A culture is driven by its sense of pride and history like a flag billowing in the horizon of its niche; a strong culture has a history that reminds the present day why identity is something worth fighting for and there is nothing more admirable than to see a person be themselves with no regard of what others think. The history of the gay and queer community is something worth being studied, discussed, and participated in and once a person understands a bit of what queer people have endured, then the true beauty of their communities and art comes into limelight.
I experienced my first drag show with a dear friend and classmate, and it was nothing short of enlightening and, of course, entertaining. Seeing those Queens floating in their sublime nature—like a wildfire ravishing everything in a chaotic dance—was an act of vision and art. Especially when they are still being ostracized from a supposed civil society. These performers had waited long for their niche, and now that they’d found it, they were going to thrive off it in absolute expression.
It was an experience of momentary content within a historical context. Though you could say that about any situation, not many people view each case with that perspective, let alone the historical context of the queer scene.
Once that is comprehended, or in my case, further researched, the true beauty of the show revealed itself. To understand more about this phenomenon, I asked my classmate for an interview and an introduction to the sponsor of the drag show, the owner of Intersection Adult Emporium: a sex store, a collection of community resources, a bookstore, and much more.
In meeting up with both my classmate Gabriel Villasmil and the owner of Intersection, Dutch, I proposed questions that could allow me to grasp a better understanding of what the queer scene is all about and what they as individuals represent within the community.
Intersection opened on August 1, 2019, and is queer-owned and operated. When asked about how they describe the business, Dutch responded with, “I think it’s just a Queer Place to get body safe toys, gender affirming gear, books, and it’s a chill place to hang and be silly.”
Dutch is the owner of Intersection and always wanted to be a business owner, but only really started considering opening a business months before Intersection opened its doors. They were inspired by the store Little Sisters in Vancouver, which has been a safe zone for the LGBTQ+ community for years. Because Nanaimo was deprived of this particular haven, Dutch took it upon themself to offer what the community needed to provide.
“I tried to make this place very queer focused in that regard. To make people feel safe and comfortable, because buying transitioning clothing, binders, gaffs, all that stuff is intimidating on the best of days,” Dutch said.
Since Intersection is also a bookshop, they would like to host an open mic from different queer authors to come and do some readings. They offer a variety of books, including works such as LGBTQ+ issues, social justice, poetry, children’s literature, Feminist theory, queer history, sex work, anti-capitalist, Marxism, oppression of women, erotica, recipe books by indigenous authors, comic books, and Zines.
“Arsenal Pulp Press is the main distributor of books that I carry. They’re pretty well known for carrying anti-racism, LGBT, social justice, and feminist books, so I order from them quite a bit,” Dutch said.
One of their goals as a business is to get more books, host workshops, various classes, consent courses, and polyamory discussions. But as a cultural movement, Dutch looks to what Vancouver has done as a queer society, where the Trans and Dyke marches are just as relevant as the Pride Parade, and wants Nanaimo to develop a similar trajectory.
“I want it to be where Davie St. is at, like a queer destination town,” Dutch said.
Davie St. was instrumental in contributing in the modern day prosperity of the queer community, one that Canadians can now enjoy as the country embodies a highly diverse and cultural mosaic. In the early 1970s, Davie St. became a symbol of gay liberation as multiple institutions participated in the movement, ultimately creating the Gay Press, a gay community center, and Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium.
Intersection, among other things, sells pleasure toys like butt plugs, dildos, vibrators, couple’s toys, lube, BDSM accessories, condoms, and strap-ons; but also clothing pieces used for transitioning such as chest binders, gaps, dilators, and packers. They’re high-end, accessible, and offered in a range of prices. Sex workers get 20 percent off. The Sex Professionals Alliance of Nanaimo (SPAN) logo is also featured on the door of the business, signalling it as a safe zone for people working in that industry.
The benefits of Nanaimo having a LGBTQ + store is sundry and the opening of these diverse communities is a stepping stone to the prosperity of the harbour city’s culture. Intersection has already had an immediate impact on queer groups such as the performing group called WIG by providing sponsorship at their drag shows, and gifting sex toys and other products to those who are brave or adventurous enough to participate in the many competitions that WIG Productions offer.
Gabriel Villasmil is a third-year creative writing student at VIU who performs with WIG under the name Divine Intervention. WIG has been together for over a year and has performed around 20 shows. The group isn’t just limited to drag shows; they also produce their own music and write and stage their own plays.
It all started when Villasmil was invited to perform drag by the co-founder of Sweet Tooth Burlesque at one of their shows, and after experiencing the delicacy of detail featured in the art of drag, Villasmil noticed its potential and saw the freedom in its wildfire expression.
“In drag, you tend to evolve your makeup the more you do it, the more you feel comfortable with your face and you kind of know your angles with the things you can bring out or play down,” Villasmil said. “When you’re a dude trying to feminize your face, it’s all about enlarging lips, enlarging eyes, reducing the nose, making your eyebrows arch, basically shape your face like a woman’s face.”
He remembers the day clearly when WIG was created. Griffin Smith and Villasmil were outside The Vault Café and realized the opportunity they had before them.
“I basically told him, ‘listen, there’s no queer or gay scene, which means that we get to shape it. That’s an opportunity that almost nobody has. If you look all around other cities, like Vancouver and Victoria, those queer scenes started many years ago by people just like us who saw that there was nothing and decided to do something about it and now look how massive they are.’” Villasmil said.
Since the queer scene wasn’t too present in recent years, Villasmil said that when WIG started, the duo felt invisible and out of place, hoping that every time they performed at a straight bar they wouldn’t be harassed or physically abused. But nonetheless they continued to perform and slowly created a fan base within Nanaimo.
Villasmil and Smith realized that they needed a combination of talent and diversity, so that at least a good spectrum of people could feel represented. With those goals in mind, Villasmil started to scout the individuals that could sprout WIG into their full potential.
There are currently six active members in Nanaimo and four in Victoria, and WIG is now holding auditions for the last two spots of their group. If you or someone you know is interested in auditioning, Villasmil can be contacted at his email <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
“One of the pinnacles of the WIG group is that every performance that you do must be better than the one before,” Villasmil said.
WIG performed at both Nanaimo and Victoria PRIDE, which tallied audiences of 20,000 and 50,000, respectively. The group has also appeared on Outlook and Shaw TV.
When Villasmil originally invited me to the drag show my initial thought was that it may be a little weird. In my Latin upbringing, it was made clear that homosexuality wasn’t to be celebrated, or anything that resembled femininity when a man was involved.
But now when I look at it, I think, “Who cares, really? I sure as hell don’t.” Even more so, when I am invited to a drag show now, you can count on me being in the front row, enjoying live art as it is meant to be enjoyed, with every neuron of presence you have.
And that, my friends, is the beauty of a drag show. It can surprise you, make you laugh, make you second guess yourself, intimidate you, spook you, galvanize you to dance, make you feel confused; a bunch of in-your-face facts that show how weird, interesting, and beautiful humans can be.
But just like any minority problem is of a greater societal issue, we as a community must arm ourselves with the best of weapons—education—and use it as a means to build equality and project a future in which we can all participate in a wildfire of expressions.