On Point With: Sabel Scities

Some drag performers are stars of their own cities… but longtime comedy and pageant slayer Sabel Scities (aka Timothy Byars) is a true Queen of America! These days she’s making important things happen as lockdown wanes in Hawaii, and this summer she’ll once again hold residence at the vacation destination where she’s treasured: Fire Island!

Thotyssey: Hello Sabel! You’re currently in Hawaii, where you moved to about a year ago… how have you been enjoying your time there so far?

Sabel Scities: Hello! Yes, I went Covid Crazy and turned my life upside-down (again) and move to Kona, Hawaii after this last Fire Island season!

What is the Hawaiian drag scene like?

There’s a lot of eager talent here, but there hasn’t been a “show director” at My Bar yet. [Bar owner] Rocco and I have talked about working together for years; I was super excited when we saw the opportunity to work together, and he invited me to help build entertainment as Covid restrictions slowly lifted up!

You also spent a lot of time in your native Texas this past year, where the conflict between business owners, patrons and the state government regarding mask wearing and lockdown has been widely reported on.

Texas rules on opening and closing were exhausting and really stressful; the nightlife we had fallen in love with no longer existed, as y’all felt in NYC I’m sure. I know business owners and service industry workers have been tested in ways we never imagined; I was so proud to watch friends at the places I worked upholding safety regulations. I was sad to see how shitty people treated bar staff enforcing rules, because they were just tired of being policed and just wanted it to be over. I hope everyone considers getting vaccinated and stops giving hard workers the ugly diva attitude.

Have you had any experiences performing with digital drag this year?

Digital drag tested us! I’m lucky my fans will watch me drink a half a bottle of tequila on Facebook Live and let me call it a show! I was so surprised how much I relied on the audience as a lightening rod for exchanging energy. Performing for a screen still helped us connect and even raise some money for charity while in lockdown, but I was zapped of all my energy for a full day after every online show.

[Photo: Sarah Bork]

I love an interview you did with I’m From Driftwood where you discuss being from Wichita Falls, Texas and raised in a Church-going family who did not approve of you being gay, and were then particularly displeased that you became a drag queen. But over time they grew to love and accept you for who you were, and are literally the heads of your fan club today! It’s such a great story.

Thanks, I couldn’t believe the reach that article had! I’m grateful I’m from Driftwood helped our family tell our story.

What lesson do you think both young queer kids and their conservative families might learn from the story of the Byars?

I’d say growing up, I had such a lack of confidence to be myself the way I wanted to be. And my parents had just chosen to believe what they were taught and thought they were raising me like they were supposed to, the best they knew how; when you come from those parts of Texas it’s a very common story. So, the main takeaway I hope families see is how much it was worth the effort it’s taken to get where we are. My whole family had to take a long time to learn from each other. We had to learn for ourselves what we actually thought, rather than just believing what we were told. We had to reexamine ourselves, and not be afraid to admit when we were wrong. It’s still an evolving relationship. We still have to be okay being the first apologize sometimes, lol!

[Photo: Sarah Bork]

Tell us a bit about your drag mom from Portland, Jersey Scities.

We are disconnected at the moment, but at the time she helped me discover my young gay self; the sassy was always there, she just help me channel it. I learned about gay history, and being active in the community. She ran a fierce house for a nice chapter of queer Portland; we were all holding titles and hosting shows and representing all over the city, and mama was always a proud mama. Those are some of the gayest, best times of my life, and there are lessons I still pass on to kids 15 years later as they continue to pop up… which makes me feel so young.

How did that wacky spelling of your family name come to be, by the way?

The creative spelling was a drunk night with a local legend, Tiara Desmond. She isn’t with us anymore, but she left you a fun, confusing way to find us on social media.

And how might you describe yourself as a queen today? What have been the big influences on your drag, and what’s your aesthetic and performing style like?

Today I am shooting for that cool aunt, sensually stunning 30-something, jack-of-all-trades entertainer. One of my strengths is how much I’ve soaked up from traveling the country for gigs and pageants and experiencing clubs / bars / shows of all kinds. I like being a chameleon, relatable, and good at dropping into any situation and having fun with it!

There are pageant gals who still slay me to this day, Drag Race girls whose work they put into their brand I’m constantly inspired by, and kids that shock and teach me new things, too. With the variety of entertainers constantly emerging I’m sure I will never get bored with drag!

