12 - Chris Arends
Colorado Springs, CO
Drag Performer - Autumn Quinn. Sinister Sister.
With the infinite possibilities of gender identity and expression, when did you know….
“Very young actually… I always knew I was a little bit ‘off’, and not in a sense of I was weird, but in the sense that I didn’t relate to my classmates. They all really liked this girls, and I just liked her because she was cool. Everyone else liked her because she was pretty.
I started experimenting with the whole idea of being with other men in my sophomore/junior year of high school, and then in college got kind of into both [men & women]. Then starting drag really escalated me to... ‘There are so many other [gender identities] out there besides just men and women.’ All of that scene. I’ve started more or less figuring it out as I grow. For me, it’s very constant changing, but I’ve always known that ultimately I am one of the LGBTQ+ members.
As a drag queen, I get asked so many questions about this… I try to more identify sexuality as a spectrum, and identity as a spectrum. You don’t have to have a label to feel valid. If I had to have a label, I’m a gay man. That’s the easiest for people to understand…. Maybe in two years that will change, because even in the last year labels have changed drastically. I’m kind of all over the place. It really depends on who I’m with, and the person I’m talking with. Your chemistry is different around every person…”
How old were you when you came out?
“I think I was 17, and I was actually outed. I was talking to the only out boy at school, and I don’t think he was meaning to be mean about it, but he was talking to all his friends about a date we went on… but I was trying to keep very private. In the matter of one class period, the whole school knew. It was really stressful. I thought to myself, I could either hide this and be really afraid and allow myself to be ridiculed, or I could be like, ‘You know what? You’re right… what’s next? What else are we going to talk about? Do you have more friends you’re going to introduce me to to, or not?’ Actually, my girlfriend before that, introduced me to my first boyfriend. She was like, ‘Oh my gosh! You’re gay? Here talk to this person!’ It was a weird year for me.
I came out to my family towards the end of that school year, because my brother knew - he kept it very private for me - just because… our family wasn’t necessarily strict, you just don’t know what you’re gonna get everyday. There’s a lot of people don’t have the knowledge… and even as people in the LGBTQ community… even we’re still shy about talking about it, so obviously the people who aren’t involved don’t even have any point of reference to handle it. Or if they do have a reference, it’s from a show on tv where the person dies in the second episode, or from the movie, To Wong Foo… they think we do that all day, every day. That’s not how we are...”
Biggest fears or concern about coming out…
“My biggest fear - and it still kind of is - is people misunderstanding what [identifying as LGBTQ+] means. For me, I was still great in school, I was still playing sports, I was still artistic… but I really was worried, because the only other person that I could relate to was… me now, really… he was really loud, very effeminate and very bold. At the time, I was really shy and didn’t want to be associated with that… yet. I was still trying to figure myself out, and just get through school… For me, sexuality wasn’t all that was on my mind at that time… I just knew that I needed to get out of that school, and then be myself. So, my biggest fear with the public was being stereotyped… but my biggest fear with my family, was just them not understanding me.”
First celebrity crush or person that made you start questioning your sexuality?
“It was actually one of my best friends growing up. I won’t name names. He was the first one that, when would hang out, was just so comfortable being shirtless, and walking around in his underwear. I was always so shy, because I’m also so small… and the first time I saw him I really like his confidence. I wondered, ‘Maybe I’m just admiring his confidence? Or… maybe I’m gay?’...”
Favorite part about the community?
“There are actually a lot of favorite things for me… especially because the more involved I’ve gotten, the more I’ve had a chance to see that the toxic things I see, are specific people, not the community itself…
As a drag entertainer, I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of some really cool things… you meet a lot of really unique people… One of my most favorite things about that community, is that we are all wanting very best for the next generations. Because we’ve had to struggle so hard, when we get to see kids - especially at pride… as soon as there were kids, all the queens were flocking to them saying, ‘You could do this too! You have this opportunity…’ And now that we are going through a huge civil rights movement, it’s cool to be able to say, ‘Yeah, there are a lot of bad people out there, but you don’t have to be one of them.’ or ‘You have a support system behind you.’
...the reason I do drag is because I love this community! I really want to change things, and I think you can do that if you’re willing to accept that the bad things can be pushed aside… but there’s always a reason to do the right thing.”
