Ilona Verley on making HERstory as the first two-spirit and Indigenous contestant on Drag Race

You also opened up about being non-binary on the show – was it important for you to provide representation for that community as well? 
For me, gender diversity is really important. Even though in today’s society it’s so much more accepted and people have the freedom to express their gender, there’s still so much loss of opportunities for people who are trans and non-binary. To be able to go onto this platform and be super open about being non-binary, seeing myself as non-binary, seeing myself as female, being two-spirit, that to me was just as important as representing for Indigenous people. There are so many trans and non-binary kids that don’t get the same opportunities as everybody else, and that’s something I’m really fighting for, is it to make sure that all performers in the drag industry gets the same opportunities.

Last week, there was some controversy over the judges’ critiques about your bum. Were you surprised at how passionate the online response was following the episode? 
Yeah, actually. I was dreading that episode because it was one where I had to lip-sync, and you just never know how people are going to react to that. I was really scared leading up to it. I had a pretty big blowup in that episode, that thankfully was not featured, so I was dreading dealing with that. Then to watch the episode and see how different it was than how I remembered it put me in a really relaxed position. Seeing the online response after the runway critiques really blew my mind because it was the first time that I really felt love from the overall fandom. I had gotten my fair share of hate for different instances on the show, and as a result, I even took ‘Drag Race’ out of my bio on Instagram. I was like, ‘Leave me alone!’ After episode six, having that sheer love and support from people, changed my perspective and made me appreciate the good side of this fandom. There’s so many people out there that have the same views as me, fighting for social justice and making sure everyone is respected for their bodies, their gender, their race and for they who are. No one should be made to feel uncomfortable about who they are.

I loved how you tagged Jeffrey when you posted your merch on Twitter. It do take nerve! 
[Laughs] Charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent, honey! He inspired me!

Seeing the online response after the runway critiques really blew my mind because it was the first time that I really felt love from the overall fandom.

How are you dealing with the sudden rise to fame, especially during a pandemic? 
Leading up to filming, the 12 of us have a group chat and we talk every day. We were talking about what we were gonna do when the hate starts coming, because obviously, we have fights on the show. There’s this and there’s that, whatever. We were all laughing like, ‘We’re gonna be making so much money, we’re not gonna have time for all the hate!’ Then the pandemic happened and we weren’t making money because there’s no gigs, and all we can do is look at our phones. It’s definitely been overwhelming. Recently, I turned off all my comments and all my messages so I can just focus on creating art and enjoying the experience. As much as I love interacting with fans… I was going through a lot with my mental health, so it wasn’t the right time for me to be reading messages, especially when you never know when a hateful one is gonna pop in there. Just one hateful message throws you off for a whole day, at least for me. Now, I’m interacting with fans on Twitter and it’s amazing, but I don’t feel famous, you know? I’m getting recognised all the time, walking down the street or on the train, just going about and living my everyday life. It’s so random, because it just feels like I have all these new friends.

How does it feel to finally see Canadian queens be recognised on an international scale? 
It’s really amazing because Canada has such an incredible drag scene, and there’s so many incredible drag artists that had nothing to work towards. You have your weekly show and that’s the biggest deal that you can get out of Canadian drag. Finally having Drag Race in Canada gives all of these performers something to work towards, something to continue honing their craft with the goal of getting on the show. I think it’s so exciting! I’m so thankful to have been part of the inaugural season and it’s been a great experience so far. I can’t wait to see who comes after us!

Canada’s Drag Race airs every Thursday in Canada and the United States on Crave and WOW Presents Plus, and every Friday in the UK on BBC iPlayer.

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