Boasting one of Manhattan’s quirkiest aesthetics and stage personas, Dusty Ray Bottoms has always been a drag queen difficult to categorize–and she wouldn’t have it any other way! Neither would we. Born in the smallest of small towns, she’s taken our big city by the balls with her huge wigs, sleepy-sweet Southern drawl, and electrifyingly odd and beautiful stage performances. Also, add this all to the mix: she’s super nice, fun and smart… and she pours a mean whiskey ginger. Thotyssey goes Bottoms Up with Ms. Dusty Ray!
Dusty Ray Bottoms: Thanks for stopping by! I always have fun working at [Pieces’] sister bar Hardware with gal pal Sutton Lee. She’s a riot!
So, Madame Supermodel! I want to hear all about your recent episode with MAC cosmetics.
It was a shoot for a new ad they are putting out soon! It was all just a surreal experience, I still can’t believe it is all said and done.
When did all this happen?
It all started a few weeks ago: I got an email from MAC that I thought was spam and almost deleted it! So I read the email through, and they said they came across my Instagram and loved my makeup and my social media presence. They asked if I was available to come in as my boy self with a drag portfolio to interview. I went in the next morning, had a stellar interview, and got the booking just a couple hours after! I about died!
The shoot consisted of ten models: eight beautiful woman of all shapes and color, a sexy Green Day looking kind of guy, and ME THE DRAG QUEEN. The add is to show that MAC makeup can be worn by, and is for, anyone. We all did solo and group video and photo shoots. It was. A. Day!
Can’t wait to see that… did they give you any indication on when it was gonna come out?
They didn’t! I assume it would be “back to school,” or the holiday season!
We’ll look out for it! In the meantime, will you be subtly plugging MAC stuff in your gigs?
[Laughs] Nah, it’s not like that! If I were representing a new line or product, and if they hooked me up with said product, I’d be shouting it everywhere!
They did have me beat my face there, and they had their makeup artists watching me. That was a bit nerve-racking. But all In all, such a cool experience.
You probably took those makeup artists to school!
In this vein of fabulousity, we should also mention that you are gawgeous out of makeup too, at least according to Musto’s Papermag list of “10 Drag Queens Who Are The Best Looking Men” last year. Were you given a heads-up that you would be on that list, or was it, like, another “Whoah!” moment?
Totally another “whoah!” moment [laughs]. But listen! It’s just a list of one person’s opinion! There are so many lists of who’s on top, who should be on Drag Race, and blah blah blah! I say, fuck them all! They are just distractions that can lower people’s self-worth if they’re not included, and sometimes cause even more harm if they are. Some of these girls are walking around with big heads from lists or “celebrity endorsements,” and it just gets so silly sometimes.. So I say, Very cool! And thank you for thinking of me! It’s always nice to be put on a “list”, but at the end of the day, I’m just being Dusty.
I am putting this statement on Thotyssey’s “Top 25 Best Comments on Lists” list!
Okay Miss Dusty, let’s get to the root of your magnificent tree! Dusty is a native small town Kentuckyian, right?
Yes! They actually call the area I’m from Kentuckiana! I grew up in Indiana, but no one knows where Floyd’s Knobs is (5 min away from Louisville), so it’s just easier to say Louisville, Kentucky. Born and raised!
How did you occupy yourself as young Dusty?
If I wasn’t building a house or at church with my dad, I was in a dance studio or on stage working on some musical theatre piece or play. Theatre was my only saving grace growing up.
Being a faggoty “straight” boy where I grew up wasn’t the easiest. I was just so lucky to be surrounded by people who loved the arts, and believed in me working in the arts! I had to keep creating–one show done onto the next–sometimes multiple shows at one time! It was a great escape.
So ultimately, it was acting and theatre that got you out of that world and into New York?
It is! That was the whole purpose of coming here! Where else would you want to be as a performer!? I made that move November 16th, 2010–almost 6 years now!
