Drag Performer - Alexandre Valentino Shayne & Heaux Leigh Sheet
With the infinite possibilities of gender identity and expression, when did you know?
“Growing up, I was taught to be highly effeminate. I did a lot of theater as a kid, and I would always gravitate toward male roles. I felt like I kind of played a female role every day in my life so I tried to step out of that whenever I could. I really hated doing all the stereotypical women's chores. I was like, ‘I'll do everything else, just please let me not do this.’ I fought fulfilling feminine roles wherever I could. It just didn't really vibe with me, but I just didn’t really feel like I wanted to be super masculine either. I never really felt like a man, but I never felt connected to being a woman either. So it was hard to find what that meant for me. That's something that I'm still kind of trying to do now, because I've come out as non-binary twice in my life. More recently, a couple of months ago, I came out again as non-binary.”
“My preferred pronouns out of drag are they/them. Because I present as feminine, I'm usually called she or her. It just kind of makes me cringe. It feels really bad sometimes. Especially on days when I'm not stepping out as a drag queen, when I'm just me. It can hurt when people just assume my gender.”
How old were you when you came out?
“So I came out a couple of times in my life. The first time was when I was 14 years old. I came out as bisexual and didn't really understand anything about gender at that time. A year later, I came out as gender fluid. I then went back into the closet because of bullying and harassment, dated straight, and presented as cisgender. I tried to go back to playing a cis-het role again. It wasn’t a good time in my life, and I did it for other people because I thought it would make life easier when just the opposite was true. A little over a year ago, I came out again as gay, and a few months ago I came out as non-binary.”
On their coming out experiences...
“Coming out to my family was really rough. I only had two cousins that were really accepting. My dad seemed to be a little more open to it even though he said he doesn't really get the whole ‘gay thing.’ And my mom didn’t even acknowledge it. She told me, ‘Hey, when you meet a nice guy let me know. Invite me to your wedding.’ And it's just never going to happen unfortunately. It breaks my heart. So coming out kind of put a little bit of distance between us. Coming out to my family about gender probably won’t happen anytime soon.
A lot of my friends are really accepting. I mean, sometimes you come out and people don't really get it, especially when you say that you're non-binary and you prefer they/them pronouns. That usually opens up a big conversation that sometimes I’m not ready for. Correcting people on my pronouns is something I’m still shy and frankly a little scared about, but I’m starting to get to a point where I feel like I can start telling friends about my pronouns and chosen name. I’ll just have to keep coming out again and again.”
Fears or concerns with coming out...
“I guess my fear is that my friends might not realize that I do prefer different pronouns now. And if they call me by my legal name, I mean it's fine I guess, but it's just something that I never liked or wanted. Even as a kid, I wanted a different name that I felt suited who I was. And now that I found a name I really like, I hope that my friends are going to accept it and just use that name.”
On frustrations within our community...
“Something really frustrating is how in some ways, it's still really dominated by cis men. Even if they're gay, it's mostly just cis white men that still kind of run the show and they're still the face of The Gays™. Somehow, these individuals still seem to be the face of who queer individuals are, and that's very far from the truth. We have people across all sorts of different spectrums that fall through the cracks in some queer communities and lack representation. I feel that cis-het people have a misguided perception of what a queer individual should be like just because the media and our society gives more representation and privilege to white, cis gay men. I have nothing against white, cis gay men, but I do have a problem with the lack of representation and erasure of so many people.”
Favorite part about our community?
“What I love about our community is that I’ve just finally found a home, especially with drag. I mean, you can find all sorts of people -- you can find straight people doing drag, non-binary people, asexual people, you get the point. I mean the list goes on and on and on. Anyone and everyone can do drag. What I love about the community is that you can just be yourself and literally nobody cares. Everyone’s identity is valid regardless of how they present or who they’re currently in a relationship with. For example, just because someone is a cis man dating a cis woman doesn't mean that they’re automatically straight and not bisexual or pansexual. Everyone is still queer and they’re more than allowed to be out and proud.”
What's one thing you would tell younger you? And any advice for anyone out there that feels they can come out, or don’t have a community to be a part of?
“What I would tell my younger self is, ‘Guess what? You’re gay... and it's totally fine! Also, don’t try so hard to be someone you’re not.’ I would also just say, ‘You're going to be a really kick ass drag king... and you don’t look half bad as a guy, either! Somehow that totally worked out. So, all those roles, like trying to be the lead male in every single play, wasn't for nothing. You will use what you’ve learned and you’re going to have a great time being yourself. You will finally reach the peak of your existence, but you just have to be patient with yourself. Besides, I’m pretty sure you knew all along who you were. Don’t deny yourself. Be honest with yourself about who you are, because you weren’t wrong. Just find help when you need it. It's totally fine to not be okay sometimes.’
To others: No matter what age you are, even if you've been married for a long time in a heterosexual relationship and then you are like, ‘Wow, that’s not who I am,” there is no problem with coming out later in life. Sometimes, it takes a while to figure out who you truly are. It's totally ok to come out later because there are people that are here for you. And they may be the most unexpected kind of people. It's kind of scary to come out in this world, but just start with yourself and your closest friends and just kind of go from there. Find community centers that will support you and your journey of self exploration, and, oh I don't know... go to drag shows! Honestly, go to drag shows. That's where I made most of my friends like this whole year. Without them, I don’t know that I could’ve found myself before it was too late. That's what I would say: just reach out to the community and don't be afraid.”
How did you decide on Xani?
“So it's kind of an interesting story. Like I said, growing up, I did not like my name. I just felt like it didn't suit me, and I always tried to go by some different name. Names that are classically considered “girl names” are cute, but I always liked “boy names” better. In February of this year, I started doing drag, and my drag king name is Alexandre, so a lot of people will try to take a spin on that name, and one of those names was Xani. I really liked it, and I was like, ‘Guys, call me Xani out of drag. Don't even call me Alexandre.’ And then I made it more official, and I said, ‘Guys, this is my chosen name, and this is what I would prefer you to call me out of drag.”
What in life are you most proud of?
“So this is going to sound dumb... but I think what I'm most proud of is just trying to be a really good friend to people around me, and just trying to be the support that maybe I didn't have when I was growing up/when I was a teenager. I felt like my family kind of just emotionally abandoned me at some point and just detached. They had some unrealistic expectations for me. I just try to be there for other people, especially my partner, who, like me, is still trying to figure out who they are. I'm just trying to do my best to be there for my friends and others. I may not have accomplished a lot in my life, but I will fight for my friends, and it is something I’m proud of.”
With the current state of the nation and the world, if you had the power to change one thing what would you change?
“I would just hit the restart button. Things are such a mess right now. I don't even know how to fix it even if we just tossed the whole government away. We just have to make sure that our own nation is prospering and that we can actually support our own people, all of our citizens, and then we can build off from there.”