“[The community] is very toxic… some people will say, ‘Oh, I know them… but we broke up.. So now we never talk…’ I feel everyone in our community has at some point been an outcast… so now that we’re reclaiming it as our own, now we’re the popular kids… we’ve become the ones making others feel excluded. Especially, my generation of people right now… the mindset is more, ‘If you don’t agree with everything I say, you’re cancelled!’ or ‘You don’t actually know my struggle!’ The fact of the matter is that none of us know each others’ struggle… We all are fighting our own thing… We just happen to be similar in what we prefer sexually. That’s the only thing we have in common. People say, ‘You’re this kind of gay… or your that kind of gay…’ You can do whatever you want. And you can also NOT do whatever you want.
For me it’s really interesting because I get to see it from the bar side of it all… like I’m the ‘Club Gay’ essentially - at least that’s the label used these days for me. I work in a gay bar, so I’m associated with all the gays that are, basically reliving their childhood through the bar scene , or trying to find their family… Whereas there are others that just wanna go read books and drink tea, and all that.
...Everyone is trying to label a community that doesn’t want to be labeled.
Something I’ve noticed, especially in the drag culture… everyone thinks if you’re gay, you should be out supporting your gay artists… but sometimes they don’t want to go to a bar. I know a lot of LGBT+ members that hate the bars… and it’s not because they don’t want to be around the people, it’s because they don’t want to be around the loud music and alcohol. To me, that’s completely valid. For drag events I’ll invite as many people as I can, and, yeah, I’ll invite people who happen to be gay, but there’s also a significant amount of straight people that support what we do… I’ve noticed a lot of people, especially drag entertainers, thinking, ‘Are you really an ally, if you’re not out supporting me?’ It shouldn’t always be about yourself, you should think, ‘Are you really an ally? Because if we really needed your support, we know you’d be there…’”
What is something you would tell a younger you?
“If I actually had this opportunity, I would lecture the sh*t out of myself… because I was so focused on what other people thought that I was trying so hard to not be what my role models were. Even that one friend that was gay and out, he was essentially a stereotypical gay man… but I need that to grow up… I need that to understand that I’m still relating to him, but I’m not him.
A big part of me loves where I’m at right now, and I wouldn’t change anything, but the other side is just telling younger me to quit trying to impress other people, or quit trying to validate yourself… because you ARE valid. The journey that you’re about to go through IS valid. Even if there are days that you feel like you need to talk about things more, or want to educate others more… you don’t have to be the spokesperson for all the gays because you’re gay. You can just be a person who happens to be gay. There are so many people out there just trying to prove that their existence is valid… and we don’t have to. We’re here. We’re not going anywhere regardless of what people say.
It’s taken me a long time to learn that, and I wish I had learned it sooner… but had I not gone through what I’ve gone through, I would not have discovered what I’ve discovered.”
Advice for anyone out there who feels like they can’t come out, or they don’t have a community to be a part of?
“As a drag performer, I get a lot of messages about coming out… for me, it’s always people that are so afraid right now… and it’s always very young kids… the biggest things is, you don’t have to come out. If you are experiencing this, it’s okay to just talk about it without actually having a party to announce it or something elaborate with a wardrobe change… Start small… talk to me, talk to friends… Being honest with your friends can change so much. I recently found out a good portion of my friends growing up is gay, I just happened to be so internalized about it that I was so afraid to talk about it. Communication can go a lot of ways, and if it goes sour, at least you learned… I wouldn’t want someone who isn’t for me and my existence in my life anyways. Also, starting out, don’t feel like you have to educate others… I think you’d be surprised what can happen with just a conversation, or one person to confide in…”
What in your life are you most proud of?
“I feel like I’ve fought very hard to validate myself - something I wish I hadn’t done - but I’m at a point know where I’m almost a little too confident in myself. I’m very proud of my journey. Like right now, I’m now the face of a bar, I’m helping another generation of people who feel outcasted, feel more like everyone else.
I’m also really proud of Autumn - my drag persona. I’ve grown so much, and my confidence level has grown so much… and because of that, people are always coming up to me saying they want to do what I do. I want to be able to talk to people… I go perform at colleges, I go meet people who are in very rural communities… and I’m really proud of that.”
With the state of the nation and the world in its current state, what’s one thing you would change if you had the power?
“Well obviously I would stop the homophobia… but actually this is the biggest thing I was always taught growing up - You can always fight the system through education. As LGBTQ+ members, we need to stop being so shy and timid when it comes to politics. I think we need to educate ourselves… find out who cares about us… who cares about our issues… and go out and support them. If we, as a community, got a little bit louder - and not louder in the sense of partying and being those half naked people on parades - but actually went to meetings, and created a presence that says, ‘Hi, I’m here to listen, and this is what I’m here to fight for!’... I think that’s a huge thing our community needs to do to eventually change things. It’s happened in other civil rights movements, and it is happening now…”