Representing a new generation of gender fluid and progressive drag performers, Gray Aria is becoming a nightlife star of open stages, competitions and featured billings. Once homeless and gigging cross country, the future is now bright for this exciting New York trailblazer!
Thotyssey: Hello Gray, thanks for chatting with us today! How was your week?
Gray Aria: Hi there! It’s been pretty good–I just got a new day job, and I got to see my brothers this weekend in my hometown.
Yay! Where’s that, if I may ask?
A wonderful town, as the song goes! So I’ve seen you perform twice now: on the “Madd Mondays” open stage at Metro, and competing in “Lady Liberty” at The Q! They were very different performances. How might you describe the “type” of drag you do?
I think my drag gets to be anything I want it to be, honestly. I was a drag king for a few years, and I always felt very limited to what I could wear and what I could perform. So when I started performing as Gray Aria, I wanted to literally be a “gray area” where you don’t know what you’re gonna get stylistically… but it’s always gender fluid, weird and campy.
How long have you been at the drag game, and how did it all begin?
So I’ve been doing drag for five years in total, and I started at a coffee shop when I was 19. My buds and I used to go out to this place in the suburbs that had an attic they used for events, and a queen formerly known as Estelle Shambles started doing drag shows up there. The first one was an open stage, and they didn’t have a lot of performers to do it–so the DJ who was a friend of mine asked me to give it a try as a drag king, and showed me artists like Spikey Van Dykey and Mo B. Dick. That was honestly my gateway into queerness, until I was old enough to hang around Boystown and do those open stages.
What brought you to New York, and hook up with all the Brooklyn monsters, lol?
I honestly did not see myself living in New York; it was kind of a happy accident! I was living in my car from June to November of last year. When I became homeless I was struggling with my birth family, had just ended a three year relationship, and was in the middle of my first year on HRT–and everything was really rocky for me. The bars were not open in Chicago from the pandemic, so there was no drag work or queer gathering… and I just kind of packed up my stuff and left. I didn’t see anything for me there anymore.
I hit up some connections and started doing drag on the road, and used whatever tips and bookings I made to get myself to the next town. I wanted to get myself to the East Coast because I’d never seen the ocean before, and I saw [NYC-based drag king / thing collective] The Cake Boys post about their competition “Takes the Cake,” and made the drive out Cincinnati. I just kind of saw it as an opportunity to get myself out there before the winter came and I’d have to camp out in the south. But I met so many people who are now family to me, and was I able to get affordable housing [in NYC] in November. And now I don’t think I’d ever want to live anywhere else. There’s so much drag, and it’s all so different, and it’s in every corner of the city. And to see and meet many other artists who play with gender the way I do is just very validating.
Drag in NYC is pretty diverse as you said, and it’s safe to say that since the Covid lockdown it’s gotten even more so. There’s a broader spectrum of non-cis performers doing it, and the types of looks and numbers they’re serving is pretty diverse as well. Do you have any idea where this all might be heading?
I think NYC is moving towards a drag king / creature / thing sort of Renaissance. And beyond NYC, I think we’re all a little exhausted at how drag is portrayed in mainstream media. These past few years we’ve had no break from the Drag Race franchise, watching season after season pumped out… and it’s growing rather stale. We all know that Drag Race is not drag as a whole, but Drag Race culture ends up seeping into our spaces and dictates the artists we see at the end of the day.
That’s very much how it was for me in my hometown: the girls whom show producers thought would get on [Drag Race] ended up scoring all the bookings and getting all the limelight–and if you did get on, you were set. Now that we have shows like Dragula and Call Me Mother, we’re understanding that there are way more opportunities for us as artists–and we can do what we want to do. We don’t have to follow a linear path where Drag Race is the end all goal. Drag kings and things have always been here; we just have more opportunities than before to claim our space, and get our share of the limelight.
The open stage of “Madd Mondays” at Metro (which actually just won the GLAM Award for Best Bar Party this year) hosted by Maddelynn Hatter is a great space to see these diverse performers come together, and just perform for the sake of performing while building a community.
Very much that. I always promote “Madd Monday” as my therapy day, lol! It’s all good fun, and everyone there’s just a little family.
You’ve got a bunch of in the works, like Tuesday nights at The Rosemont in Williamsburg.
And you’ll return to Metro this Thursday as the featured performer for “Dat Ass: Dancetaria,” with DJ Leroy Brown!
It will be more of a dance party kiki. We’re gonna do a couple of numbers, dance a bunch, and play some fun drinking games. It’s just gonna be a cute party, and a safe space for everyone to have a good time.
What else is coming up for you?
On March 17th I’ll be competing in the next round of “DragNet” at Metro hosted by Merrie Cherry. March 22nd will be my first time at The Slipper Room with Robin Rose Quartz. And March 26th, I’ll be at Albatross for “Astoria’s Kingdom” with Mx LeStrange!
Have great gigs! Okay, in closing: what’s a number, an artist, a look, etc. that you haven’t tried yet but really, really want to?
Oooh! So I’m currently learning to sew, and really want to make a look inspired by the Demon Core— that’s the third nuclear power source the U.S. obtained during WWII that was never used in a nuclear bomb, but killed multiple scientists in what I call an act of karmic retribution. Will people get it? Possibly not. But in the words of Marge Simpson, “I just think it’s neat.”