By: Steven Martinez
“You can be just as sickening with a twenty dollar budget as you can with a two-thousand dollar budget,” Honey declares over a latte at Bennu. She can certainly attest to that.
Honey St. Claire, who identifies as a non binary trans drag queen, has performed many times with a limited budget. Her determination, ambition, and creative feats in making it work has made a name for herself across the Austin drag scene.
Honey St. Claire is currently competing in Drag Survivor, a local drag competition at Oil Can Harry’s hosted by Kelly Kline every Wednesday night at 11 p.m. For months, contestants endure weekly challenges with themes such as “Disney Villains” or “Gaga vs. Madonna” and typically only have a week to prepare a number, learn choreography, and create their wardrobe.
“In Drag Survivor, in two of the nights I’ve won, I did with a low budget. For the Sanderson sisters I literally had a bathrobe I found at Goodwill that I spray painted [green for the robe of Winifred Sanderson, played by Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus],” Honey says. After having to quit the competition in 2015 for personal reasons, Honey St. Claire is back with vengeance. As of this interview, Honey is one of seven drag queens left in the competition.
SMEAR: How has competing in this competition changed your life, Honey?
Honey St. Claire: Drag Survivor is really what made my drag career take off. People started to notice me, they were like ‘Who is this fat bitch spitting blood everywhere!’ I started to get more bookings and a fan base and it’s amazing. It really makes you feel like you’re accomplishing things. I was at an Olive Garden- I’m generally at an Olive Garden-and somebody came up to me and was like ‘are you Honey St. Claire? I just wanted to tell you that your number last night was sickening.’ Stuff like that, those little moments would not have happened had I not done Drag Survivor.
S: What is one thing you have learned from this competition?
Trust no bitch. Ha! I’m kidding. One thing I’ve learned is the value of sisterhood. Even though we’re all in a competition together you get really close. It really does feel like a big family.
S: Why do you do drag?
Really because it’s a way to express myself. I feel like when I’m not doing it I feel dull and almost lifeless. I feel it’s really therapeutic for me. You know we live these lives that are so rigid and controlled and we have to focus on manners- being kind and soft and gentle to everybody- so in a performance I think it’s very therapeutic to get out there and just make a huge mess- spit blood, bust open champagne bottles, shoot confetti-
S: Or use a sledgehammer on cantaloupes with faces drawn on them?
Oh my gosh, how could I forget that? I did a homage to Gallagher where I had cantaloupes on stage that I beat with a sledgehammer and that was just wonderful. If you’ve never hit a melon with a hammer I’d suggest it. It was like two weeks worth of therapy.
S: Who are prominent figures that inspire your drag persona?
I take a lot of inspiration from Divine. She was one of the very first drag queens I ever really saw and still to this day inspires me because she was large, she was fearless, and she was just in your face. I take a lot of inspiration from Kelly Kline, she is literally THE drag queen of Austin, Texas. She is really inspiring not only for her talent but just for the way she presents herself, she’s always well spoken and kind to everybody. I remember back when I was first starting [drag], I went out to the bar in my first lace front wig- that I still have somewhere though it’s a bump now because it’s really ratty- and my wig was sliding back because I didn’t know that there are hooks in the back of the wig which are used to tighten them. I remember being frustrated and Cynthia Lee Fontaine- another one of my [local] idols, grabbed me and was like ‘ mi amor, come here, come here’ and she took me to the back dressing room where Kelly was and told her I needed help with my wig. Kelly showed me how the hooks worked, tightened it and put it on me. That was a good moment. I also look up to a lot of other Austin queens like Christeene and Cupcake because as a pretty strange queen myself it was nice to be so validated, that you could be strange, freaky, and messy and still be an incredible performer. I remember when I was first starting out I saw Cupcake perform and she just made a big ass mess and was just absolutely sickening and I just thought to myself, ‘that’s it, that’s what I want to do’.
S: Do you remember your first performance you ever did in drag?
The very first performance I did in front of an audience was while I was a student at UT and it was for a Drag Ball there and I dressed up as a southern Baptist woman and I actually sang live. I sang ‘Highway to Hell’ by ACDC and I dedicated it to my mother.
S: How do people react when you say- or they find out- you’re a drag queen?
It varies. Some people react negatively. I’ve gotten told that drag is offensive. I’ve also been told that it’s a sin and have had several bible quotes thrown at me. A lot of people respond positively though! They’ll be so excited, they’ll ask me for makeup tips or they’ll ask me if I know some other drag queen that they happen to know. And I will because all of the Austin queens know each other. [Laughs] It’s a pretty close-knit scene.
S: Because of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Laverne Cox, drag culture and trans issues have reached a wider audience due to more media attention and awareness but people often times mix the two groups- drag queens and trans women- together. Being a trans drag queen, can you elaborate on this?
Well it’s true a lot of people do mix the two together. As a matter of fact being a trans woman and being a drag queen are two different things but you can absolutely be both! I am a testament to that, as are several other drag performers here in Austin. To put it simply: drag is what I do, trans is who I am. My identity has nothing to do with my occupation as a drag performer. You don’t have to be a cisgender gay man to be a drag queen. Literally everyone can do it and the Austin scene is living proof of that. We have queens that are gay men, lesbians, cisgender straight women, and plenty of others.
S: Final question, what is your favorite drag queen film?
H: John Water’s Female Trouble with Divine. There’s so many incredible scenes in that movie.
S: Is that the one where she asks, ‘who wants to die for art’?
Yes! She’s on a trampoline with a fish and then she starts shooting the audience members and that is everything I really ever want to be as a drag queen, that strange mix of sexy and terrifying. I want people to look at me and not be able to tell if I’m going to fuck them or kill them.