February 20 2019

Hot Tea with Dusty Ray Bottoms: Drag Queens Terrified Me!

New York
Minutes before the winners of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 4 were announced, I sat down with Dusty Ray Bottoms in The Perch at The Standard, East Village. As she put on the final touches to her outfit for the evening—diamond nails—we chatted about her former fear of drag queens, her Christian upbringing, and how Bob the Drag Queen and Thorgy Thor helped her gain her voice.

Tell me about your drag origins story. Was drag something you were always drawn to? 

You know, I grew up in a very conservative, Christian family, and I was always terrified of drag. I was intrigued to go to drag shows once I was old enough to get into the clubs, but I was always on red alert. Keep the drag queens far away from me! I was genuinely terrified of them.  

Why was that? 

I feel like I had religion stuck in my head, and I was scared that I would go to hell for participating or even just watching. In college, one of my best friends did drag, and I would go to these bars to watch him, and I would just rag on him. I would say things like “I can’t even believe you would dress up like this to try and get a dollar. How foolish!” If I could just talk to my college self, he would be truly shook.

You’ve shared that you had a rather unsupportive coming out experience and that you were even sent to gay conversion camp. How did you get through that?

I was so very lucky because I didn’t actually end up at the camp. I had the exorcism. I had to go through therapy where I was meeting with pastors one on one, but thankfully, I escaped having to go to a real camp and having to do the electroshock therapy. I got through it only by leaving my given family. They turned against me because they didn’t believe in who I am and what I am.

Every time I would talk to someone about my story they would say “Oh my god, that sounds nuts!” They could never understand it or sympathize with me.
The Standard
The Standard

Outside of metropolitan areas where the drag and LGBT community is a prominent part of the overall community, I think there are a lot of untold stories like yours. What advice do you have for people who might be going through a similar experience to yours and feeling alone?

 When I was on the show, I knew my story would come up, and a piece of me was really, really scared about sharing my story. I went back and forth. I was scared for my family. It was a lot of things. After my story aired, I got a flood of responses from people saying “I’m going through it now.” “I’ve been through it.” “I’m not out to my family because this will happen.” “I’m terrified. What do I do?” This was the very first time I felt I was heard, and I felt I was not alone. I had never talked to anyone who had gone through what I went through. Every time I would talk to someone about my story they would say “Oh my god, that sounds nuts!” They could never understand it or sympathize with me. After that aired, that was the very first time it came full circle, and I didn’t feel alone.

What was your first move when you got to New York?

I was catering. I was waiting tables. I was doing the New York hustle. It wasn’t until my third or fourth month into the city that I got my agent. I waited on this lady one busy Saturday night and she was like “Are you a model?” and I was like “No, lady!” and she was like “Are you sure? Do you act?” and I was like “I’m a waiter. Get out of here. This isn’t what I want to be talking to someone about right now.” At the end of the dinner she said “I’m an agent, and if you really are interested, I would love to talk to you more.” And that’s how I got my agent. She started sending me to these national tours, cruises, and regional theater gigs. I had such a hard time leaving Kentucky to establish my home in New York, and I knew I couldn’t do that again, so I stopped going on auditions and turned everything down. After four more years, I was still waiting tables and was like “What am I doing?” That’s when I came across Bob the Drag Queen doing his show every Monday night at Barracuda and Thorgy Thor had ‘Our Lady of Saliva!’ every Tuesday at The Ritz. Those two shows changed my life and those two people, Bob and Thorgy, woke me up and let me know I have a voice in this world, and I think I want to see what that voice is.

How did RuPaul come about? Was it a goal you were working toward or was it something that just kind of happened?

You know, I always had this feeling about RPDR. I would sit and watch the show and knew I would be on that runway one day, but then I would look at myself and say “I’m not even a drag queen!” I used to have viewing parties at my house back when it was on Mondays on Logo, and I would always joke that I would be on Season 8 or Season 10, and my friends were like “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Season 8 was the first year I auditioned. I didn’t like my tape for Season 9, so I didn’t turn it in, and Season 10 it happened. 

Were you nervous going on Drag Race?

Oh, yeah. When I look back on it, it shakes me up just a little bit because I feel like I see a different Dusty. I feel like I see someone that’s not very confident, a little shaken, and very scared. I feel like if you watch the first four episodes, by the end of the third episode you see me change a little bit and by the fourth episode, I’m like “Let’s do it!” and then it was like “Sashay away!”

The Standard

Would you do all stars? 

I would not do All Stars 5. I would absolutely do All Stars 6.

Why not 5?

I just want to be sure that if I’m given the opportunity to go back that I can be as comfortable as I can be, and there’s a game I need to play right now to better myself to play their game in two years. I don’t want the opportunity to go in there and not be as prepared as I can be.

What was the most challenging thing about your season?

The most challenging thing was the fans’ opinions of you after Drag Race. There’s so much not shown that happens during filming and I feel like these fans take what is put on TV at face value. I wish the fans would have more fun with us instead of being so critical and taking the fun out of it. I feel like that has been the biggest challenge: making sure that I am true to myself and not changing myself or my game because of negative opinions. Just don’t read the comments! 

Do you think the judges are fair?

Hah! I honestly think the judging is a little crap sometimes. There are some calls they make, and I’m like “In what universe is this a stunning gown? Get out of here!” But I think it’s a hard thing to do; especially for All Stars. Everyone up there is a living legend. Everyone has touched our hearts and affected our art in some way. That’s why Ru doesn’t send anyone home. He makes the girls do it. He can’t send one of his legendary children home!

Photographer
Morgan T. Stuart
Writer
Sarah Morrison