Do you think that the very bawdy, edgy and occasionally button-pushing drag humor from even just a few years ago is on the “cancel culture” chopping block these days? Should that brand of comedy change and evolve with the times?

I think we are constantly challenged to make sure we are conscious of how much people actually listen to us and what we say. Movies and jokes from 10, 20, 30 years ago are based heavily on outdated stereotypes that weren’t okay then–we are just done accepting them as okay now. I don’t think outrageous humor is out the window, but be more clever about it! Learn to play and have fun without trying to hurt anyone. That being said… I’m still checking what I say, and why I’d think some things are funny in the first place. So much is just low hanging fruit and tacky–not in a cute drag tacky way, just in a gross “I don’t want hang with that person” way. We could stand to write a few new jokes, and reexamine what’s actually funny.

As we’ve already alluded to, you are one of those queens that have lived and worked in so many cities across the country! Where are all the places you’ve been exactly, and what has prompted all those moves?

I am a vagabond; I just tell people I have commitment issues. I started drag at an all-ages nightclub in Portland in 2005, and in 2009 won a local Drag Race / Absolut sponsored competition mirroring the first season of Drag Race. I got a trip for two to Ascension 2009, and needless to say the minute I saw the island from the ferry it was instant love. Dallas DuBois invited me to live with her for a month in 2010, so I went home, packed a bag, and nine months later made that move! For five years, NYC let me have it! I learned limits and tried new things, worked with amazing people and saw insane parties, adopted better business mentality, and had to grow up really, really fast.

Somehow I missed Texas where I grew up, and I’d been told Austin had a quickly-evolving community. So it was time to start all over again and get some Texas pageant experience, and refine my skills in a whole other way. I’d never imagined I’d become the face of a club like Rain–it was the peak of my career so far. We built 9 seasons of “Drag Class,” releasing over 40 new entertainers into the city to create their own careers. I took over weekly shows, raised money for queer youth, and worked harder than I ever have in my life.

I lost quite a bit of balance between boy / drag life, but didn’t realize it until March 2020 when Covid brought our lives to a screeching halt. I started to see the imbalance, and feel that I was just living to work. The Hawaii move was more about a break for mental health and getting the chance to explore what I want for my life, away from the responsibilities I’d taken on at the time.

[Photo: Sarah Bork]

Tell us a bit about your long tenure as a New York queen!

When I showed up I was young, hot, flexible, and you couldn’t tell me a thing! I won ‘Cattle Call” with Peppermint at Therapy my first night out, and was hungry to meet everyone and perform everywhere. I got to run around with such a fun group–we were all ready to take over and willing to work every night to maybe win some rent money–we were lucky to get in and have a couple of drink tickets. We did each others shows for free constantly, just to support each other (while getting to show off).

When I was peaking and won Miss’d America 2012 and suddenly had to have ACL reconstruction on my knee, it dropped my confidence down quite a bit. I head to learn to be funny and stand in one place to perform–no more tricks and acrobatics. And then as I get ready for a comeback, *BAM* a year later, I had surgery on my other knee. Rather than doing drag every night, I started to rely on bartending to pay the bills and gave up my dream of being a NYC icon. Funny enough to me, after I moved to Texas I started to feel more like people wanted to see me in New York. Maybe because I left hardly doing any drag? Maybe because they didn’t have to see me every week? But it has always been a second home to me, and I love, love, love coming back!

What queens are your best Judys in New York?

Without a doubt, Lauren Ordair and Chandilier; if they call I will be there, and they are the first faces I always want to see when I land. And every season at Cherry’s [on the Bay on Fire Island], I have fallen in with the girls I get to bust my ass with. Those queens work harder than most can imagine, and we are real quick to be there for each other.

The historic Barracuda Bar in Chelsea is about to turn 25! You’ve had shows there, back in the day. Might you be in the City in time for its big anniversary?

I was super lucky to host a few shows there, compete in Star Search many, many, many times, and see my favorite queens command that stage. If they invite me, I would be there in a heartbeat! If I’m not invited, I will wait in line to see what show they’re putting together!

[From left: Chandilier, Sabel Scities & Lauren Ordair, 2015]

We mentioned RuPaul’s Drag Race briefly above… are you a fan? Has the popularity of the show had a positive or negative impact on the art of drag? And have you ever been interested in doing it yourself?

