entertainment

‘Canada’s Drag Race’: Ilona Verley on being Two-Spirit and *that* comment about her butt

"My drag is indigenous because I'm indigenous."

2020-08-14

Words: Markus Bidaux

Category is... SPOILER ALERT! Please note this interview reveals the result of Canada's Drag Race episode seven.

We are now past the halfway point and a 7th queen has been eliminated from Canada’s Drag Race.

Ilona Verley gave it her all in the first pageant in Drag Race herstory and wore a sickening bejewelled gown for her ‘Pageant Perfection’ runway look, but the judges sent her packing after she lost the lip-sync to Priyanka - who's fast become this season’s lip-sync assassin.  

Attitude caught up with Ilona via Zoom to discuss her run on the show…

Congrats on making it to the top six.

Thank you.

How are you feeling about your run on Canada’s Drag Race?

I’m ecstatic, Drag Race has always been the ultimate dream for me and to finally have it be my reality has been so amazing. I'm super happy with everything I got to do on the show, that I got to bring to the show and rewatching experience has been so amazing. Just as amazing as the first time living at.

A lot of people in the UK don’t know what the ‘2’ in LGBTQ2 is, but it is you.

Yeah.

So what is two-spirit?

I feel like a lot of people have different explanations for it. And for me, the easiest way that I've been able to explain it is it's kind of just enlightenment to being in touch with both your masculine and female energies and kind of finding where you fit in between those energies. Not every two-spirit person is going to be non-binary, not every two-spirit person is going to be trans, it's not really a gender identity it's more about your energies and your alignment within yourself. That'd be my definition for it.

I know it changes depending on everyone you talk to you but it's definitely a concept that’s been around for forever, an indigenous community and sadly, as our communities have grown and times have gone on, a lot of indigenous people have lost touch with the term two-spirit and I'm still learning a ton about it myself. It's honestly just such an incredible experience to be able to have the knowledge now to educate myself and my job right now is to represent and educate.

It's still a learning process for me discovering myself, discovering all of the real meaning behind all these significant parts of indigenous culture. I grew up on and off my reserve so I know a lot, but I've also lost a lot as well getting pushed into a kind of white society.

Ilona's bejewelled final runway look

The LGBT community was often very celebrated in indigenous cultures across the Americas before colonization by the Europeans who came over and created cultural and full-on genocide on the indigenous peoples. So a lot of modern-day First Nations people don't even know about that relationship that they had with the LGBT community which is really sad and they're just relearning that now. So how did your first nation community react when you came out as a non-binary person and a two-spirited person?

I'm very lucky to live amongst very accepting people. My mom taught me growing up what it means to be First Nation is to be able to accept and acknowledge your feelings and communicate them into the world in which you live. So for me, I've always known that it's important to communicate, who I am, with people around me. And when I came out, it was definitely a journey of self-discovery.

So originally I tested the waters I came out as bisexual, and then eventually I came out as gay. And then, as I started doing drag and I met my drag mother Quanah Style, she was someone who really educated me on what it meant to be two-spirit and just learning about her journey and then there's this whole reflection inside myself where I was like, “Yes, this is me, I am two-spirit.” And then eventually I was pretty sure that I'm non-binary. And then, more and more as I've discovered myself and just not been scared of actually opening up all these things inside of me, I've been able to come to the final conclusion at this point in my life that I see myself as a transgender person, so I identify as female now, but I say non-binary trans because right now I'm still living my day-to-day life more male presenting.

But you know, it's all a journey of self-discovery and what I would say to people is you can't rush. You can't rush into something, you have to feel it out and you have to just live your experience to live it. And you're going to get to where you are meant to be. And in the meantime, you can't forget to enjoy life on the way.

Ilona's drag mother, Quanah Style

We have Black Pride in the UK and will soon have a Muslim Pride, have you ever been to a Two-Spirit Pride?

I have been lucky enough this past year [to be a part of] a two-spirit ball in Vancouver, which was such a beautiful event. Quanah was performing at it so I was there assisting her for the night. And it was just so beautiful to be in this community of two-spirit people together with my drag mom and my drag aunt Jaylene Tyme. They are my role models as far as being indigenous and being two-spirit. And other than that I haven't really had the opportunity to meet very many other two-spirit people.

You need to be guest of honour at Two-Spirit Prides and lead those marches!