Was your family terrified that your soul would be corrupted by evil New York ways when you left?
They were just worried about their son’s safety. We could talk about corrupt evil till I’m blue in the face [laughs]!
And how exactly was Dusty Ray Bottoms, the queen, born?
I was having trouble with what the term home meant to me. I had a really rough coming out to my family, and knew that for my mental health, home couldn’t be in Kentucky anymore. So after moving to the city and getting signed with MMG, I wasn’t taking gigs that had me leave the city. I didn’t want to do the tours cause what is “home?”
I dropped my agent. I stopped auditioning. I was also over being told I’m not something enough for a part, or what not! I just wanted to do me. And after three years of just serving tables in the city, I thought, “I didn’t move to this city to wait tables! I have to create!”
At that time I was frequenting Bob The Drag Queen’s show on Mondays and Saliva with Thorgy and Azraea on Tuesdays! I’ve never been more inspired, or more excited, about something until I saw what these performers were doing and what they represented! I know I’ve said it over and over to them: without their courageousness, Dusty wouldn’t have been a thought!
What about your name?
The name Dusty Ray Bottoms is silly. It comes from my name, Dustin Rayburn. Dusty Ray was a nickname I’ve had forever. One day while serving tables, a co-worker was bottom-shaming me (you can never bottom shame me!) and kept saying, “Dusty Ray bottoms!” I laughed, and said I’ll take it! History was made.
And how did your trademark mushroom cloud wig come about?
Dusty is all about the big hair! I think that’s aesthetically one of the most recognizable things I have going for me. [For my first hair] I ordered this wig that was so expensive, and supposed to be crazy high to Jesus. It was like a crazy Big Bad Sandy hair. When it came in the mail, it looks like it wasn’t even smiled at all, and I end up just wearing it as it is, ‘cause I knew nothing about the hair then.
Yikes, here’s my first time in drag (hey, there’s Tammy!):
Oh wow, so different!
Nowadays, you have a whole mystique about you as a performer, and as a conceptual character. I feel like you’re a little witchy, a little Crazy Fun Auntie, a little Southern Belle. How would you describe your aesthetic?
It really is made up of all the things you mentioned. Being from Kentucky definitely influenced the big hair, and kind of trash. I had an eclectic upbringing of a religious family, a musical theatre education, and a bit of a New Age underground club scene.
Dusty has a very unique voice. Sometimes it can seem a little dark, but it’s always glam. I try to stay true to who I am, and keep trying to tell the stories that I think are important. And when you stay true to yourself in that way, magic happens.
I have an idea of who Dusty is, and who I want her to be. But I think the most important thing is to just do You, and let your audience come to their own conclusions without having to shove your own interpretation or branding down their throats.
You have developed a loyal following, but is it a little scary when/if you see newbies not immediately connecting to what you’re doing onstage? Like, do you ever feel the need to throw them a bone and just give ‘em a Britney song?
When it comes to doing performances that mean something and are important to me, I can’t let myself worry too much about who is going to “get it.” I just do what I think is right, and hopefully people get on board. But not every number is a statement piece. My shows are just as eclectic as I am. I never perform anything that I don’t really enjoy myself, but there’s usually something for everyone to enjoy.
Always good times at a Dusty show!
By the way, I think a lot of queens copy your “musical shots” game that you do at a lot of your shows. Does that annoy you?
Listen, we are all trying to find new stuff to keep our shows different or fresh! At times, queens borrow from each other, and that’s cool! I’m not saying I made up musical shots (I’m sure someone somewhere else is playing it), but I do know that I started it recently in the city, from my own mind.
The only thing annoying about it is getting it ripped and not getting credit. Like, it’s annoying to hear, “Hey, does (insert queen’s name) know you are doing their shot game!?“ Cool, cool. [Laughs] but whatevs!
A lot of people took notice of you when you participated in ”So You Think You Can Drag?“ How did that competition catch your eye, and what motivated you to take part?