Again, if they call, I will say yes! I have auditioned six times. I think the experience of being on the show: world tours, growth that happens there, doors it opens, and people you reach are all enormous reasons to be a RuGirl. I was lucky to learn three years of drag before the first season aired–I’ve had a unique look at before, during, and after. Some gorgeous trends have come out of it, and brand new platforms for designers and creators have benefitted just as much as the queens.

But I think the show is crazy for not allowing trans women to compete [editor’s note: although trans women and men have appeared on various incarnations of the show, it’s still a rarity to see them]. I think some of the fans don’t know the difference between drag and reality TV, and that’s the part that scares me. The hate, death threats, ugly comments– the dark side of the “fandom” are enough to make me never ever want on the show.

Speaking of Drag Race fandom negativity, you did a show at My Bar with Elliott with 2 Ts recently! There’s a RuGirl who maybe didn’t get the “best edit” on her recent season. But I understand she’s actually sweet and entertaining in person, right?

Oh Lord, lol! Going back to this being reality TV, there is always the possibility you can be “edited” to appear as the character they wrote for you that season. We all need to be careful what we say, and care this much about how we treat each other. I wanted to give her the same courtesy I give all the entertainers I work with, a chance to prove me wrong. Everyone I work with gets my full confidence until I have reasons not to trust them. We can listen to rumors and feed into hearsay, but until we sit down and get to know someone we are just trusting sight unseen what someone else says from their interaction. From the minute she landed, I did not witness any uncomfortable moments, offensive comments, or feel anything but a lovely queen with a warm spirit.

What do you think is so special about working out on Fire Island? Do you have any particularly fond memories of your time there?

I’ve been performing on Fire Island since 2009–I got bit by the ticks, and feel attached to it now. Its my gay Never Never Land. I go there to escape this reality we live in, and submerge myself into how I wish the world was: complete freedom to love who we are, and find people who share common energies. I’ll never remember every night, but I’ve had some of my most unforgettable moments in my life there. We all appreciate how rare it is to have a place like that, miss each other during the winter, and live our best gay lives when we get to go back. You can feel how much people want to keep it alive.

You’re also a Fire Island pageant title holder!

Yes! My first summer working at Cherry’s, I won Miss Fire Island 2010! Then I won Miss Cherry’s in 2013; if they have the contest this year, maybe I’ll give Entertainer of the Year a shot? Definitely watch out for me at Miss Cherrys All Stars!

You’ll be returning to Cherry’s for Sunday Bubbly Brunch, which runs May 23rd through September 12th. Tell us more!

I love that [Cherry’s managing owner] Jacque gave me brunch this season! Every week at 1pm, come eat up and drink up all the craziness you’ve come to expect from me: country, throwbacks, sing-alongs, old school drag and silly stupid fun songs. And I booked a different guest every week this season! Some gals I ran around with back in the day, some I’ve gotten to know since visiting, and a few I haven’t even met yet!

May 23rd, I get to kick it off with Kizha Carr! I have been a fan since day one; we both come from a similar area of the country, started drag about the same time, and love to laugh. This last summer we got really close, and she isn’t afraid to be absolutely foolish and stunning and captivating at the same time.

Then buckle up Darlin, the following week I have Tammy Lynn Spanx! Follow me on IG for updates on guests dates. We take reservations up to two weeks ahead of time by emailing info@cherrysonthebay.com!

What else might be in store for you, either while you’re in New York or beyond?

While I’m in New York, I really hope I get to just have a killer summer in Cherry Grove with some fun collaborations and fabulous memories… and lots of beach time. In September, I’ll come back to Kona in time for our Pride, then stick around to continue helping produce Ladies of the Lot, Church Brunch, and Dragtastic Bingo. You may see me on TV, on stage, on a corner–I’m open to whatever 2021 has for me! Maybe I should get a passport…

And finally… what’s your best advice for a new baby queen who wants to make her mark on whatever city she’s in?

Best advice I’ve been given: do what you do, let other people do what they do; both can exist at the same time. Be kind, everyone is going through things you know nothing about; say something nice or don’t say anything at all. Get the booking fee before you leave the club. And like Dolly says, “find out who you are and do it on purpose!”

Thank you, Sabel! Have a great Fire Island summer!

Check Thotyssey’s calendar for Sabel Scities’ upcoming appearances, and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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