Jesse Beilman discusses performing and the local scene
Dresses, makeup, wigs, nylons and high heels clutter Jesse Beilman’s apartment floor as he gets ready to perform live at Twisted Element in downtown Calgary. Beilman, also known by his stage name as Felicia Bonée, is a drag queen.
Beilman acted and performed in high school and missed being onstage. After going to a few drag shows in Calgary and seeing the performances, he wanted to try it out.
“I started being part of the show but not in drag, [my drag mother] kept asking when I was going to do drag or try it because I had the face for it,” said Beilman. “I thought I would never do drag, it’s just something I wouldn’t enjoy. It looked like a lot of fun but I never thought I would do it.”
When: Sept. 1, 12:00 p.m.
Where: Stephen Ave., starting at Centre St. and 8 Ave. S.
What: Aiming to be the biggest pride parade yet, the 2013 Calgary Pride Parade celebrates people of all genders, sexual orientations, cultures and backgrounds to march together for the cause of human rights.
How much: Free
CALGARY PRIDE STREET FESTIVAL
When: Sept. 1, 12:30 to 6:00 p.m.
Where: Shaw Millennium Park, 1220 – 9 Ave. S.W.
What: Join Pride Calgary to celebrate love, equality, acceptance and pride with a wide range of performances by The Fake Mustache Troupe, La Gogue, Flomance and D3CiB3l.
How much: Free
THE BIG GAY BRUNCH
When: Sept/ 2, 11:00 a.m.
Where: National on 10th (341 – 10 Ave. S.W.)
What: Festivities include a scrumptious brunch, entertainment, door prizes, raffles in a fully “pride-ified” atmosphere.
How Much: $25
DONNIE PETER’S MEMORIAL CUT-A-THON
When: Sept. 2, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Where: Tomkins Park (17 Ave. & 8 St. S.W.)
What: An annual fundraiser for the Positive Living Lunch Program managed by AIDS Calgary Awareness Association. Adult, children, dog and cat haircuts.
How much: Prices start at $10
After performing as himself a few times and singing live, he finally decided to put on the makeup with the help of his drag mother, a drag queen who helps beginners with makeup and other aspects of performance. After getting his makeup and hair done, Beilman was hooked on the idea of performing in drag.
“I went to [my drag mother’s] house and she piled some makeup on, it took an hour or so and I thought, ‘Wow, I look pretty,’” Beilman said. “I went out and performed that night. I did ‘Starships’ by Nicki Minaj and people loved it. I loved the attention and I thought this is kind of fun, I can see myself doing this more often.”
Defining Drag Queens
The term drag queen is often confused with being male-to-female transgendered. Drag queens are female impersonators, not men making fun of women, which is a common misconception.
Beilman gets asked why doesn’t he just act like a woman all the time and he replies with the fact that it’s not about being a woman full time, it’s about being a performer.
“A drag queen is a guy that spends hours in front of a mirror, usually gay but not all the time, and performs songs, lip syncs songs wherever they can,” Beilman said. “I do it to perform, it’s fun, I get to go up onstage, put on a bunch of makeup, look pretty and make people laugh. For me it’s not about trying to feel like I’m a woman, which is a general misunderstanding of drag queens.
“When you’re an actor, people don’t ask why you stay as that character. Why pretend to be someone you’re not? It’s for fun, it’s not who I am,” explained Beilman. “A drag queen is a performer more than anything. Not necessarily all the time, some do it for fun and don’t perform, some of them just feel comfortable in women’s clothing, which is where the transgender grey areas come in.”
Getting Ready and Going to the Show
A typical drag queen takes anywhere between one and three hours to get ready, depending on their skill and the requirements of their performance.
Beilman, on average, takes two hours before each show to get ready and his makeup takes up most of that time.
“My makeup is obviously more than what a regular girl has to wear, not only do I have to change the fact I’m not a woman but also look kind of showy,” said Beilman.
“I start with a really heavy foundation to even my skin, then apply a liquid cover-up over top, I need to contour my face and make cheek bones,” said Beilman. “I need to make under my eyes really bright and my cheek bones really dark; doing this changes your face and softens it up.
“Lighter cover-up around your lips also helps cover up any facial hair, which is another issue. It’s not cute to have facial hair,” he added.
Beilman goes on to say he doesn’t find any difference between homophobia when he is out on the street or in drag.
“I haven’t faced a lot of adversity here in Calgary so it’s hard to say what it would be like to deal with it. Most of the time people will keep to themselves or give you a weird judging look, which I’m OK with,” he said. “Aside from actual homophobia, it is people not understanding and thinking if you dress like a girl, that means you want to be a girl.”
Pride in Calgary: strengths and weaknesses
“For me it’s not about trying to feel like I’m a woman, which is a general misunderstanding of drag queens.”
– Felicia Bonée
September is Pride Month, but aside from September, Calgary’s pride community has its ups and downs.
When Beilman moved to Calgary a few years ago, he didn’t know anyone and Calgary’s pride community helped change that.
“When I moved to Calgary and found a pride youth group I gained a lot of friends. It definitely helps people find a group where they belong,” said Beilman. “A strength in the community is the outreach for the youth. I went to a youth group, which is a bunch of kids who meet up who don’t really have that big of a gay friend group, so it’s a place we can go and hang out with other gay people, ask questions and get informed.
“For me in high school I had mostly straight friends and one gay friend but I was in the closet and I didn’t feel connected, like I couldn’t be myself. When you hang out with straight people all of the time, you don’t get informed about the gay things, people or places.” Beilman added.
Beilman said that one of the local pride community’s shortcomings is that they preach community and they have their youth groups but he feels like they’re most specifically targeted to younger gays.
“The older gays who may have come out later in their life or they’re just too old for a youth group don’t have the same place to go and discuss more mature things and learn about the experiences you’re going to have as a older gay person, ” said Beilman. “It’s more designated to younger people ages 16 to 25, who are going out to the bars. It seems a little juvenile.
“I would have events, education that focus more on the older gay community.”