It’s no secret the pandemic has left most people feeling isolated and alone in the past few months — young people especially. When our social life is pulled and narrowed down to a screen, or occasional distanced hangouts with a couple of friends, life can feel a lot smaller.
For many young queer folks, feeling isolated is nothing new. York is often the first place they meet other members of the queer community, and there are several spaces that ensure queer students feel safe and welcomed. Now that we’ve gone online, those spaces are physically unreachable, but students are still finding ways to connect with each other.
Winters is ”a student government who are entrusted to enrich the lives and educational experience of our affiliated students,” reads their website.
A popular event favoured by the Winters community was the drag performances featured at The Absinthe Pub and Coffee Shop. A fairly recent addition to the thriving communal life of Winters, these drag nights were a bright and fun way to bring the Winters queer community together and support the queens.
Anton Ling (Aurora Matrix) in his third-year of theatre at York, Joshua Hughes (Star) in his fourth-year of theatre, and Stéphane Arcand (Aurélie Talented) also in his third-year of theatre, have been pillars of these events.
Just like many other artists who perform live, the Winters queens have had to convert their craft to an online performance, taking their audience with them. This change has forced a transformation of their drag in adjusting to the new platform.
“I’ve enjoyed doing drag in a way that is fun and comfortable for myself while staying true to my values,” Arcand explains about how his art has changed since the pandemic’s outbreak. “My drag is slowly becoming more experimental, for lack of a better term. I’m incorporating my growing facial hair and body hair into my looks in creative ways. It’s been nice to let loose a little more and the comfort of performing in your own home definitely allows for that.”
“I feel like I am more connected to people than I was before the pandemic. There are people that I have never met in person but I chat with almost every single day just because we’ve created this connection.”
It’s not just the art form itself that’s changed — it’s the way that the artists interact with their audiences.
“In person, you can really feel that they’re there, but I think it’s really great that on Zoom you can see the chats and stuff — maybe some things that people wouldn’t say in person that are really sweet, that they’d be too shy to say in person,” Hughes says.
Hughes talks about how people from all over Ontario have tuned into these virtual shows, and how the outreach has even started to go international.
“Some people that might not even be able to see drag in person get the opportunity to see it online, and I think that’s so amazing. Because they might be underage, they don’t have access to these bars, they don’t have any safe places for queer people. It’s amazing — the community coming together, and bonding over drag.”
Ling agrees that the community has only grown stronger in this time of uncertainty.
“I’ve been able to meet so many people through social media and these online virtual drag shows. Especially during the beginning of the pandemic when everyone wasn’t sure what was going on, I was able to reach out to people, make sure they were safe, chat with them, and really get to know them now that we have the time to do so.
“I feel like I am more connected to people than I was before the pandemic. There are people that I have never met in person but I chat with almost every single day just because we’ve created this connection. For me, I’ve been expanding my little community and feeling so much love.”
While queer folks may not be able to share spaces together in person, online drag shows have created the opportunity to still connect with and support each other regardless, and the Winters Drag Nights live on!