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What it means to be two-spirit: Q & A with drag king Riel Deadly

Lydia Toorenburgh / Riel Deadly said a two-spirit Elder inspired them to transform their drag art into a reflection of two-spirit identity
Lydia Toorenburgh is a two-spirit Metis and mixed settler person who local drag show attendees might recognize as drag king Riel Deadly. (image supplied)

Who are you and what kind of performance do you do?

My name is Lydia / Riel Deadly, and I am a two-spirit Metis and mixed settler person (they/she/he). I am a drag king, beadworker, and singer-songwriter. I began playing with drag in 2018 and performed for the first time as Richard Fitzgerald (Dick Fitz) in 2019. As I was coming-in to my two-spirit identity, I spoke with a two-spirit Elder who inspired me to transform my drag art into a reflection of my two-spirit identity and through that connection, strengthen both. I re-emerged as Riel Deadly, and I enjoy weaving together aspects of masculinity and femininity, “in-between-ness,” Indigenous and queer culture, musicality, and humour.

What does it mean to be two-spirit?

For many years, the English and French terms for LGBTQIA+ Indigenous people were extremely derogatory. The word two-spirit was brought forward by Fisher River Cree Nation Elder Dr. Myra Laramee at the Third Annual Gathering of Native American Gays and Lesbians in 1990. Together, a circle of Indigenous LGBTQIA+ leaders / Knowledge Holders / Elders discussed the use of this name and accepted it through ceremony. The term comes from Elder Dr. Myra’s teachings, and we use it to describe ourselves as Indigenous LGBTQIA+ people but many of us also have specific genders, teachings, and words in our own language from our Indigenous Nation. So being two-spirit is experienced and expressed in as many different ways as there are two-spirit people. Only Indigenous people can use the term two-spirit and not all Indigenous LGBTQIA+ people use / identify with this term. We are not a monolith, even though many of us use a common word, in the same way as people who use terms like queer and trans are also wonderfully diverse and varied.

Why do you think drag is resonating with so many people right now?

I see a double truth: I see 2SLGBTQIA+ people thriving, accomplishing amazing things, and being more visible than ever; and I also see 2SLGBTQIA+ people continuing to be under threat around the world. It is an inspiration each time someone reaches a place / time when they can express themselves fully. When I see drag, I see performers and audiences being happy and celebrating 2SLGBTQIA+ people and culture. Drag is fun, entertaining, political, and powerful. There are many kinds of drag for each occasion, from family drag story-time, to brunch, to sold-out nighttime shows. With such a diverse artform, folks of all ages can enjoy drag.

How would you describe the drag scene in Victoria?

The drag community on Lekwungen and WSANEC territories is very active and there are events nearly every week. Invite your family to Sashay Cafe, the all-ages drag show by For the Love of Drag (@loveofdragvic) at Caffe Fantastico; take your friends to drag brunch at The Vicious Poodle or Friends of Dorothy; or you take your date to Man Crush Monday, a drag king special by King Fling (@kingflingvic) at the Victoria Event Centre. The city is full of Kings, Queens, Things, Royalty, Clowns, and more! The performers here are all so passionate and entertaining, you are sure to join several fan clubs.

How do we get involved in drag?

Excited to get into the audience? Find local events by following local performers, producers, and venues on Instagram, and you can find event pages on Facebook. You can also watch many drag TV shows like Call Me Mother, Drag Race, and the Boulet Brothers’ Dragula. Interested in getting into drag? Start watching videos and TV shows, come to local shows, and build relationships with other supporters, performers, and producers. Watch tutorials, look at pictures, and start playing with your make-up, clothes, and music. Begin reaching out to performers and producers that you admire who can help mentor you and help you build relationships with the drag community.

About the Author: Black Press Media Staff

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