I would love that. I definitely want to get more involved with the more political divide being indigenous and now I've had my moment where I want to be the representation and now I want to start doing some more education, educating myself, getting involved with educating others a little more, and just making indigenous people and two-spirit people a lot more visible. It’s 2020, it’s time!

A true queen of the North

Do you ever bring your First Nation heritage into your drag?

This past year, learning more about my background being Nlaka'pamux. and trying to find that balance of finding respectful ways to incorporate a little bit of culture into my drag without being disrespectful. And one of the looks that was actually in an early trailer for Canada’s Drag Race was a look that I worked on with various indigenous designers, two-spirit designers and I consulted a few elders about it, making sure that I was using the culture in a respectful way. But I've actually gotten a lot of backlash from that look from people who didn't understand the context behind it. Obviously, that hasn't aired yet, so I can't say a ton on it.

But it's definitely interesting opening these conversations about when is it appropriate to use culture in drag, should culture be used and drag? If so, how is it acceptable and when is it acceptable? I'm not someone that just wants to slap a piece of my culture on every look I do just say I'm Native [American], my drag is indigenous because I'm indigenous. But for me, it is also important to do with visible indigenous looks to remind people in the white community that I am indigenous because I come off as very white-passing and so a lot of times I got lumped out as a white girl.

It opens up this really interesting conversation with what's the difference between indigenous art on an easel or on a carving or painting, and then art that is wearable? Where does that shift? When does that art not become art? So that's kind of a conversation that was opened up to me with a little bit of the different opinions that came with infusing my culture and my drag.

Scarlett Bobo and Ilona in their Canadian Tux-shedo looks

Speaking of controversy, we need to discuss Bum-gate. Some viewers came after Brooke Lynn Hytes for suggesting you should had put make-up on your exposed bum for your “Canadian Tux-shedo: Denim on Denim on Denim” runway look. What is your take on that?

Here's the thing, I have rosacea and what they were referring to, razor bumps or razor burn, was not what I had. I have pretty good skin texture-wise, but I do have a little bit of rosacea. And so my skin is kind of rosy and so I think that's what they were seeing. Also beforehand, I had Priyanka rub glitter on my butt and the glitter was red and I didn't realise that until after, so it just really amplified that situations and made it look not good. I get what they were saying, but overall in the moment it was weird, I was so embarrassed. But I didn’t take it too personally.

Pretty in pink and tattooed head to toe

You have a lot of tattoos. When it was announced pop artist Allie X was a judge you boasted you had her lyrics on your arm. How many do you have and what is your favourite tattoo and why?

I haven't counted in a while, I know I have more than 200. I have a bunch of little ones over my body and my stomach fully covered my legs are fully covered. My favourite one is the heart on my cheek. Obviously, it gets covered up with makeup so I drawback in [when doing drag]. And that is a Marina and the Diamonds reference to her Electra Heart era. That was such a powerful album for me.

You were born and raised in Canada, but you moved to LA recently, right?

I came up doing drag in Vancouver and eventually, I ended up having a bit of a break from nightlife and drag and I moved to LA about a year ago. And I was there for seven months, and then the casting for Canada’s Drag Race happened and I started going through the process that. And by the end of it, I had a choice to make whether I was gonna stay in LA or was I gonna move everything back to Canada and bank on the on Canada’s Drag Race, because all my resources, my designers and everything are all in Vancouver for me.

So I packed up everything and I decided to move back before I even heard if I was going to be on the show or not, just kind of manifesting destiny. My last day in LA, I had to show at Micky’s, I got off the stage, said bye to all my friends, hopped in the car, took my make-up off on the way to the airport and as I got home that night I got the call that I made it on the show.

Bow wow!

How is drag different in LA versus Canada?

I feel like Canada we definitely have smaller scenes. So everyone's a lot more involved, there's a lot more drama because everyone knows each other and everyone is in everyone's business.

Whereas, LA is such a huge scene even living there seven months I haven't met half the girls there. And they are so busy doing the art and doing the work that there is not a lot of time for the drama, which I love because I got to go out there and be seen for my drag. It was a really good amazing refresher for me because I was so used to getting involved in so much drama in Vancouver and it helped me come back with a new perspective on how to handle nightlife and not get involved, to go out do drag, have fun and just make sure everyone's having a good time when they're around me.

Canada's Drag Race is available to watch now on BBC Three on the BBC iPlayer.