“So You Think You Can Drag?,” hosted by Paige Turner and Justin Luke, is a great platform to be seen by a lot of people–and to get those people to fall in love with you–and to be put under a pressure cooker to create some cool new things. It’s a nine week long competition, and I knew that that was something that I needed to put myself through, kind of like a mini-Drag Boot Camp. And I knew that my voice was unique, and I knew that my voice would be received well in that sort of setting. And I really wanted to give it my all, and see what would happen. It was an experience that I would never take back or try to redo.
Although I got second place, I felt like a winner for the whole competition, and I made some really great sisters out of it! My life-long sister Alexis Michelle is a star, and took home the crown! It was such a magical experience, I highly recommend it for anyone who hasn’t done it! I’d say it’s responsible for launching my career (although I would have found a way).
Your signature number there was a glorious staging of Joanna Newsom’s “Peach Plum Pear,” which was certainly a unique song choice. You used four Dusty lookalike dancers, and wispy confetti, and a corn stalk, and pyrotechnics. It was very elaborate and lovely. What was the story behind that?
That number really means the world to me. To this day, looking back on it, it moves me. That number is the story any performer can relate to. As artists, when we make the decision to create, moving forward it can be so scary. As artists, we are our own biggest critics. At times we get in the way of our own creativity, or we let outside forces affect us. But when you are courageous, and put your heart out there, you can break down those walls and triumph over all those naysayers and roadblocks. That number is about the artist’s journey. That story makes my cry every time I watch it. It’s my way of saying, “It’s okay, Dusty, you got this!”
That’s so powerful! I’l have to watch it again with that in mind.
Have you ever gotten any feedback from Joanna Newsom after that number? Like, a re-Tweet or something? There can’t be that many queens out there who have done her idiosyncratic numbers on such a high profile platform!
Sadly, I haven’t heard from her! Maybe she doesn’t know about it?
Well, she should!
So, when did you start at Pieces, and was it as a performer or bartender?
I started as a performer on Jan 20th, 2015, with my party and show Frisky Fridays, which has been running strong and is such a fun night! Then a couple months in, the owners approached me about bartending. I was able to take the Saturday Happy Hour shift, and really turned it into something special: Had It Happy Hour!
Frisky Friday is a really fun and popular night there: you serve shows, and you usually have guest performers along for the ride. I tend to see a lot of queens out of drag there checking you out. Pieces is kind of like the drag queen’s cool drag bar.
That’s what I love about Pieces. I feel like it’s the Cherry Grove of the gay bars! Everyone is welcome, and it’s just such a fun place to chill and celebrate life!
And you host the monthly underwear party there on that night too. Do you ever cop a feel?
I cop all the feels [laughs]! I do package-and-butt checks after my show!
And Had It! Happy Hour does really well too. Describe it for the children!
I’m behind the bar 2pm-8pm that day, serving up $4 margaritas mimosas and bloodies! 4pm-8pm I have a new queen come in every week, to do their very own show. Whatever they want to do with it! So if you hated the queen this week, come back next she won’t be there! You should check it out! The only place in the city you can get crazy cheap drinks, spend time with me, and have a great show with a new queen.
I see you host the lovely Scarlet Envy this Saturday. How far ahead do you book queens for it, by the way?
I do all my bookings a month or two out. I hate going into a month with a blank calendar! I’m crazy that way.
What other nights can we catch you there just bartending?
You also have a recurring role at the Monster’s Sunday night event Look Queen, don’t you?
You can catch me twice a month at The Monster Bar for Look Queen, originally brought to you by Bob The Drag Queen, now hosted by Terra Hyman! At the end of each month, you can catch the Look Queen showdown where 6 queens duke it out for the title of Look Queen (insert month). July is our last competition before the grand finale. All the winners from the months get together and compete for the Look Queen of the Year title. These girls turn out some pretty awesome stuff!
When will we see you there again?
