25 Jun YOU BETTER WERK: IN CONVERSATION WITH DRAG KING TOLEDO TENDERGROIN
Disclaimer: This article uses the abbreviation LGBTQIA2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit). We recognize that this term is not universal, and some people may use a different term.
Author’s Note: I am a cis white, able-bodied neuro-divergent queer woman. As a queer woman, drag has played a huge role in helping me come into my own and honour my queer identity as part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. I am immensely grateful for Toledo Tendergroin’s time and energy in sitting down with me for this interview.
When we connect over video chat from their apartment in Toronto, Daisy Fraser-Boychuk greets me with a warm grin, the 22-year-old behind the drag persona, Toledo Tendergroin. Tendergroin reminds me that they’ve never been interviewed about their work as Toledo, especially not for a publication at their alma mater, Queen’s University. “I’m excited to be here talking about drag; Toledo was born there. Yeah, I miss Queen’s a lot,” says Tendergroin, who graduated with a B.A. (Honours) in Gender Studies in May 2020. Since then, Tendergroin has been completing their M.A. in Gender Studies, focusing in trans studies, specifically trans aesthetics, at the University of Toronto (UofT) while living in a two-bedroom apartment with their friend and stylist.
Having graduated during the rise of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Tendergroin hasn’t exactly had the year of performing like they initially imagined they would experience post-grad — a universal sentiment for the class of 2020. For Tendergroin, these feelings of what could be especially ring true as they only performed a handful of times before the world shut down and have since only performed virtually or at intimate gatherings with friends. The self-described “twink in fishnets” first started practicing drag makeup alone in their student house in the spring of 2019. “That was just fun, and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t have any place to perform, so we’ll see if anything comes out of this,’” says Tendergroin. ”But then, during my fourth year at Queen’s, as Co-Chair of the club Education on Queer Issues Project (EQuIP), we had this great idea to do QUOM, a Queer Prom, and it was the perfect excuse to have Toledo perform.”
Before performing at EQuIP’s first-ever Queer Prom in November 2019, Tendergroin only did a couple of home photoshoots with close friends. Despite the lack of experience, the QUOM audience fell in love with the up-and-coming country-inspired drag king and couldn’t get enough. They understand that getting risqué and practically naked in front of your student body doesn’t typically fit the status quo, but they surprised themself with how freeing that performance felt. “It’s funny; everyone just kept telling me they were obsessed with Toledo, it was the word obsessed. Everyone was saying obsessed.” On hearing these words, Tendergroin says, “You know I loved the support. But every time someone says they’re obsessed with Toledo, I don’t hear that. I hear someone saying they see themselves reflected on stage in a way that is new or unlocks something they didn’t previously know about themselves.”
As a trans, non-binary masculine-presenting person, Fraser-Boychuk has a dynamic relationship with their drag persona. “While at Queen’s, I took the classic first year Gender Studies classes, which was the first time I was ever properly introduced to trans studies and trans pieces of work,” says Fraser-Boychuk. “Gender Studies was a huge catalyst for finding myself.” That year, they came to understand themself as non-binary, then that turned into understanding that they’re trans non-binary. Tendergroin doesn’t shy away from acknowledging how freeing drag is to their being in connection to their drag persona. To Tendergroin, drag allows them to express parts of themselves that they may not get to express otherwise. They’re able to show more skin, something that they usually shy away from doing out of fear of being perceived as feminized during their day-to-day life. Loud, sexual, and naked are only a few of the words Tendergroin used to describe their personality. “When I do drag, I can strip and give people lap dances and be vulgar. I can do whatever and have it mean what I want it to mean, you know?”
For Tendergroin, “drag is a vessel for self-expression.”
Thinking back to a time in their life when they were more femme presenting, Fraser-Boychuk remembers the immense pressure they felt to conform to gender binary societal standards. “Walking down the street, as a femme presenting person, the world treats you a certain way based on the way you look. To me, that was really damaging to who I was and what I was actually feeling inside.” Being able to perform as a masculine drag king, who is also feminine in other ways, allows them to pull apart assumptions people have about gender. “I’m like a genderless blob, while also being a person that expresses gender in very specific ways,” Tendergroin proudly says as they point to their love of stick-on mustaches and assless chaps. “When I see a drag performance, what I see underneath the music and lip-synching and costume is someone taking control over their creativity.” Tendergroin appreciates that those who do drag — especially drag performers of colour who have and continue to be trailblazers in the drag scene — act as symbols of people who have allowed themselves to make the world their own — not following the script. Rather, completely upheaving their entire sense of self.
After performing at EQuIPs first-ever QUOM in November 2019, they got booked to perform at Drag Me Down Under, an annual drag show hosted by Get Real Queen’s in the classic Queen’s club, The Underground. This was their first performance in a club, an environment they say they’re most comfortable performing in. “I prefer the club vibe; my performance is for everyone to be doing their own thing and for Toledo just to be there initiating the vibe.” As a queer person, Tendergroin stresses the importance of not centring themself in queer spaces. “I know I’m not the most important person in the room and especially in queer spaces, everyone is the most important person in the room.”
Tendergroin was only one of two drag performers from Queen’s – the other being Fabian Fabulous – that performed the night of the show, along with a handful of other drag queens hired and driven in from Toronto, ON. “Thinking back to that night, I didn’t know any drag performers in Kingston, which just speaks to how small the drag scene is in Kingston, if it even exists at all,” Tendergroin recounts, as they felt they needed to manifest the drag scene in Kingston out of thin air. Especially considering that in many people’s eyes, drag is only rendered legitimate from cis white gay men, Tenderloin questioned their place in the drag scene. Fourteen months later, Tenderloin can only name one other drag queen currently enrolled at Queen’s.
Now, a little over a year post-graduating from Queen’s, Tendergroin feels excited to establish a new queer community in the city. They’ve experienced how isolating and competitive the drag scene can be and hope that drag is shifting away from this culture of individualism towards a culture of radical collective liberation. “It’s okay for people to be excited about seeing a specific performer, but it would be cool for the whole audience to come in drag, everyone expressing themselves in the way they want.” Having recently gotten more into disco music, they’re excited for the club scene to reignite and return to their love of performing, lap dancing for strangers to the beat of Shania Twain’s iconic, Man I Feel Like A Woman. “To me and to Toledo, drag is just another way to show the world parts of yourself that have previously been hidden and have otherwise not known how to express,” Tendergroin says.
“Drag isn’t the way to express yourself; it’s just one of the many ways. And, I have to say, I love it.”
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: @toldeotendergroin, @meganfanjoy, @chanelromeo
Creative Director: @toledotendergroin
Model, Styling, Photography, Hair & Makeup: @toledotendergroin
Creative Assistants: @meganfanjoy @chanelromeo