These transgender and gender-nonconforming drag queens tap into their identity to create powerful performances

On today’s episode of the Behind the Drag podcast, we talk to Kat Wilderness, Maxxx Pleasure, and Jupiter Velvet about exploring gender identity through performance, and embracing gender expression both in drag artistry and day-to-day life.

Katerina is a Miami-based drag performer and trans woman who overcame childhood bullying to become Kat Wilderness, a glamorous drag queen who channels pop stars like Beyoncé and Ariana Grande. 

As a teenager, Katerina was bullied by her peers and called terrible names, and for a long time she had trouble accepting her gender identity. But finding the Miami drag community helped her learn not only to accept herself, but to love herself. She told In The Know, “I didn’t always love myself, my face. It really was through time and being in these spaces and meeting other trans women that do drag here in Miami. I was like ‘OK, there’s more people like me.’”

Now, Katerina describes herself as “the child of pop stars.” “I just wanted to live my pop star fantasy and I wanted to like do world tours,” she told In The Know. “I wanted to bring drag into those spaces. I always say that I am the pop star that you’ve never heard of.” 

Katerina is acutely aware of the prejudice and bigotry the trans community faces. “A lot of people see us as the bottom of the barrel,” she told In The Know. “Especially Black trans women. There’s so many Black trans women and trans women that get killed every year. And I say that to come back to my confidence and the will that I had for my life.”

Even in the drag world, there is prejudice against trans performers. But Katerina has a message for anyone who thinks she shouldn’t be performing: “Drag is an art,” she told In The Know. “Not a gender.”

“Anyone can put on the wigs, can put on the outfits, the makeup and express themselves however they want to,” she explained. “It doesn’t matter but I know that there are people out there that do not want to see me succeed, live, thrive. And to be honest with you, I don’t care.” 

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Maxxx Pleasure is a New York City-based drag king who uses drag to deconstruct the concept of gender. 

Drag gives Maxxx the freedom to explore the full gender spectrum. “I love being able to tap into my masculinity and my femininity and everything in between, just dancing along the gender spectrum,” he told In The Know. 

On stage, Maxxx is all about attitude. He is a rockstar with an over-the-top stage presence, who leaves his audiences feeling elated. “I love using props to tell the story of the performance and really build the drama. I love a reveal,” Maxxx told In The Know. “If you come to a Maxxx Pleasure show, you can definitely expect a lot of snarling and a very good time.”

Maxxx uses he/him pronouns but doesn’t identify as a specific gender. He credits the drag community with helping him embrace his gender nonconformity. “My gender identity is something that is very up in the air. I don’t know what the right word is to describe my gender. I don’t know if it’s non-binary, or agender, or gender fluid, and I’m okay with that,” he told In The Know. “That’s something that doing drag and being part of the drag community has taught me. It’s okay for me to not know or not be either or not be anything.”

Drag has also helped Maxxx embrace his bisexuality. “Actually loving my queer identity and celebrating my queer identity, that wasn’t something that I even understood until I started doing drag and I started spending my time with other performers, going to drag shows where being queer is something that’s celebrated,” he told In The Know. “[Something] I’m so grateful for in the drag community is that encouragement of self-love.”

The drag community has given Maxxx so much, and now he wants to return the favor by bringing drag king performances into the mainstream. “I hope that drag kings become as mainstream as drag queens are,” Maxxx told In The Know. “Drag kings are just as talented, [and] we work just as hard. It’s just that our illusion maybe is a little different.”

He explained, “Not everyone always knows what a drag king is, but they will. They’ll learn.”

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Miami-based Jupiter Velvet is a drag queen and trans woman who created her drag alter-ego as a way to escape the gender status quo and fully embrace her gender identity.

From a young age, Jupiter struggled with her gender identity. She dreamed of being able to embrace her femininity, but never felt comfortable doing so. Creating Jupiter Velvet gave Jupiter the freedom to start being her true self. 

“As a trans person, I don’t necessarily fit the status quo of what a female or feminine person presents. Jupiter Velvet exists as this kind of escape for me,” she told In The Know. “I created her as a means for me to cope with having to have rejected femininity for so many years, as a way for me to live out the adolescent/teenage/childhood fantasy of being a girl that I never got to experience.”

Drag became a safe space for Jupiter to explore her gender identity. “The Miami queer scene really allowed me to be as myself as I wanted to be and as I needed to be. I was able to discover my gender identity, discover my drag aesthetic because there were no limits, no rules,” she explained. “When I’m on stage, I am giving it my all physically and spiritually.”

Jupiter’s boyfriend, who is also trans, has supported her on her journey of self-discovery. She told In The Know, “I’ve never met someone more understanding than he is. He just knows how to calm me down, make me feel valid, and that’s a great feeling.”

Jupiter recently began hormone replacement therapy and is feeling increasingly comfortable in her own skin. “I spent so many years living in Miami and hating the water, hating being seen out,” she told In The Know. “So now it’s like incredible because I feel comfortable. I can let my guard down.”

Jupiter wants the world to be more open to different kinds of gender expression. She hopes that one day, everyone will be able to embrace their own gender identity without fear of judgment. 

She told In The Know, “There is no right or wrong way to be femme, there is no right or wrong way to be masc. There is no right or wrong way to exist, period.”

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If you enjoyed this story, check out In The Know’s other stories from Behind the Drag here.

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