Ivy Winters: Drag Race
Photography Serichai Traipoom
Words Zarah Cheng
The first time I watched RuPaul’s Drag Race was with my friend, Matt, while we were on exchange in Milan. We each brought our own bottle of wine and while we “sipped” our vino and propped ourselves up on our elbows on his bed, I watched this crazy world of drag unfold before me. Like many people exposed to drag culture for the first time, I was completely clueless about what drag actually entailed. What pronouns should I be using? So does Alyssa Edwards want to be a woman or a dude? Needless to say, I was obsessed with queens in sequins from that night forward (thank you, Matt). It was also during this pivotal television moment that I was first introduced to Ivy Winters. And she was flawless. She was working that runway like a model and wearing a dress that she made herself out of photos of her face. I mean, come on! You do not see this queen and not want to reevaluate your life decisions as a woman. Although eliminated on Episode 8, Ivy retains a special place in Drag Race herstory after being named Miss Congeniality for Season 5. And I must say, after being on set with her all day, she deserves every last bit of that title. Down to earth and really just all-around lovely, Ivy is one of the sweetest people I have ever met. Not to mention talented (yes, she made that dress entirely out of hot glue). As we wrap up the shoot and Ivy gets out of drag, I sit down with Dustin Winters to chat about drag culture, ventriloquist dummies, and his coming out experience.
Describe Ivy Winters.
Creative. Innovative. Circus. Drag queen [laughs]. Put it all together.
What was your first exposure to drag culture?
I was at my grandparents’ house. I was flipping through the channels and To Wong Foo came on. That was the first time I saw drag queens and the first time I saw RuPaul.
How would you describe New York’s drag scene?
It’s like a buffet – you have everything. You have campy, you have pretty. You’ve got pageant queens, beauty queens. You have a lot of circuit, club kid performers. I mean, I consider those drag queens as well. They may not look like females, but they’re pretty much walking art sculptures and for me, that’s drag. So you get a bit of everything.
To a lot of people who don’t understand what drag is, they tend to automatically assume that drag queens or kings are synonymous with transgenders. Have you ever been put into a situation where you had to explain the difference to someone?
Years ago, I think a lot more people didn’t know what a drag queen really was or what they wanted to do with their lives as far as having a sex change or why they did it. When I told my parents I started doing drag, honestly, they were a little bit uncomfortable with it. But I told them that I [had] worked as a clown for eight and a half years and I put on makeup and a costume to entertain people. It’s not a sexual thing – it’s fun and entertainment. And they completely got it. They came to a show of mine and they loved it. They completely support me now. People just need to understand what it is – we’re just entertainers.
Some of the queens on the show opened up about how getting involved with drag, or even just coming out as gay, had created a rift with their families. What was your family’s reaction when you first told them you wanted to do drag?
I came out really young, freshman year of high school. And I was super nervous. I told my mom and it was super late. I had a juggling club in my hand as a comfort blanket. Which is strange [laughs]. But I told her, and she cried. She wasn’t upset that I was gay. She was upset by the thought of how hard it was going to be for me to go through high school and through life, period, with ridicule and people making fun and not accepting me for me. After that talk, they supported me 100 percent. My sister came out a year later, and my older brother a year after that. So both my siblings are gay and we have a very supportive family. We’re all very different.
That’s awesome that they’ve been so receptive of drag.
Since I first told them and they saw my first show, they understood why I liked to do it. They’re very supportive. My mom helps me rhinestone whenever she’s in town. She loves Drag Race and loved watching me on [it].
The recent mom-written open letter on Huffington Post about drag queens being better role models than Disney princesses made me so happy. Have you read it?
No I haven’t, but that’s a really good point! I mean, drag queens, to get out in front of hundreds of people and lip synch or be funny or wear whatever, it says a lot about your character, that you’re comfortable doing that and being true to who you are. So yeah, I can see why kids would look up to drag queens. A lot of my fans are 12 or 14-year-old girls or boys. Then it skips a bunch, and then a lot of middle-aged women [laughs].
Yeah, Fusion set up a play date between Manila Luzon and 10-year-old, Joselyn, after the letter was published and it was so cute!
I love Manila. Manila and I go way back. She moved to LA, but I used to make a lot of costumes for her when she was still here [in New York].
Is it intimidating to know that more and more young people are now looking up to you as a role model?
