Drag culture has always sought to advocate for charity, and the queens of Connecticut are no different! For the sixth year in row, CT queen Barbara Streetsand brought her annual cancer benefit to Bugsys in Hamden, CT, in fundraising efforts for the Discovery to Cure program at Yale School of Medicine.
We spoke to featured performers Sylvia Heart and Tiana Maxim about cancer charity, the art of drag, and the role of charity in queer culture.
CT VOICE: Cancer is a Drag is a global movement, having started in the UK in 2012. How did the CT queens bring Cancer is a Drag to Connecticut? Why is cancer activism important to the CT drag scene?
SYLVIA HEART: Cancer is a Drag was brought to Connecticut by local drag legend and Barbra Streisand impersonator, Barbra Streetsand. It’s important for us queens to give back to the community by lending our time and talent. Many of us have a big following, so the more people that come out to support, the money we make for charity.
TIANA MAXIM: It hits very close to home for a lot of us. We all have our stories about cancer taking a loved one from us, so it was only a matter of time before we decided to do our part. It’s especially important to the Connecticut scene because we lost Sassie Saltimboca, one of our idols, to cancer.
CT VOICE: Cancer is of course a grave, serious illness, one that you typically wouldn’t make light of. And yet, queens make light of everything—it’s part of the legacy of drag! How do you two strike a balance between sensitivity and irreverence?
SYLVIA: It’s easy. Bottom line is, I’m a man in a dress! That lightens the mood right off the bat. It’s hard to be serious dressed in the getups I create. My job is to entertain the masses and make everyone have a good time.
TIANA: The first Cancer is a Drag event I did, I did a very slow, somber, song which brought everyone to tears. Knowing my aesthetic as an entertainer, it was very different to see me in that light. Even though it was a moving performance, I also like to make it a party with a great cause behind it, which is why I did my usual sexy routines. It makes it more of a celebration than a benefit.
CT VOICE: How do you plan your performances? Where do you find inspiration for songs and looks?
SYLVIA: I love color and shine. My style is a mix of Real Housewife, meets streetwalker, meets fashionista. My song choices get your toes tapping and make you feel good. If you’re not having fun then I’m not doing my job.
TIANA: I’m planning to confuse any man watching as well as make any woman watching jealous—which you can only imagine means really tall heels and very little outfit. I find inspiration for many of my looks from Maxim. I love how they make the women so sexual but not naked. That’s even where I got my name from.
CT VOICE: What do you have to say to members of the LGBT community who want to get involved in local activism, but don’t know where to start?
SYLVIA: Ask a queen. Every single one of us is involved in a charity or 3, so we know who you would want to talk to. Nonprofits like the New Haven Pride Center and the Triangle Community Center offer TONS of opportunities to get involved. They always need volunteers.
TIANA: I say all the time, support. When you support events, people notice you. When you’re noticed, people are always willing to give you a chance. Support gets support and being polite gets you far.
CT VOICE: You are two of Connecticut’s most prominent and beloved queens. What’s next for Sylvia Heart and Tiana Maxim? What should your fans be on the lookout for next?
SYLVIA: Each third Friday of every month I run a night at Partners Café in Downtown New Haven, where I perform with a troupe of exotic male dancers. Tiana and I run a show once a month at Trevi Lounge in Fairfield. And on September 20th, we will be running the annual Mr. & Miss Gay Pride New Haven Pageant at Partners Café.
TIANA: We hope to see EVERYONE there!
SYLVIA: There are lots of fun things to come. Our future is in the hands of fate.