Traditionally, a drag queen is nothing more than a man who dresses as a woman for the art of theater. Drag is a creative outlet for those who perform and entertainment for those in attendance. Drag isn’t what it used to be. Now drag has categories like fish, pageant, camp, shock, fashion, glamour, club, etc. But what do you call a transgender woman who performs drag?
Well, when it comes to me, if I’m performing at a drag show, you can call me a drag queen.
I see today as a new generation of drag. It’s all about the fantasy of the character and not who is underneath it all. If the performer personally identifies as a transgender woman, she is still a drag queen. My character, Dalyla Mizani, is someone I created with inspiration from the Disney Channel. She has the same animation, femininity, style and high spirit of Disney characters.
When not in character, I’m a college student with a part-time job. I’m like any other young woman. Questions I often receive from other trans women are, “How long can you do drag until you have to stop?” or “Why do you still call yourself a drag queen if you’re a woman now?” My persona is a drag queen. At 16, I didn’t know how to express my trans identity. That was around the time I started performing as a drag queen. All I knew at the time was that “RuPaul’s Drag Race” was something I aspired to do. Drag provided a gateway to express my inner self that was seen as “different” among my high-school peers. I put a lot of work into my drag character. I wouldn’t want my gender identity to take away from that hard work. Being a drag queen is part of my culture and a reflection of my childhood. There is nothing wrong with that.
My first time on stage was at the University of Pennsylvania. I was 16 and my school assigned me an internship at the Penn LGBT Center. My supervisor told me about UPenn’s National Coming Out Week events, one of which was a drag show. Excitement grew across my face as I imagined myself performing. When I wasn’t busy working at UPenn, I would rehearse for the event. I found an empty room with a computer and a speaker and rehearsed to 10 different songs until I decided upon a song I enjoyed. I spent the entire day of the event preparing for my performance. I assumed there would be other drag performers with many more years of experience. I wanted to be just as great. It turned out to be a performance of frat boys wearing wigs. It took some of the pressure off, but I still had to turn it out. I performed alongside my sister, Harleii DeVille, and at the end of the night everyone wanted to take a selfie with me. At that moment, I found something I was good at. In my senior year of high school, I came out to my school as transgender, and went on to do more drag shows and competitions.
Getting people to adjust to switching my pronouns became a challenge, but I got through it. I was going through a lot of changes at that time, but one thing I knew that was never going to change was me performing as a drag queen. I’ve put a lot of time in what I accomplished as a performer. I will not change Dalyla Mizani because I’m Dalyla Baker. My gender identity has nothing to do with my performance art.
Dalyla, 20, is a transgender woman living in Philadelphia. Some may know her as drag queen Dalyla Mizani. Outside of drag, she is a Mazzoni Center education intern, a theater major at the Community College of Philadelphia and a RoleMODEL and Attic Youth Center member.