Today is 41st my birthday.
Every year since 2013, i’ve been sharing my wishes, hopes, dreams, and things i’ve learned in a list as long as the age i’m turning.
And this year … this year my annual birthday wishes wanted to be about the things drag has taught me about being a creative-based business because this past year the two have really intertwined. i realized that drag has heavily influenced how i approach business and, well, life.
But when i sat down to start writing, i realized that, unlike all the other years, this birthday list had A LOT it wanted me to say. i got the first two out of 41 down and it was well over 1000 words. And that was just the first TWO!!
i realized there was NO WAY that i could fit all 41 things into one post (i don’t even want to read something that long and i’m writing this shit) so i decided to turn this year’s annual birthday post into my first ever birthday series and spread out all 41 items over four months with a new set of 10 things coming out the 27th of every month!
January 27th: 11 — 20
February 27th: 21 — 30
March 27th: 31 — 40
April 27: 41
So without further ado, here is the first set of 10 of . . .
41 Things Drag Taught Me About Business
1. You are a business. Treat yourself as such.
i had been working as a professional performer for a decade before i ever thought of myself as a business. i thought i was just creating art and getting to make money doing what i loved. And i operated in that mindset for a long while. But one evening that Joe aka Jenna aka my best friend were hanging out talking drag, he said “Drag is a business. You’re a business.” And that’s when it clicked. Me, myself, and Brandi Amara Skyy were a brand and a business. And it was the first time i realized that all those things that i love — have ever loved — can be a business, can be a career without stripping away the art or my passion for it.
The same is true for any other drag performer taking booking after booking, any writer who’s getting paid for their words, or anyone selling ebooks or their service on or offline. If you are exchanging your creative energy for monetary energy, you are a business and we have to shift our mindset to fit the new reframe.
You have your craft, your art down. Now what you need is an equal understanding of how to run your business. That’s what these last 7 years for me have been about. Still are.
2. You are only competing with and against yourself.
At any given moment at a drag pageant, you will hear at least a dozen people repeat this mantra.
Yes, it’s a beautiful saying but the stark reality is we’re always sneaking a peek at the other performers in talent or creative evening wear to see what they are bringing. We are always looking at our neighbor’s paper. i did it.
But what i was peeking at wasn’t my competition; i wasn’t looking at them and thinking “okay this is who i have to beat.” i was looking and studying them to see if i could visually see my flaws in their performance so i could make any adjustments i needed before hitting the stage.
Okay so that person hung out on stage right for a little too long. i also know i hug stage right a bit so i need to be conscious of that when i’m modeling.
Every competitor i have ever competed against is a reflection of me in some way — as i am to them.
The same is true in business. i am learning that those things that i love in my business crushes (hello, Melissa Cassera’s epic online personality!) are the same attributes that i carry in me. In the case of the Divine Miss M, i just needed Melissa’s mentorship to help foster and bring my own personality out online.
And those biz peeps i don’t love as much are also a reflection of those things i’m not too keen on in myself.
This is what i mean when i say that drag taught me that i’m only competing myself. Another way, i could say it (although i feel it loses a bit of its power) is: All competition is a reflection of where we are at and who we are ourselves.
3. Know how to explain what you do.
Always. But especially if what you do is different or “new” to people outside your community — hell even in your own community! Whenever i would tell someone i was a drag queen they would inevitably look me up and down, a big fat question mark expression on their face.
i would tell them i was a female who performs gay male drag. They would still be a bit confused, but also a lot intrigued, so i’d break it all down a little more.
How i describe what i do has changed. Has evolved. i now say i’m a drag artist. When they ask me how or say “oh you’re a drag king?” i say, “i’m more of a drag queen but drag is not about gender; it’s about queer expression and i’m more about the art of drag than the gender of it.”
But i learned from the moment i stepped foot out into the world as a drag artist many moons ago, i was going to need to know how to talk and explain what i do.
When i stepped out of the norm of the 9 to 5 job circuit, i knew i would have to explain why i left and what i do to make a living.
i would have to find a way to tell people that i was never meant for a 9 to 5 job that it just happened and i got comfortable in the routine and the consistent paycheck.
