Updated: Jul 2
This Pride month, the Drag community is out in the forefront due to ongoing efforts to suppress and persecute its members. Anti-Drag laws have been passed in at least fourteen states. Drag performers’ lives are under threat as misinformation and protests against drag story times proliferate like an idiotic cancer. In light of the vitriole spewed against the community of performers that is just that, performers, one thing their supports can do is continue to fight for their recognition as human beings. I think that includes talking about who they are and what Drag means to them. And so this brings me to the subject of June blog: the glamorous and irrepressible Pussy Noir.
I met Mx. Pussy Noir when they were sitting on a panel at the DC History Conference, discussing the story of William Swann, DC’s and arguable the worlds’ first Drag Queen. Mx. Noir is playing Swann in an upcoming movie based on his life,“Swann Queen”, which will be released later this summer. Her light and joy for her craft just shone. and I wanted to learn more about her journey. At the end of the panel I felt bold enough to request an interview, which she graciously granted. To that end I bring you Mx. Pussy Noir, DC’s “Swann Queen:”
OTM: First of all, it’s a delight to be able to sit down with you.
Pussy: Thank you for the time.
OTM: No really, thank you. While we both know that Drag is a hot topic right now, and while I will ask about the community at large, this interview is really about You. So, let’s start with basics. What are your pronouns?
Pussy: I mostly respond to she/her but I will accept they/them or he/him.
OTM: Where are you from? How long have you been doing Drag?
Pussy: I was born here in DC and grew up in Bowie, MD, but I’ve lived in many places, from New York to Paris. How did I get into Drag? The main thing to know about me is that I was born to perform. I have been acting since I was four years old and got my own agent when I was 8 years old.
OTM: Goodness, how did you manage that so early? How did you even know what to do?
Pussy: I bought a book: A Star is Born: How to Make it in Hollywood, and I just read it. There was a list of resources in the back and contacts for agencies. One day at a local theater in which I was a child actor, an agent showed up. As soon as someone mentioned there was an agent there, I walked right over to him and said “you need to represent me.” That was how I got my first pro gig at eight years old at Anna Gold’s Children’s Theater in Anacostia, where I worked for two years. I was a professional actor throughout my youth and attended Duke Ellington School of the Arts for high school.
OTM: As do so many amazing talents in DC. What drew you to Drag originally?
Pussy: I discovered Drag after I moved to New York, and decided to perform for the first time as Drag artist while I was in college. It was the first time I was able to choose how to perform exactly how I wanted: as an elegant, gorgeous queen. I knew that I had been queer from a very young age, but I wasn’t sure how to be “my” kind of queer. There were plenty of gay boys at Duke, and I always played boy roles. I used my “check” name Jason Barnes throughout my time there. I was admitted into Sarah Lawrence by writing about my experience as feeling gender queer my own unique way. While in college I gravitated towards fashion, studying obscure royal figures in history. I wanted to study everything! I curated my look, and in this way Drag was freeing. I was able to incorporate all of my areas of interest – from history to dance, fashion to even opera!
OTM: What was your first Drag show?
Pussy: My first show was for Pride at St. Marks Church in New York, and my first persona was Puss and Boots, then Slim Pussy. “Slim,” because I was thin, and “Pussy” because that is what people used to call me as an insult as an effeminate man. I wanted to reclaim the word for myself.
After college I managed an American Apparel in West Village, but continued sharpening my persona and finding inspiration everywhere. The store was on a street that had tables lining the sidewalks, selling things like vintage records, magazines and gay porn. I would spend the afternoon buying tons of vintage gay porn magazines.
OTM: For you then, Drag was very freeing and allowed you to have full creative control over your persona. Do you think that is a common reason by people become Drag performers?
Pussy: Everyone has different reasons. I ended up having to take a break from it for a while, because motivations can change. I got burnt out for a while and stopped performing. Then I moved back to DC and became friends with a group of people during Snowpocalypse. They threw eclectic house parties and one day they mentioned they were looking for entertainment. I automatically volunteered to perform. But performing had become less about being on stage and more about the story I was trying to tell.
OTM: Is that the type of show you prefer? Smaller parties? Or do you like the big stage too?
Pussy: I like to do a small show in an intimate setting. I prefer to be amongst the people instead of separated from them by a pit or a stage. That is one reason I like performing in Drag so much, I can perform MY way, and that means getting personal with people.
OTM: As your career has matured, so you consider yourself in a mentoring position now for people newer to Drag?
