This Hawaiian flower is no shrinking violet. Slaying us with her fierce athleticism and unique “glunge” approach to drag, Hibiscus planted her queen seed in this city about a year ago and she grows fiercer by the day. When she’s not in drag, you can catch her boy self Eli soaring above the crowds as a member of the infectiously upbeat LGBT cheerleading squad and charity organization, New York Cheer. Let’s say Hi to Hibiscus!
Hi Hibiscus, thanks for talking! I think I know you best from your appearances at Stonewall, where you’ve been a favorite guest for the Invasion show queens for awhile now. You even got to co-headline your own Invasion with Detoxx Busti-ae back in July. Do you have a favorite Stonewall experience?
Yes! Performing with Whendy Whaxwood. She was the first to ever invite me, and she challenged me by letting me step out of my comfort zone – like her Broadway themed Invasion. It’s usually not my aesthetic, but I had a great time with it.
Speaking of Whendy, the “G.I.L.F. $” video parody you made with her and Blake Deadly is soooo cute! Was that fun to make?
It was a blast. Every time I work with them we have a blast, and get the work done!
How long did it take to film?
Two evenings of shooting total. They were professional, the queens and the crew that helped us.
Okay, let’s get to know you. I see you’re from Honolulu! Tell me about what it was like growing up Fabulous there.
Growing up in Hawaii has definitely made me more ambitious and question what the “mainland” (the rest of the USA) is like. I knew I wanted to get out as soon as I was done with high school. I see the same people and they just settle – that’s not me at all.
I feel that if you stay on the island after high school, you get stuck there. And I knew I never really fit in to be that typical “local.”
I was always quirky–weird is what most people would say, and definitely unique. I was always keeping myself busy with extracurricular activities throughout my childhood (dance, cheer/gymnastics/ after school clubs). I never wanted to just relax and enjoy the beach and the scenery that most people would love to witness. I’m not saying I never did all of the typical Hawaii tourist-y thing – it just didn’t inspire me.
I am grateful with my upbringing, and to call Hawaii my home state–I do get homesick, but at the same time a big city is where I belong. I long to be around people (where I’m not singled out or stick out for my personal style) and to be around other creatives.
So, where did you first settle when you finally got to the mainland?
I lived in Phoenix, AZ for five years. I was in Arizona for school (studied Biomedical Engineering with a minor in textile) and I also served in the US Army Reserve.
And how did you wind up in New York?
I made the big move to NYC February 2012.
I’ve had friends visit and always tell me that’s where I belong. I walked around Arizona (a very conservative state) in the shortest shorts, always carried a purse, and sometimes wore bronzer–and everyone would stare at me like they’ve just seen a dead person. I played with gender norms, I had a very androgynous look then. I remember a little girl asking her mom if I was a boy or girl while I was having a meal at Chipotle.
I needed to get out of here and I took many of my friends’ advice to find a job in NYC and move.
Aw, I’m sorry you had a hard time in Arizona, but it was very brave of you to be so authentically self-expressive there.
Arizona wasn’t all bad, I had a really good group of friends who always supported me. I’ve made some lifelong friends in Arizona. I’ve met my best friends there.
What did you do in the Reserves?
I did the one weekend a month commitment, and spent my summers fulfilling my duty and usually training at a military base. My job was in the communications field–networking and running cable wires. “25B,” if you want to look it up [laughs]. I’ve also made some of the most amazing friends, and have a great support system, from those individuals.
To be honest, I enlisted because of the benefits. Mostly for the reason that they would pay for school – which they did.
So what kind of work/life did you have when you came to NYC?
I worked part time at Starbucks, and I did design work at Proenza Schouler and then Marc Jacobs. For now, I gave up fashion – I just lost the passion (I need to ignite it again). So, currently working full time at Starbucks as an Assistant Manager while doing drag. I am just doing it because I am having fun with it, and I love performing.
Speaking of performing. I grew up being a cheerleader, and after my first year in NYC I saw Cheer New York and I decided to try out. I have been a member since August 2012.
What’s their tryout process like?
It isn’t hard. No experience needed. It helps, but not required. Just have the passion to do charity work, because we are a nonprofit organization.
So, tell us about Cheer!
CNY is my New York family. I pretty much hang out with them once a week – not including our practice time. We have 40 members, and everyone comes from a different background of careers and personalities. We cheer throughout the city to raise money for other local charities, and it’s a great way to meet people.
I was captain two years ago, and now I am the marketing director. I joined this team with no experience as a flyer (I was always a base in Hawaii – everyone is short!) and it’s been one of the most challenging and exciting thing I’ve ever done.
