- We spoke with famous Montreal drag queen Darleen about the Montreal queer community, how long it takes to get ready, and the future of the Montreal drag scene.
- You can catch Darleen at Bar le Cocktail and Cabaret Mado.
"You have to push in my upper body," Darleen tells me as I help her zip up the most colourful dress I've ever seen. I'm worried that I'll break the zipper as it's way too small for my hands.
"Is there a seam?"
"Uh, I don't think so..." I'm more nervous than I should be, "...do you want help with anything else?"
"Bobépine will help me with my jacket, don't worry," Darleen says with a wink. I retreat to the bar, order a pint, and find a comfortable seat.
Bar le Cocktail in Montreal's Gay Village is usually the place to be on a Friday night and that night was no different. Like every Friday, the patrons at le Cocktail were being treated to performances by three of Montreal's best drag queens.
It was my privilege to be personally invited for a look behind the scenes by the one and only Darleen Deer, a veteran of the Montreal drag scene and indisputable queen of the stage. That night, she was joined by none other than the legendary Chouchoune and Gala des Drags Newcomer of the Year in 2018, Bobépine.
Before the show began, Darleen and I sat down to talk about her experiences as a drag queen in Montreal!
Like all of us, Darleen Deer came from humble beginnings. Once hesitant and unsure if she even wanted to continue drag, Darleen is now one of Montreal's household names, performing at least two shows a week at le Cocktail or Cabaret Mado.
“Darleen began nine years ago at the Drag Moi Season 1, it was my best friend and my drag mother, Marla Deer, that made this show. For the 1st season, she wanted people who had some stage training. I studied theatre, so I knew that something was gonna be good or at least passable on stage."
In 2011, after visiting Mado for the first time and discovering the incredible world of drag, meeting legends such as Mado and Dream, Darleen decided to take an empty spot on Season 1 of Drag Moi.
"At the beginning, I didn’t want to be a drag queen but I said you know what, I want to be on stage and theatre isn’t working. It’s a good thing I did that because now I’m performing two times a week and with Pride, I’m there every day there’s a show except the 15th."
Being a drag queen in Montreal takes hard work, dedication, and a thick skin. Darleen has seen more than her share of performers crumble under the pressure and even get ousted from the community.
"In my first year, I couldn’t perform at a bar because the booker was jealous that I got the guy she wanted! I had a difficult start because of that — when you have a booker who doesn’t like you, they can decide if you show or not — that’s the worst thing."
Darleen stayed true to herself and her character. Though discouraged many times, especially when the drag scene was way more cutthroat than it is today, she's always persevered.
“Rivalries are less and less common. There used to be a lot, but now between bars, not anymore."
However, there are still many negative stereotypes associated with certain performers in the community. The Village, according to Darleen, still sees in-fighting between LGBTQ+ communities in Montreal.
“I’m a Village drag queen, I assume it. But I hate when people talk about that like it’s a wrong thing. It’s not a bad thing, Pride happened because of the Village. But at the same time, Pride wasn’t invented because of the masc for masc community. It got invented because of the queers and feminine guys that were really flamboyant."
"The bad thing about the Village for me is going to sound a little bit homophobic because I think there’s more homophobia inside the Village than outside. Like “this guy is too femme, this guy is too masc,” let’s just be. Drag queens bring a lot of wisdom about that."
Despite this, there is a thriving drag queen community in Montreal and Darleen says that it's more open than ever before. These days, drag isn't just about men dressing as women, especially in Montreal.
"You can expect to see women as a woman, man as a man, and a woman as a man — drag is for everybody. Don’t think it’s just one thing now because drag is for everything and everybody."
Darleen mentions the popularity of RuPaul's Drag Race for really shining a spotlight on the community. She even says that everyone should go audition for Drag Race Canada to support each other and grow the community.
"In Montreal, we have so many opportunities and the new girls have even more opportunity than ever before. The drag scene in Montreal is really one of the biggest in Canada."
If you think you might be able to become a drag queen, be prepared for hours of practice! Darleen is an expert now — she takes under an hour to prepare on most nights. Her first night, however, was a little more complicated.
"First time I tried it was 3 hours! They always said that I was good at hiding my eyebrows, though. Today, what I can do in 30-45 mins I’m done and the first time I didn’t even put half of this and it took me three hours and it looked horrible. With time, you know what to do. Makeup is expensive, so you need to have techniques to use less makeup."
The process is certainly intimidating, even for the most experienced makeup artist.
“Red or orange to hide the beard, you glue your eyebrows, I do everything under the eyes, foundation, highlight, contouring while I wait for the eyebrows to dry. After that, makeup all over the eyebrows, after I do the white, then the liner — basically, I do the opposite of everything you learn in makeup school! In school, you learn to do your pale before your dark and I do my dark before my pale. It works for me, I’m renowned for my blending. Maybe my technique is better than what you learn in school!"
Ultimately, Darleen says that being a drag queen is all about perseverance, originality, and having an open mind. She's all about trying new things and being open to new experiences.
“If all drag queens were the same, it would be boring.”
The community is at a critical point right now, according to Darleen. The next few years are going to be incredibly exciting for the drag community in Montreal!
"We have more visibility, now we have more hope to live off this. Maybe in Montreal, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel to be able to live on drag, not yet, but there’s a light."