Pussy: Yes, but I want to clarify that I am NOT a “drag mother,” that looks over other performers in a maternal, nurturing fashion. I consider myself a “drag influencer.” If I had children, they would be raised to be miniature versions of me with the same style, same sense of glamour, same sensibilities. If I raised “drag babies” they would do everything my way.
OTM: Describe how you feel on stage. How do you feel when you are performing?
Pussy: Better than sex. Energized. It’s the most vulnerable I ever get, and otherwise in my life I don’t get very vulnerable. For example, I don’t put myself out there vulnerably when dating, because I am relatively shy if you can believe it. I don’t date just for fun, it’s more deliberate. So, performing is how I put myself out there and have the courage to truly be myself with total strangers.
OTM: I am loving learning more about you and how Drag has enriched your life. So, let’s turn to another Drag Queen that you are embodying in the movie project you were just a part of. Tell us a little about what you know of William Swann, DC’s original Drag Queen.
Pussy: It’s important to note that it is a historical fiction piece that is striving to fill in a lot of holes. Who are the characters? We don’t really know but we are learning more about William Swann all the time. He was controversial. He partied with white people, and black people would call the police on him. It was the interracial aspect of the parties that scared black folks the most, in particular rising black politicians who were concerned about propriety in their new freedom.
OTM: Considering the harassment against drag queens today, have you yourself faced any threats on your life because of what you do? Have you had any uncomfortable encounters?
Pussy: No threats, but uncomfortable encounters yes. Whenever anyone has something inappropriate, rude or threatening, I remind them that their opinion does not matter. I say to them, “You can think your opinion, you don’t have to say it.” I am willing to fight for what I believe too, physically if necessary. One of my goals is to appear more often on TV so that I can shut down the misinformation that is making Drag so dangerous today, and educate people who don’t understand with historical facts. I’ve had conversation with Right-wing nuts and been able to shut them down simply by knowing more about the history than they do. This is one reason why I love studying history so much, it brings understanding.
OTM: Do you think DC is a safe place for people in drag?
Pussy: Generally, yes. But “safety” is a relative term. We are a progressive liberal city. Pride isn’t attended just by queer people, whole neighborhoods get engaged. DC is a place to thrive as a Drag performer. There are many spaces that are embracing the community. Same thing with fashion. Policy and change-makers are trying to create an industry here. I’ve actually talked with Mayor Bowser about pushing more fashion brands here. We have the space for retail. We can get into manufacturing.
OTM: What would you say to other members of the drag community who may be in cities in which they don’t feel safe?
Pussy: If you can, work with local representatives as much as possible. The local Drag community in DC wouldn’t be as safe if they didn’t work with their local representatives on the DC City Council. Protesting oppressive laws is one thing, but real action happens in the board rooms, in the council meetings. Also, regarding social media safety, you have watch out for each other. It takes time and relationship building, so you have to be invested in Drag for the long haul so that people have your back in the case you start suffering from harrassment.
OTM: In light of what seems to be widespread public misperception about what Drag shows are vs. Story Times, or about Drag culture in general, what would you want people to know?
Pussy: I want people to know that this protest and hate are a distraction from the bigger issues that effect and link humanity, such as global warming access to healthcare and general safety . Drag was not made to be for everyone, Drag performers have been gracious and brave to bring Drag to the masses in recent years .
OTM: Before we finish, do you have any calls to action for people reading this interview?
Pussy: I would tell people to support live performance art across the board: singers, dancers, poets, drag, etc. Also, check out “Nail Salon” every third Sunday at St. Vincent’s Wine. It’s a variety show that is like nothing else in DC.
OTM: And where can people see YOU perform?
Pussy: People can find me performing the third Wednesday of the month at Trade. My show is called “Sissy that Wednesday.” Also, please support the movie “Swann Queen.” While filming is over, we still need additional funding to finish production, editing, and marketing and we still taking donations through GoFundMe here. The plan is for the film to be released in October. We also want to do a long form version.
Finally, there is also a documentary about me coming out called “The World According to Pussy Noir.”My filmmaker is KC Oden. That is also going to be released in October.
OTM: That is wonderful news, because more people should know your story. I’m thrilled to be getting ahead of the game! Thank you again for taking the time to tell your story and represent one of many people who make the Drag scene in DC special. Let’s hope that the future of Drag in DC remains bright, sparkly, and full of Queens.
Pussy: Yasss Queens!