That i wasn’t just a coach for creative entrepreneurs and writers, but more specifically, a coach for intersectional, queer, and POC creative entrepreneurs and writers.
Once again, i would have to learn how to explain what i do. i’m still learning and what i say is still evolving.
Even if what you do is something you think a million other people are doing, you still do that thing differently. You still do it your own way and put your own spine in it.
You are the only translator of your art, your work, your business. It’s imperative that you know how to describe what you do.
4. Look outside the stage.
The legendary Tommie Ross is the kind of drag performer that, as soon as the MC calls her name as the next performer, people line up to tip her before she even hits the stage!
i was judging Miss USofA Diva, MI, and MI Classic with her when she asked if i could tell the lighting person that she was going to start her performance “over there.” i followed where her finger was pointing and landed on the very top of the flight of stairs to the left of the stage. i told the lighting person and returned to my seat on the panel. i was the only one there waiting for her performance.
As soon as Jordan Allen announced her, the music came on, the spotlight hit, and there the divine miss T was in all her glory at the top of the stairs looking like an old Hollywood glamour movie star. She stayed on that top step for what seemed like hours before she sauntered, step by elongated step, down the staircase and eventually making her way — not on the stage — but in front of it.
i was floored. And in awe.
She slithered her way right in front of me and someone snapped this shot:
You can see everything you need to know about how that moment affected me in my body language. It is something that i’ve never forgotten and something that i carry with me in my business.
Had she started from the stage — the same place that everyone else does — i know her performance wouldn’t have been as effective or memorable as it was.
She thought and looked outside the stage and in doing so created magic, energy, and a performance that was unforgettably all her own.
Anytime i’m working on a project or a piece like this i ask myself, how can i enter this from outside the traditional way, the way that everyone else sees it or begins.
5. Don’t let the shade of others smolder your shine.
6. There is no one right way to drag (or business).
i don’t think the people who say “It’s not drag if you’re not … wearing nails … wearing hip pads, boobs, a wig, contour, hose …a biological male …” are ever going to go away.
Everyone has an opinion of what drag is and isn’t.
Everyone also has an opinion of what a writer is and isn’t. A “real” writer has an agent … has a book in Barnes and Noble … is well known … doesn’t self-publish.
Everyone has an opinion of what a business or job is — and usually, it looks nothing like what i and many other creative entrepreneurs do. Because a person with a “real job” has a boss … usually hates their job… clocks in on someone else’s timeclock …hates Mondays … doesn’t sell their products to their friends.
My point is everyone has an opinion about the “right way” to do something.
What they usually don’t have is the motivation, drive, will, or ability to look fear in the face and do it themselves. So by constructing rules and policing others, they still feel like they are a part of it. But they aren’t in it. You are.
And the only rule you find when you actually start doing said thing is that there never was or will be one right way to do anything.
Sure there is a craft or a mold to what a drag queen/king/artist is — a drag artist takes hours to don their craft; the writer sits down and writes something every damn day; and the creative entrepreneur shapes her creativity into something that can be useful to others in the form of a product or service and shares it with the world.
The actual work it takes to be the drag artist, the writer, and the creative entrepreneur has a mold and shape, but the way we express that work … that is all our own.
And there is no one right way to express. And therefore there is no one right way to do drag, writing, or business.
7. Tip your queens (and your bartenders and MCs).
One of my biggest pet peeves is when drag artists — who live off tips more than they do the booking fee — don’t tip their bartenders — who also live off their tips more than they do their measly hourly fee.
But it’s also my pet peeve when audiences are getting their life from a drag performer but don’t reach into their pockets to give you a $1, but then a Ru girl comes on after you doing half the work and they’re busting out $20 and $50 bills.
The same peeve seeps its way into my business. It really irks me that some “friends” will pay thousands of dollars to see Beyonce, Gaga, whoever, but balk when you ask them to buy your latest book, piece of artwork, online course, etc.
Everyone wants to jump on a bandwagon that’s already full. And that’s their right.
