A kiki with Chyna

Drag has been around for a very long time, since men "DRessed As a Girl" played women’s parts on stage. But even in my lifetime drag has changed so much. Many queens have played a part in developing the art, but one huge influence here in Nashville is Chyna Charles.

This legendary queen can be found in boy form on a daily basis dishing out drag advice at Performance Studios. And I thought why not have a kiki with Chyna and chat about her career as a drag queen / "drag expert," as well as take a look at how drag has changed during her career!


PAIGE: So when did you start doing drag?

CHYNA: I started doing drag in the later part of 1992 or early 1993. I started because I actually started doing backup dancing as a boy for another queen. When the group broke up we had all this makeup and stuff so I decided to use it. There was a talent night, so I got my stuff together and did the contest. I didn’t win but I did make first runner up. I kept trying though.

PAIGE: Who inspired your drag?

CHYNA: I tended to draw inspiration from a lot of people. I was blessed to be starting out with some of the legends in the business. Vanessa Del Rio was the first queen to actually get me to start taking bookings. She booked me at the Warehouse on Monday nights: we called it "Black Night."

PAIGE: What have been some hardships you have faced in your early career? Have you faced any recently?

CHYNA: When I first started there was a time where all I did was drag. I worked a show five nights a week. I didn't have a boy job or anything else. It was all Chyna, Chyna, Chyna! Yeah, I made money but I had to take a few steps back and look at myself, because I didn't wanna lose myself inside of Chyna. I had to stay Charles. A lot of people lose themselves on stage and don't know how to separate the two. It happened to me for a little while…

PAIGE:  How has drag in Nashville changed?

CHYNA: Oooh, some people will not like what I'm going to say, but that's ok. Back then drag was completely different. I started with great queens: almost all were national title holders. There were always pageants, like every month. Back then people appreciated the value of your talent, not whether you were a so-called transie, transgender, tranny, pre-op or whatever. It was just about your entertainment value, but it’s not like that anymore. Also, when I started there were thirteen drag bars in Nashville and they were all successful, but now there's only one "big" place to go if you really want to get your name out there.

PAIGE: Do you feel like there are more restraints on the younger generation of queens here now?

CHYNA: Yes! Everybody wants to get on Play’s stage, so they think that is the image they have to look up to instead of being their own person. They are trying to emulate someone else instead of finding out who they are.

PAIGE: What’s changed about drag that you wish maybe didn't?

CHYNA: Back then we were allowed to go and work places as many shows as we wanted. Now when you work at a bar, the people don't want you to work anywhere else within a fifty mile radius, if not more. Signing contracts, putting more restrictions on performers. There was more freedom and it was a lot more diverse.

PAIGE: What’s your biggest accomplishment in your drag career?

CHYNA: My biggest accomplishment I would say in drag is staying true to who Chyna is and not following in someone else's footsteps. I’m just staying true to who I am and doing what I do, not just your top 40. I do the things that I like and that have meaning.

PAIGE: Do you enjoy helping the other drag queens? Or is it just about that dough?

CHYNA: I have always been one to help. I get that from my drag mother. I enjoy helping people who want to learn. Someone who wants it, I wanna help. But some people want the help but they don't wanna do the work.

PAIGE: Do you have any drag children?

CHYNA: Yes I probably have about 15, but honestly it’s probably more than that because I have nieces that I have ended up helping more than their drag mother. Then there are grandchildren so it’s very big.

PAIGE: Are there any you have helped that you wish you hadn't? Created a monster, so to speak?

CHYNA: Yes! As I say that quickly. It has been a burden at times because I have extended my hand to some people and they have taken advantage of that, so I just had to cut them off. Not necessarily a monster, but I'm not gonna let someone take advantage of my time, kindness and knowledge or whatever.

PAIGE: How do you feel about RuPaul’s Drag Race? Do you watch it? Do you feel it's been more of a positive or a negative influence on drag?

CHYNA: Well I feel like it is good exposure to get your name out there, but at the same time it has wrecked the drag world as far as entertainment and booking logistics. The girls are mainly doing it to just get the money, duuhhhh. But when the fame gets them, they might perform as if they love the art, but they act as if they should be put on a pedestal. They don’t necessarily perform to their ability, but they expect things to be just handed to them. I have not auditioned nor will I, for the simple fact that I do not want or like to air out my arrogance or dirty laundry cattiness or insecurities to the whole world. The fame has went to everyone's head!




Catch Chyna every second Monday at Tribe for Monday Mashup!

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