'UK Drag Race's' Crystal Wants to Share What Makes Her Queer

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday January 27, 2021

If you're not as familiar with Crystal as, say, Jinkx Monsoon or Bob the Drag Queen, that probably has something to do with the fact that Crystal — who has also been a "RuPaul's Drag Race" contestant — participated not in the American version of the show, which is now in its 13th season, but rather on "RuPaul's Drag Race UK," the show's British spinoff, also headed by RuPaul, which recently premiered its second season.

Crystal originally hails from Canada, but found her way to the UK — and to drag — through a circuitous route that included aerial performance, an art form that took her to Britain, where she had the prospect of working in a circus. Where she ended up, of course, was on "Drag Race," and now, as her career has continued to unfold, on her own podcast.

Titled "The Things That Made Me Queer," Crystal's breezy new podcast, which premiered Jan. 19, takes the format of a talk show built around a set of factors that may have informed a guest's identity or their personal and professional development. What film or television series might today's out, proud celebrity have discovered that helped give them confidence or showed them that there is a place for LGTBQ people in the world? What was the music they listened to, the places they traveled to and lived in, the people they knew, were mentored by, or admired from afar?

As Crystal put it in a two-minute teaser that preceded the program's premiere, the show is "a podcast that delves into the queer experience using the pop culture references and defining real-life moments that shaped us."

While "nothing can make you queer," Crystal acknowledges in the teaser, there are, none the less, influences in everyone's life that can shape a person's outlook and attitudes, and help direct their life's trajectory. It's each guest's personal trajectory — and the forces that propel, sustain, and guide it — that Crystal is interested in learning about.

EDGE learned a bit about the new show's host, sitting down with Crystal for a recent chat to hear about the show's origins, the first guest (Detox, a Season Five "Drag Race" contestant on the American series), and some of the guiding forces that influenced Crystal's own path.

EDGE: You have a new podcast, "What Makes Me Queer," which premiered today. How exciting is this for you?

Crystal: It's great! And it's been, honestly, a bit of a beacon through the last six months. It's something to focus on, and a project that is actually feasible in these times, so that's been really nice. I'm thankful.

EDGE: Your first guest is Detox, who was on Season Five of "RuPaul's Drag Race," the original American version. You were on Season One of "RuPaul's Drag Race UK" — it's like there's an International Drag Race Sisterhood.

Crystal: Absolutely! Detox has been always supportive of me, and of all of the UK seasons. We've got a bit of banter online anyway, so it was a nice fit. I saw Detox on "Drag Race" before I even started doing drag, so I've been obsessed with Detox for years. I just knew she'd be a really great fit on the podcast — she's got a lot of interesting stories to tell, and she does not hold back.

EDGE: You discussed, among other things, the pushback that performers and others get for traveling and working during the pandemic. I'm glad you talked about such a topical, and controversial, subject.

Crystal: I think it's important. It's tricky, because between the turnaround and the edit and figuring out the right launch date, the recording ended up being a little while ago, so I was concerned that it would feel a bit too dated. But it turns out the issues are all still exactly the same.

EDGE: Which is good... or bad...

Crystal: Yeah, exactly, depending on how you look at it.

EDGE: How did the podcast come about? Did you pitch the idea to the people at World of Wonder, or did they approach you about it?

Crystal: It was my idea, and I was going to make it myself, but they liked it so much that they wanted to produce it for me, which is fantastic. I don't think there are enough podcasts that talk about queer issues by queer people. You often hear queer people getting interviewed, and it's by straight people. I think it's really interesting to hear those interviews happening when both parties kind of get it.

And then, the format itself — when I do drag, I'm constantly thinking about all of the references and the things from my childhood and teenage years that inspired me or gave me a window into another world, or helped me figure myself out, or made me want to start doing drag in the first place. I think about those things all the time, but I never really get to talk to people about what this things are for them. That's kind of the [inspiration] behind the podcast.

EDGE: You're a veteran of TV, of course, and drag is a strongly visual art form, but podcasting relies solely on the audible. Did you adopt any new techniques for the format — like, certain storytelling methods, or certain ways of using your voice?

Crystal: You know, I probably should have thought about all that, but I didn't.

[Laughter]

Crystal: I think I tend to work best when I'm not trying to follow a script too much. I just thought to have a chance to have a chat with people that I'm really interested in, and just let the conversation take a journey from there.