But there is also a movement in the drag community to support your local artists. And i’m saying support ALL your artists — your drag artists, bar artists, writer artists, and biz artists by either buying their work or tipping them via PayPal, Venmo, Patreon, whatever they have.
Because when you buy a product, service, book, or good from a creative entrepreneur, you’re really “tipping” them for:
- All the many hours, blood, sweat, and tears that went into creating it. It’s just like tipping your drag artist for all the behind-the-scenes shit you don’t see: getting into face, making the costumes, the wig, mixing the music, etc.
- The exchange of energy. Only instead of it being from an onstage performance to you, it’s an on-the-page/product/service-performance to you.
- Their commitment to their craft — and the ganas to try to make a living off it.
And who knows? They could be the next Yonce or Gaga. And you would have been there from the ground up.
8. Know your roots. Know your ourstory.
Every human should know, deeply, the roots from which they sprung. Not only does it enrich the art but it enriches the human experience for everyone.
It is especially true if you are privileged (and we all are in some way) and entering into a traditionally marginalized art space. There is so much history that lives in the threads behind any given art — and really anything you want to do. And it’s important we fill ourselves up with all that backstory and knowledge so we can keep feeding our art.
Whenever i’m teaching newbie drag queens, i make it a non-negotiable that they understand the social-political roots of drag.
Whenever i’m teaching newbie writers, i make it a non-negotiable that they understand the role that marginalization has played in other writer’s works.
Drag, and understanding it contextually and academically, has really taught me how the social-political climate influences the art and the art informs the people of the inner-workings of oppression and resistance.
And that complexity is why it’s so important to your know your ourstory.
So when you are trying to start and build a business, it’s important to know the who’s, whys, and what’s that have come before you. It’s important to know what’s been done, why it’s been done so you can begin to understand how you will fit within the context and how you will break free of it.
But also how you are going to uplevel and grow it.
i found most of the coaching industry to be void of color, class, queerness, and diversity. But i wouldn’t have found this out without doing research and taking the time to see where my people were being underrepresented. i wouldn’t have been able to see that my gift could help fill in that gap.
Drag taught me how to use my art and my expression to fill in the gaps.
Find a way to seal yours.
9. Be the queen you already are.
When i started in drag i thought i was searching for a character, a persona that was somewhere “out there” with no traces of being found “in here.”
But the more i did drag the more i realized that “in here” was the only place from which the Brandi of the stage could have sprung from. Everything you see on stage is the same thing i carry with me onto the page, out in the streets, when i’m washing dishes, or holding hands with my partner.
i am queen because my queendom lives in me not because i have a million followers or beehive of fans.
i’m a writer because i write not because someone reads the day’s work.
i’m a creative entrepreneur even if i don’t sell a single service that day.
i don’t need anything special to be who i already am.
Neither do you.
We are all queens, writers, and business owner the moment we claim it — and commit to doing the work that queens do.t
And the first territory we have to rule over is ourselves.
10. Once more … with feeling.
Okay so technically this isn’t something that i learned from drag . . . BUT! i did learn it from my performance life as a belly dancer and a lot of what i learned from my years of touring as a belly and Polynesian/Tahitian dancer has informed both my drag and business life.
And this lesson came from my very first belly-dancing workshop in Corpus Christi with belly dance masters Amaya and Bert Balladine.
While time has erased the details of the class, Bert’s words ring in my skull anytime i am doing anything. Once more … with feeling. He would say this after he would give us students a dance combination and we’d perform it for him. He was never satisfied with what we gave him. He always stretched to give more, to more feeling into every whip of our shoulder every flick of our wrist.
Once more … with feeling has become a life mantra that is as automatic and required as my breath.
i return to it everytime i think i’ve given it my all. i ask myself, “but have i really?” And i’ll return to whatever it is — the creation of a performance, the words of this post, a video for my clients and say to myself is my best Bert Balladine flair …
Once more … with feeling.
Thank you for reading and for sharing your art with the world. i love you more than you will ever know.
Love, light, and birthday wishes,
PS. Time is running out to purchase my new book New Year. Best You — Make 2019 Your Best Year EVER! and get free coaching with me! Click here to find out more.