I really have nothing bad to say about this group of people. They have supported me from the moment I painted my face and put a wig on my head. If you’ve ever seen any of my performances with backup dancers, that’s my fellow cheer mates dancing with me. We perform together all the time, so when I bring them on stage with me I feel the unity and trust them that if I make a mistake that they will make me look fierce no matter what.
Does Cheer New York enter competitions?
We don’t compete, but every four years we participate in Gay Games. It’s pretty much the Gay Olympics, but everyone is welcome. We perform at the opening ceremony with our other sister teams, we compete in dance and group stunts, and each team showcases a team routine.
It’s every four years. 2014 was in Cleveland, 2010 was in Germany, and the 2018 Gay Games will be in Paris.
Awesome! How far up the human pyramid do you generally go?
We do three people high, but I usually fly mid-level.
Do you feel like there are any similarities to being a cheerleader and being a queen?
Absolutely. It’s a performance. The difference is, cheer requires practice and being precise. Drag is more creative, and if you mess up, you can mask it.
So when exactly did you start drag?
I started almost a year ago. One year next month.
A hibiscus, of course, is a beautiful tropical flower.
Yes, and also my home state’s flower. I wanted to pay homage to where I grew up, and I thought it was going to be either Aloha or Hibiscus.
Aloha would’ve been cute, but I think you chose wisely. And you’ve accomplished a lot in just a year! Where was your first gig?
How would you describe your drag and performing style?
My drag style is definitely edgy. Glunge (glamorous grunge). I’m not one to wear a sequin / ball gown dress, but you never know. I am most confident in bodysuits, plaid, and leather with minimal accessories – weird, right, for a drag queen?
My performance is definitely high energy, with sharp moves/motions and a 99.9% chance of a drop split somewhere in there.
My inspirations are Pat Benetar, Debbie Harry, Courtney Love, Madonna, Britney Spears, & Kylie Minogue.
Have you gotten to do a lot of rock-oriented numbers in your gigs?
Not really. And when I do, the audience doesn’t respond very well to it, or is not as excited compared to when I do Britney and Madonna. But I shouldn’t care too much and just go for it! Something I need to develop.
Okay, so exciting news: Penthaus is back at the Copacabana on Friday, and you’ll be performing there! Justin Luke ran the first the first version of the party, which was a fun and flashy weekly event under a roof that could open into the night sky. Did you ever go there back then?
No I haven’t. This will be my first, and I will definitely do my best to give a look and some dancing!
Yeah, now Vincent Cooper & Monica Blewinsky are re-launching it, with their distinctive art-meets-performance-meets-party brand. Those two have been doing great, innovative things for venues all over this city. In your opinion, what should nightlife promoters and venue owners be doing to keep people coming out in the Age of Apps?
In this age and time, I’d say there should be more parties that allow you to be expressive. Have people feel confident and comfortable, and not have the theme or celebration shame any type or person in our community. There were times when I wouldn’t go to a party because I am not built or look “the Chelsea/ HK gay” standard. I don’t have bulging muscles, I’m not 6 feet tall, or always wear denim cut offs [laughs].
Let’s be real, nightlife is so exclusive sometimes. Let’s bring back the Party Monster days and just express our being.
I hear that!
So, is it a challenge to balance Hibiscus with Cheer New York & your personal life? And could you ever see yourself doing a weekly drag show somewhere?
Ultimately my goal is to do a weekly show. That would be amazing. I’m used to taking a lot of tasks; growing up and in adulthood, I’ve never been one to just sit at home. I like to stay active, whether it’s volunteering or joining something, or trying something new. I always find a way to juggle everything and still remain cool and collective. I definitely know when it’s too much, and if I really enjoy something, I’m committed.
I hope you get a show soon! Okay, anything else coming up?
Our biggest fundraiser for Cheer New York is during the holidays. We volunteer to gift wrap at Barnes & Noble in the city to raise money for a charity (New Alternatives). Over the years, Cheer New York has donated up to $100,000. I devote a significant amount of time to it, and we are always in need of volunteers [for
all weekends in December]. Reach out to me if you would like to help at email@example.com.
Okay, last question, Halloween-themed! What do you believe in more, ghosts or UFOs?
Ghosts. I believe in the supernatural. As a child, I used to feel spiritual presences that no one else could. But then again, I’ve always been a little weird… and I’m okay with that [laughs]!
So are we! Thanks Hibiscus!
Eli R. is the Marketing Director of Cheer New York. He will perform as Hibiscus at the “Apocalypse” premiere edition of the relaunched Penthaus party at the Copacabana in midtown on Friday, October 21st (11pm). Hibiscus/Eli can be followed on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.