“Chicago’s Bodybuilder Barbie” is a pivotal figure of that city’s vital drag scene, and throughout the past year has been a celebrated and frequent presence in digital drag as well. And this weekend, Miss Toto will be BLEGENDARY!
Thotyssey: Hello, Miss Toto! Thanks so much for chatting with us! How are you today? I assume you’re in Chicago now!
Miss Toto: I’m lovely! And yes, I am in Chicago for the foreseeable future. How are you?
I’m doing well, thank you! New York is sunny, and there’s a bit of long overdue optimism in the air thanks to the rise in Covid vaccines! Have you been able to make any progress on that front? And generally, how have Chicagoans behaved during quarantine?
In my mortal job, I work in education… so luckily, I was able to get vaccinated last month. Also, I left 6 months from Chicago and I got back here in August, and I’ve stayed away from most people. Being away in Pennsylvania made me realize how much I love my alone time and my small group of friends, because I’ve seen so many Chicagoans… not behaving. But, we definitely are doing better than some other cities!
I hear you about those who misbehaved! Was it as frustrating for you as it was for most of us to see party promoters, DJs and even some queens carrying on business as usual through the pandemic, like absolutely nothing was happening?
Absolutely. It seems selfish, because it is. It’s not like we all aren’t suffering through this together, but completely disregarding the pandemic simply because you care about money more than other people is so ugly. I understand people have to survive and make money, but more effort should have been put towards adapting and changing how we perform. Instead it was a blatant disregard for anyone’s safety, and I’m blaming the government for a lack of rules.
Let’s get to the star of the hour: Miss Toto! Where are you from originally, and what kind of things were you into while growing up?
I was born in LA, but unfortunately grew up in the backwoods of western Maryland! Young me and current me were very similar: I loved playing dress up and playing with dolls, but I also was heavily involved in sports and had a huge collection of Hot Wheels. My parents never limited me on what activities I could participate in or what I wanted to play with, so I think that gave to a very open understanding of who I could be at a young age.
You are well known today for living what some might call dual realities: gorgous body builder stud by day, stunningly sexy queen by night! Is there, like, a mental switch you have to flip on and off to be one or the other?
I feel like it’s always me, but just which part of me is more present! It’s not really a mental switch, but I have developed a different personality and mannerisms in drag.
What’s it like to be a very muscular queen?
I love it. It separates me from the pack and it’s something I’ve fully leaned into, as far as my drag aesthetic and brand.
Do Trade usually appreciate that duality?
Trade usually knows I do drag, but it’s a balance of seeing if someone’s interested in me, or interested in my drag persona.
I see that you started drag in Miami, while you were getting your Masters in Marine Affairs & Policy. How did that happen exactly?
I was just going out and met a drag queen who invited me to her monthly party, and I went… and the rest pretty much is history.
Is there a story behind your name?
Love it! What ultimately brought you to Chicago?
I wanted to be closer to my family in Maryland, for one. The other big reason is the black drag scene here. So many people I’ve looked at as inspirations when I first was getting started live here, and were so kind to me from day one to now being my friends and sisters. There is no feeling like being a part of Chicago drag.
Very different from Miami drag, I take it!
I would say the difference in scenes mainly stems from the tourism. Miami is heavily reliant on tourists, and the types of shows lend to that.
So many incredible black queens from Chicago got worldwide attention due in part to their time on RuPaul’s Drag Race: Shea Couleé, Jaida Essence Hall, The Vixen, DiDa Ritz and Mystique Summers, to just name a few.
Yes but it’s not just black RuGirls that make Chicago special. I love my girlies and it’s major that I can call them sisters, but there are so many black entertainers here that are so inspiring to me, and have been for years. One example is the icon Lucy Stoole; she has done so many major things without being on Drag Race, and is one of the most hardworking, genuine, and kind people I’ve ever known.
Lucy is incredible! She came out to New York a few years ago and did a show somewhere different every night for something like three straight weeks! You actually sit on The Chicago Black Drag Council as their fundraising chair; the Council represents an important movement to promote equality in nightlife. It’s probably still hard to tell now because this initiative largely happened during lockdown, but do you see Chicago venues have taken to heart what you’ve been presenting in the past year?
I don’t think we’ll see how everything fully pans out until places are open and booking shows, etc. We do have a committee on the CBDC that is to help other councils start in other cities, and I love seeing it! Chicago isn’t the only city that deals with racist systems in the queer community, and I think formally creating a group to uplift black people in the community and ensure that we’re treated appropriately is an important part of being taken seriously.
I just saw a wonderful Rosa Parks number you did on YouTube… it was funny and silly, but also respectful and poignant at the same time. It must be a challenge to strike that balance in drag numbers… especially during this climate.
I have learned that not everyone is going to love my drag and what I do, so I choose to do things that I enjoy. And if it teeters on the more dangerous side, I try to be as respectable as possible.
That’s the best kind of drag, I think! You’ve also been a part of several digital shows this past year, which had you in show casts alongside performers from all over the country. What are the joys and sorrows of virtual performing, in your opinion?
I love digital drag! I feel like I can push my creativity much further than what I’m limited to on the stage. I touched on this earlier–but instead of adapting to digital drag, people were pushing to just get back into the clubs. That left minimal support for digital shows, when it gets down to it. People will sit down every Friday and watch hours of Drag Race, but can’t seem to pop on over to Twitch and see what drag performers are streaming? In general, I think that lack of support is deterring to people.
Yes, absolutely… especially when so much creativity and diversity can be found on the digital stage! Well, one place folks can see what you serve digitally this weekend is the “Blegands” Motown Virtual Brunch on Sunday, the first of two large cast Zoom events that day presented by Brooklyn’s Thee Suburbia and The POC Drag Art Collective! The two Blegends virtual showcases (Brunch at 2:30 EST, Cabaret at 7:30 EST) each feature amazing performers from New York, Chicago and beyond, and they benefit the Ruth Ellis Center! Give us a hint about what we might expect!
I love Suburbia, so we already know the show is going to be iconic… especially with this cast! I love Motown, so I gave a little Donna Summer throwback moment.
Anything else coming up for you?
I have some projects coming up this spring and summer, which I’m very excited for–but as Lil Wayne once said, “real Gs move in silence, like lasagna.” So I’m keeping those under wraps! You’ll have to wait and see!
Lasagna is always worth the wait! This just in: Beyoncé broke records as the most Grammy-winning singer in history! What are your thoughts?
I love Beyoncé, but the Grammys don’t mean anything since it’s run by old ass white people! Until Nicki has a Grammy, the Grammys will never matter to me.
Fair! And in closing: now that Chicago sis Kahmora Hall has sadly left the current season of American Drag Race… whose team are you on?
I’m Team Anyone Black! But honestly, Kandy has been my girl for years, and I’m so happy to see her dreams coming true. I have a lot of favs this season, but because of personal reasons I’m #TEAMKANDY PURRRRR.
Thank you, Miss Toto!