of all types of performances. It also means there is an increase of opportunities for performers.
On the other hand, things like RuPaul’s Drag Race have forced many drag queens to try and fit inside of a box instead of letting their freak flag fly!
Drag performers have also not gotten a lot of credit where credit is due for inventing most of the recent makeup and fashion trends. Even down to Cardi B. stealing “Okurr” from a drag queen! However, overall, I think the exposure has been a good thing.
How does today's political climate affect your performances, drag, or both?
I started doing drag after Trump’s election, and I’ve seen hostilities against trans performers increase over the last few years.
It’s impossible to feel safe in the current political climate. I started doing a political number recently that addresses the violence against black trans women in the United States. It’s not enough. The average lifespan of a trans individual is 37 years old, which is half the national average. My art has become more and more political due to then increased necessity I feel to spread love and support to my trans siblings.
How can allies help support the drag community and the queer artists and performers in it?
Drag is more than “Rupaul’s Drag Race”! Go to your local drag bars and watch the performances. Tip generously. The thing that unfortunately holds queer artist back from making art is money. Drag is very expensive, it costs a drag performer on average around $30 for a single performance.
Also protect each other, if something doesn’t look right it probably isn’t and queer people are most often subjected to violence. It only takes one person to make a difference.
Thank you for your continuous support and love,
Lots of love,