I’ll be there judging the competition this Sunday, and co-hosting the first Sunday of August. Our grand finale this year is August 28th! I’m the current reigning Look Queen, so I’ll be beside Bob handing off my crown to the new winner this year. Can’t wait to see how it all goes down!
It was off the hook! May have been the best time I’ve ever had at my Boots show! It was very special. Such a fun venue, I’m happy to work there at any capacity!
Why do you call the show that, by the way?
…one of life’s mysteries!
Noted! Due to the summer doldrums, it’l be bi-monthly through August (Bootsie LeFaris gets the other weeks). You’ll be back there August 18th and 25th. That’s good in a way, because now you’re free to do fun stuff the other Thursdays… right?
[Laughs] Something like that! I’m always happy to have free time to catch someone’s show when I can, or even be apart of it. So, I guess you can say it’s a blessing in disguise!
I’m so very lucky to have Marc! Being in nightlife isn’t easy. Being a drag queen, and trying to stay relevant, and get that next gig while in a relationship isn’t easy! I’m so lucky he gets where my head is, and he understands what I’m doing, and have to do. He always comes through for me, I’m very grateful.
Marc is an extremely talented writer among other things. He wrote Alice is Burning for Open Bar Theatricals! We had our first reading back in February, and it was magic to get to hear a breath of life come into his writing. We are still in development and are shopping around for festivals and other companies to get involved. You just need that one good backer who believes in you, you know? So keep your eyes and ears open its such a beautiful piece, that has a very important message to tell!
I think at one point you two were working on a web series also; did that ever come to be?
“Dragged Along” was put in the back burners; it’s all hands on deck for Alice!
Any other theatre work coming your way?
I have not, it’s my very first time! I’m surprised Astoria is having me back! Tammy Spenks and I have closed four bars over there together [laughs] I’ll be doing a 90-minute show that starts that at 11, right after happy hour!
Who should win RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars Season 2?
OMG that’s a hard one! Alaska is my fave; she’s proven that you don’t need to win shit to be a star! I love that!
And finally… I heard you say once in an interview that your fantasy was to be the Burlesque-Cher owner and den mother of a drag bar called Dusty’s some day, and I for one live for that fantasy. Paint a mental picture of Dusty’s for us!
That fantasy is still going strong! That’s what I hope to end all of this with: being a ba r/ restaurant owner with a cast of girls in a beautiful venue! I’m in a family of very talented and fierce performers. My priority, first and foremost, is to take care of my tribe; make sure they have a night that best showcases their talents! These are the girls you can see regularly featured in the guest spot of Frisky Fridays.
But it is also important to me to continue to provide a platform for the new girls. No one can do it on their own, and we all need a hand in one way or another when we’re starting out. That’s the idea behind my Saturday Had It Happy Hour. Every week, a new queen gets to be showcased and perform their own show. That’s definitely something that matters a lot to me, and I hope to always continue providing.
May Dusty’s be the dream that comes true! Thanks girl, and Good Gigging to you!
Dusty Ray Bottoms hosts Frisky Fridays every Friday night (9pm) at Pieces, including a monthly underwear party (next one is scheduled for August 12th). Also at Pieces, she bartends for Had It! Happy Hour on Saturdays (2-8pm) and Razzle Dazzle starring Sutton Lee Seymour and Delighted Tobehere on Wednesdays (10pm). Her Boots & Saddle show “It’s Meee Olivia!” will be bi-monthly in August, on the 18th and 25th (10pm), before hopefully returning to its weekly Thursday night 10pm slot in September.
Dusty will host a one-night-only show at Albatross on Saturday, July 30th (11pm), and will appear for Look Queen Sundays at Monster on July 31st and August 7th, as well as the August 28th finale (all 10pm). She will be a cast member of “Bridget Bishop Presents: The Salem Bitch Trials” on October 18th-22nd at the John Collum Theatre in the American Theatre for Actors.