I think of it as a blessing because I like to do drag to inspire people, no matter what their age. It gets stressful at times, to have all eyes on you, and you really have to watch what you put on the Internet. I mean, I don’t really have to watch because I’m not crazy [laughs] but for some, I can see them not caring. But I think it’s a wonderful thing.
So I have to ask: what was your reaction when you saw the episode that Jinkx [Monsoon] said that she had a crush on you?
Well, my first time watching it was live on TV. I had no idea being there that he thought that. He never acted that way when we were filming. But I was sitting at home, watching it with my fiancée and I was just like, “What?! I just talked to him a week ago!” I was shocked. But being there, you’re secluded and you don’t get to talk to your parents, your friends, your boyfriend, your lover or whoever. I mean, I wasn’t seeing anybody at the time of filming but you’re locked in a room and you can only talk to these drag queens so yeah, you’re going to get horny. And you can start having feelings for someone. Jinkx was talking with Alaska and the only thing she said was, “Yeah, I have a crush on Ivy Winters.” And then it blew up to this huge thing! People still tweet me saying, “Oh are you and Jinkx still together?” and I’m like, “We were never together!” [laughs] I love her to death though. She’s such a wonderful friend and I talk to her when I can.
I’ve learned so much new lingo from watching Drag Race: fishy, kai kai, beating someone’s face, reading. Were these terms common in the drag community before Drag Race, or did RuPaul popularize them?
It depends on some of the terms. RuPaul has a lot of her own sayings that she’s made famous like fierce, sashay, and shanté. But there’s a lot of drag lingo that has been around for years, like fishy. Michelle [Visage] hates that! She’s like, “Ugh women aren’t fishy smelling. Why does it have to be fish?” But a lot of us mean it as a compliment. Like, “God, you look so believable. You look like a real girl!” It’s hard because you’re always going to offend someone.
You’re currently working on an ongoing project involving a stop motion puppet. Can you tell me more about this?
Ever since I was little, I was in love with stop motion animation or Claymation. I loved anything Tim Burton and I would always work on these little play sculptures and puppets and make these short little films. I love making things, so I’ve been making these armature puppets. I’m kind of at a stand still with them right now though, just because it’s really time-consuming and I travel so much. I would really love to do a little intro video or a stop motion of garments. If I ever did a costume runway show, I would love to be able to film it live but also have stop motion garments. [I would] have these little teeny puppet models doing the same show in miniature costumes that I make. It would be so fun! Stop motion is just really time consuming though. For the past three years, I’ve been making a ventriloquist dummy.
Like a life-size one?
Yeah a big one. Like Charlie McCarthy or Howdy Doody, those old school, creepy dolls. I’ve always wanted one but to buy one, like a nice one with moving eyes and a mouth with the eyebrows that move…they’re really expensive! I mean thousands of dollars for a nice one. So I bought a book, did some research and I’m like, “I’m just going to make my own.” I sculpted it out, and I have a couple of pictures online from when I started. Right now, it’s almost finished. I just have to make the body, the wig, and the hands. The face is pretty much done with the mechanisms working.
Is it a drag queen dummy?
Yeah, she’s a drag queen. She’s pretty crazy, scary looking.
Have you seen Dead Silence?
I just watched that last night!
What?! Aren’t you creeped out with the doll then?
Oh, I love it! I liked when all the puppet heads start moving. Anything artsy, puppet, doll-related, I love. I’m not into Barbie’s or porcelain dolls, but if they move and are life-like or have a purpose, I love that.
What are you listening to right now?
I listen to a lot of show tunes, believe it or not [laughs]. Jinkx’s album, The Inevitable, is amazing. It’s so good. “A Song To Come Home To” is a brilliant song that her best friend, Richard, wrote. It’s just beautiful and the lyrics are pretty. I love her album, it’s very creative and fun. I like Panic! At The Disco. I love the Scissor Sisters, Rufus Wainwright, and old school music like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. There’s just a lot of good oldies out there.
What creeps you out the most?
I’m not scared of a lot of things. Maybe when spiders touch me…but I mean that’s an obvious thing. I’m not scared of mice or rats or any of that. If spiders get on me or if I see one, but it’s in my bed or something, it freaks me out. Or weird bug bites. Oh! If you have hair in food, and if you chew and swallow it and it gets in your throat, you can feel it…oh god, it’s making me gag just thinking about it right now.