This month, I’m thrilled to be collaborating with View the VIBE to showcase some of Toronto’s very own, and oh so talented, Drag Queens. As a big fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, I’m just as excited for the premiere of Canada’s Drag Race on July 2, 2021. Since seeing some of my first drag shows at Will Munro’s Vazaleen parties, or at Cabaret Mado in Montreal, I have long appreciated the art and am truly so happy to kick-off this series in honour of Pride month with the fierce Tynomi Banks.
But, we would be seriously remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the current uproar in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Of which I am over the moon to have had the opportunity to catch up, for an exclusive interview, with this bold, beautiful and incredibly inspiring Drag Queen of the 6ix, Ms. Tynomi Banks.
1 This pandemic has affected a lot of people in many different ways, can you speak to how this has impacted you as a performer and the queer community?
Tynomi: Before the pandemic, a lot of people commented on my confidence and my message of living authentically and fearlessly. Now I’m more about using my platform to educate. The current state of the world has lit a fire under me to show people what is really going on in the world. I try to show love, support and even anger when I feel it. The world is changing, but hopefully all of this can mean something, and we can come out better on the other side.
2 Is your work imbued with personal politics? Do you feel your experience differs in any way, being a black performer?
Tynomi: I don’t really involve politics in my work, but I’ve always believed in myself and that has taken me far. I always knew we black performers had struggles but I’ve just dealt with it and adapted. But from now on my work will have some sort of message. I’ll still be classic Tynomi, but I have a platform and I want to use it. It’s more important now than ever before.
3 Lots of people use descriptors to characterize their drag and performance style (comedy, fashion, etc.) Tell us more about your personal drag style, and what descriptors you would use to describe it.
Tynomi: I don’t really label my drag, I like to use an aesthetic that I feel suits me, but also take risks. I also love adding a shock factor to my performances. If I had to categorize it, I guess I would call it ‘statement drag’ because I always have an intention.
4 You’ve mentioned Michelle Ross is one of your inspirations, why is that and how important is having a mentor? Have you seen a big change from Drag back then to now?
Tynomi: Michelle Ross broke the glass ceiling for black drag performers. She became successful in a time when being a drag queen was not a career choice. Everything she does, she conquers, and I feel like I have that same drive. She is a truly loving, caring, supportive person. I have so much respect for her.
Drag has certainly changed since then! It’s more inclusive and there are so many different types of queens. Drag has been a life saver for a lot of us and it’s offered many people a way to make a living in a fun, creative, expressive way.
5 Can you give us more background as to where the name ‘Tynomi Banks’ came from?
Tynomi: Grab a cocktail glass, add some fun, spontaneous Tyra Banks with a fierce, confident Naomi Campbell, then a dash of Beyonce and you get Tynomi Banks.
6 In recent years, drag has gained popularity with shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and Canada’s Drag Race, how do you feel about this art form being thrust into the mainstream and how has this affected your business?
Tynomi: I feel like it was needed. These shows have helped validate our craft as art, both within the straight community but also within the LGBTQ+ community. Because there was judgement within the community. Being a drag queen wasn’t always seen as a viable career choice and these shows helped change that. Since these series entered the zeitgeist, more doors have been opened for me and I’m also treated differently. And now that its more mainstream, corporate clients see us as valid entertainers and they start to hire us too. There’s been a huge shift and I’m grateful for all the opportunities I now have.
7 What can drag show audience members expect from a Tynomi Banks show?
Tynomi: At a Tynomi Banks show, you’ll see production; you’ll see a classy put-together queen with an edge; you’ll see a queen that demands respect from her audience and one that does not take any bullshit! And even though I sometimes use Top 40 music, I will often use music that I want to introduce to my audience.
8 Have you always loved performing and what is your favourite part?
Tynomi: Even before I became Tynomi Banks, I always loved to perform. My favourite part is when the audience gags for me (meaning they are in awes of my performance and art form). If I know there are first time audience members at a show, I’ll always give a little extra.
9 We’ve seen a lot of different audiences, as shows become more popular are there tips you can share with us to be better audience members?
Tynomi: Be open to everything you’re seeing. You probably won’t like every type of drag but respect the performer. Remember that you’re not there to judge and going to one show doesn’t make you an expert on the art form.
10 For you, how important is social media in creating your image?
Tynomi: Social media is very important. I started performing drag before the birth of Instagram, so I looked up to a lot of the queens in the local scene. Now I can meet and watch performances from around the world. Drag is inspired by a performer’s background, their country, and their culture so seeing what other queens are doing from different regions help me evolve my performances and watch for emerging trends.
Some queens are trapped in the past and not used to change.
11 Can you elaborate on the drag scene here in Toronto? Is it close and/or competitive?
Tynomi: Both. Some queens are trapped in the past and not used to change. Those who have decided to embrace change are welcoming and encouraging. Some queens do drag for fun and some do it as escape, and who am I to judge. Without the Toronto drag community, I wouldn’t be where I am today or have the connections or friendships that are so important to me.
12 How long does it take you to get into drag (including make-up!)?
Tynomi: 1.5 hours is quite nice.
13 Where do you shop for dresses, wigs and make-up?
Tynomi: I’m a huge glamazon beauty and I need to get things made! I work with a lot of local Toronto entrepreneurs and some from the US. I follow some of the Drag Race contestants from the US and look at who is designing their outfits. I sometimes collaborate with them.
14 What advice do you have for any young queens trying to make it?
Tynomi: Talk to your elders. Talk to those who came before you. They have experience and have helped pave the way for others. Be humble and know it’s ok to make mistakes. That’s how you grow.
15 It has been said that drag reveals who you are. Do you believe this and what have you learned about yourself through this art form?
Tynomi: I do believe that. There was a time when I was questioning my career choices and drag helped me find my confidence and strength, which I’ve now made a career out of.
16 Drag seems glamorous, but we know it’s hard work. Can you share with us your routine before and after shows? How long does your prep, both for your look and your performance?
Tynomi: My pre and post routines are pretty much the same for every show. I tend not to eat big meals before I perform. I eat a light, healthy dinner so I don’t feel too full. I pamper myself with a facial scrub and warm shower to wash away any stress and I drink lots of water. Then I listen to music that I’m not going to use during the performance.
After a show my dancers and I are starving so we go for a shawarma or pizza!
17 What do you believe is the future of drag?
Tynomi: I believe the future of drag will be more virtual. The pandemic has forced a lot of performers to get creative and explore online avenues. I think a virtual show in the future will have more of a music video feel with professional lighting, staging, etc.
18 What stigmas have you faced from being a drag queen?
Tynomi: I’ve been called promiscuous, scary, a clown, and even a washed-up dancer! None of that is true.
19 How can our readers support you and when/where can we see you perform (both in-person or virtually for the time being)?
Tynomi: My website is tynomibanks.com. There is merchandise to purchase and a link where you can tip. I also have weekly shows on Fridays at 8pm on Zoom or Instagram. My website has the latest details. And don’t forget about Canada’s Drag Race premiering July 2 on Crave!