The co-founder of New York’s chapter of Drag Queen Story Hour, the sassy and southern born Ona Louise’s drag career has been mostly devoted to charity and family-oriented fare… but a good girl will let her freak flag fly when the time is right!
Thotyssey: Hello Ona! Thanks for chatting with us today! So… more snow and more lockdown! How are you handling it all?
Ona Louise: Handling a cocktail right now! But honestly, it’s been almost a year of it. So, I’m just going back to my Bedroom Queen roots when it comes to drag.
That is where all great queens begin! Were you fierce right from that first moment you started drag?
I’ve definitely been fierce and fearless: black lipstick and fishnets as a boy in 2009 in Bed-Stuy. No Gen-Z can touch me!
I see a lot of Lana Del Rey looks in your IG! I’m guessing she’s a favorite of yours?
Lana has had some controversy lately… and I have no comment, lol! But Lana fans are ride-or-die. Every time she put out a new album was a monumental year for me. Her first album (Born to Die) was when I got a job at the OG Beacon’s Closet. First major boyfriend (Ultraviolence), first major breakup… so on and so forth.
Where are you from originally?
I’m from the deep south: Georgia.
Were you always into fabulous things like music, fashion and performance?
I’ve always been creative and super imaginative. I was raised on musicals and Disney villains, and loved to draw.
A lot of queer roots led to drag, and just NYC in general.
Roots… like what?
I guess like any other small town young queer: watching RENT, Slaves of New York with Bernadette Peters, Sex and the City… you start to idolize and romanticize a place that’s built for you and for your community, and for all of my 20s it really did that. Except the part about living in the East Village–that’s for rich people!
Ain’t that the truth! And is there a story behind your drag name?
Ona Louise is my mother’s name; it sounds really draggy… and what is more drag than a southern woman!?
Tell us about how you became involved in Drag Queen Story Hour, the very prolific program that has drag queens coming to libraries and reading to kids as a way to destigmatize queer representation for youngsters.
I co-founded the NYC Chapter back in 2016, after seeing it in San Francisco at the Harvey Milk library branch. Honey Mahogany from RuPaul’s Drag Race was the reader, and I was blown away. I want to bring this to NYC, I thought. Then before you know it, I was the first queen to read in NYC at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn–and five years later, I am working on the HQ side as executive director of the program. And that is definitely simplifying it! A lot of amazing people have built the program up… I am just one story.
New York City is largely super-liberal of course, but there are some conservative neighborhood pockets that give grief to DQSH, saying children shouldn’t be exposed to drag. Does that resistance ever startle or annoy you?
It is definitely not surprising! Drag Queen Story Hour is very queer and radical. If people have issues with others “being gay,” then they are a long way from accepting our program. Growing up in the South and being raised by fundamentalist Christians, I’m all too familiar with that rhetoric.
Your doing the good, hard work, queen! Actually, most of your drag seems reserved for charity and good causes– as opposed to weekly or monthly bar shows for profit. Did you intend for that to be the case, or did it just work out that way?
It just kinda happened that way! I was a Halloween queen (for those that don’t know what that means, my drag self was “birthed” on Halloween night). Since that faithful night, word spread that I now “do drag,” and every opportunity I got was family friendly or for charity. And when Drag Queen Story Hour came around, it sealed my fate. I have performed at Stonewall and Rockbar a couple of times. But you can usually find me monthly at the Meow Parlour doing drag bingo in a non-alcoholic setting.
Is the drag experience very different for you without alcohol?
Oh my Lord, is it ever, henny! And add an 11am Story Hour with a bunch of toddlers [beforehand]. On the off-chance I do drink in drag while performing in an adult setting, it’s very strange! I feel more at ease engaging and performing for children then I do performing for adults. Ona Louise isn’t doing “WAP” at Pieces, or shots at Boots & Saddle; but she does serve you a great Julie Andrews, and can color in the lines!
OMG, crazy story! Before I moved to NYC, I was visiting my friend who lived here. I think I Googled “gay bar,” because it was my 21st birthday… the first bar that came up, I went to. Unknown to me, it was closed for a private event–unless someone off the street paid a $50 cover for an open bar. Being from Georgia, I just thought things were more expensive in the Big Apple… so I paid, and it was a private birthday party. Goldie was there, and was like, “who are you, and why did you pay that cover to get in here?” Lol! Twelve years later, she has an 11 year-old and we’ve been doing drag for eight or nine years now!
OMG, that’s like a movie Meet Cute!
You two will actually be performing together for a digital Purim event on Friday, care of the artist-driven Jewish group Lab/Shul. Tell us a bit about this event, called “The Network Shul Love!” And, are either of you Jewish at all?
Goldie Lox (like the smoked fish) is very Jewish, and grew up orthodox in Pittsburgh! Ona, on the other hand is Jew… ish? My father is, but my mother is a Southern Baptist. So, I guess technically I am not Jewish at all… I just needed a lot of therapy! But I have done a number of Purim events for Story Hour over the years, and Goldie is a member of Lab/Shul, and they asked us to host a live auction for HMI NYC. I thought it would be fun to camp it up and do a home shopping vibe, a la 1990s QVC!
Anything else coming up for you?
It’s just so funny seeing Kandy on Drag Race, remembering her as a bearded lady at One Last Shag. It really makes me miss NYC nightlife!
Same! Okay, last question… does Britney really need #Freeing, or is she just playing us?
Free her! But she playing us, still.
That’s what I thought! Thanks for all you do, Ona!