That said, I do think that a lot of podcasts can get a bit flabby, and maybe suffer from a lack of editing, so it's been great to have an actual production team who can say, "Let's cut that bit, we don't need it." So, it's not just an unstructured chat; hopefully it has the feeling of two people just being in conversation.

EDGE: One of the first things you say right off on the new podcast if you appreciate that not everyone likes the word "queer," so you invite us to substitute "a word that makes you feel gorgeous."

Crystal: The OG is "LGBTQIA+," but we have to admit it does not roll off the tongue. And it takes a lot of practice to be able to say it as smoothly as I have.

[Laughter]

Crystal: I think what I like about the word "queer" is that it kind of says all of that, but it packages it all up a little bit more neatly. I know that it's not a word that everyone likes, because some people have had that word used against them on school playgrounds, especially in the UK. I think it was more of a slur here [in England] than it was where I grew up [in Canada], because I was always called a fag. But, that said, I don't mind if my friends call me a fag now. I am a proponent of reclamation when it comes to words like that, but I respect that not everyone feels that way. We could have substituted that, though: "The Things That Made Me a Fag."

EDGE: You'll be interviewing prominent people from the LGBTQ community, including Peaches Christ, Shea Couleé, JD Samson, and others. Would you say that some of your guests are people who informed your own journey?

Crystal: Yeah, a hundred percent. Like I said earlier, Detox is someone who I saw on "Drag Race" before I ever started doing drag, and I think she kind of helped me realize the different ways there are to do drag. She showed me this really kind of cool fashion element.

But them someone like JD Samson... Le Tigre was a band that I was obsessed with as a teenager. It is absolutely bonkers to me that I have JD Samson talking about their life to me. So, JD Samson is absolutely someone who I would say helped me figure out my queerness. I hope that people will find those moments for themselves in the series, as well.

EDGE: Drag has become a mainstream phenomenon, and I don't think anyone could have predicted that ten or twelve years ago. What is it about drag that gives it such attraction for so many?

Crystal: I think it's wonderful to see people fully realized, and I think that drag can be that. I think when you see it done well, and especially when you see it done in the way "Drag Race" does it — because "Drag Race" gives drag a real heart — it's like self-actualization, but on stage.

I always joke about drag as being actually a kind of therapy, and it's my therapy, but I just happen to be able to get paid for it. So, you're watching us give ourselves therapy on stage, and for some reason that is just really powerful to people. People love to see it. And then, it's got a really fabulous, glittery, sparkly, creative package, so what's not to like? It's got everything.

EDGE: You're also an aerial artist, a career that took you to the UK before you started your career in drag. Do the two art forms overlap much? — other than in terms of being all about height, at least when it comes to hairstyles in the drag world...

[Laughter]

Crystal: So, I never performed professionally, really, as an aerialist. It was something I was doing as a hobby alongside my day-to-day corporate life. I started doing drag a little bit after I started performing, like I say, extracurricularly in aerial, and I pretty quickly tied them together: I said, "I've seen a lot of drag queens, but I've never seen a drag queen hanging from the ceiling before." So, I saw that as an opportunity and as a little niche.

In terms of what they've got in common... It's still all about stagecraft, and both of them give you a bad back.

[Laughter]

EDGE: Plus, you're performing without a net.

Crystal: Yes, there's always a danger, whether you're on drag, or whether you're the air.

EDGE: You were the host of a TV special reality show in Canada called "Group Sext" that's now going to be a series. Will you be returning to that when new episodes air?

Crystal: Yes, a hundred percent. We've got a few more commissions; I think they've put out the pilot so far just as a teaser, but there's a full series coming. We've shot a few of them, and we're shooting a few more in the coming months, so that's going to be great.

EDGE: Is that something you'll be doing with a COVID-safe approach, the way you're doing the podcast? People interacting across a distance, not in the same room?

Crystal: That's right, it's all shot remotely. The format is all about sexting, so it actually works really beautifully remotely.

EDGE:: You're juggling a full schedule already with the podcast and the TV series, but are there other projects you have coming up?

Crystal: Well, I kind of gave up on all my plans after they all got scuppered last year, but I'm hoping to be able to go to Edinburgh Fringe this year. I wanted to take a show there last year, and that would have really incorporated drag and aerial circus and burlesque, and all the things I love about performing. So, fingers crossed we can do that this year. And then, there's some more touring and more TV stuff coming up that I can't talk about, but some exciting stuff, hopefully. But I'm trying not to get too ahead of myself — I'm just going to see what materializes. I can't take any more disappointment!


"The Things That Made Me Queer" is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.