Every June, the LGBTQ+ community gets an opportunity to reflect on the importance of Pride. It can serve as a reminder of strides made, past and future battles, and an affirmation of the long road ahead, still, to securing true nationwide equality.
Chance Lambert, aka West Michigan-based drag queen and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alum Orion Story, is set to headline Lansing Pride this year, and despite a seemingly record year for political attacks on both the drag and transgender communities, Lambert predicts that Pride 2023 will be one of the biggest and wildest ever.
Before Lambert graces the stage as Orion Story in Lansing’s Old Town on Saturday, June 17, they caught up with Pride Source to talk about the state of drag, its use as a conservative talking point and why it can bring out the “superhero” in all of us.
Since many of the drag bans have passed, in many ways it feels like the public’s perception of drag has become less accepting than even a few years ago. Have you noticed a shift in the landscape as a performer?
I’ve been doing drag for almost four years now, and I think even since I started doing drag, things have changed so much, even with the community. And it’s interesting because every year it changes, and I think it’s something that’s going to continue to change. The thing with the political climate and everything going on and drag being a big target for conservatives, [is] it’s not about drag. It’s not about children. It’s a smoke screen. It’s a diversion. If they really cared about protecting their kids and this and that, then we wouldn’t have mass shootings in schools. There would be more gun control. There are bigger issues. They don’t care about drag. They don’t care about kids. It’s a ploy to cover up whatever is really going on. At the end of the day, [drag bans are] anti-trans bills, essentially. The way that they’re wording things, the way that the bills are very meticulously written, it’s really to criminalize trans people.
I have spoken to several drag queens who have shared that people have been more confrontational with them at shows and in public, recently. Have you experienced that?
I haven’t had, luckily, any personal confrontations with that, besides family members who will say that they are supportive but then, on the other hand, they’re voting for Trump and they’re still conservative and they’re voting against my well-wishes, basically. It’s hard. I’ve had to cut out a lot of my family. They don’t understand. And people like that, it’s very hard to get through [to], and as soon as you try to dismiss their beliefs, they are not gonna listen to what you’re saying.
Have any of the drag bans affected your work personally?
I personally haven’t had a lot of my work affected, but lately I have been doing a lot of costume commissions and things like that and I do know a lot of friends who have been affected by it. I have a lot friends out in Nashville who have been affected by it, and it’s nice that a lot of venues have been reaching out and saying, “Hey, if there is anyone out in Nashville that needs work, send them my information.” It’s great that the community is coming together to support each other, but it seems like it’s getting worse and worse, you know? It's very unpredictable, which I think is the scariest part.
Has the news of these drag bans changed your approach to drag at all?
I wouldn’t say that it affects the way I approach drag, but I think it’s very similar to how Covid was with work, because everything shut down and we weren’t able to perform and that was a struggle for a lot of people — myself included. This is a similar situation in a different way, but I think as queer people we always rise above everything. We always come out on the front, and we always find a way.
But I think now it’s even more important because this isn’t like Covid that we can all avoid — it’s people voting against us. It’s one of those times where, even if you’re not political, you have to be. You have to be sure to be registered to vote. You have to make sure that your voice is heard, because if it’s not, there are people who are gonna try to outlaw you, basically.
Do you think it’s possible to change people’s opinions on drag?
Some people you can’t change, and you can’t expect everyone to change, but the biggest voice you have is making sure you’re voting and that you are out there protesting and actually making your voice heard. Because, when it comes down to it, people’s opinions are one thing, but laws and bills and action? That’s what it really comes down to. That’s the biggest voice, is action. It’s scary that people are coming to Drag Queen Story Hours with guns and sitting outside and sending death threats and harassing, and a lot of the times, the law is protecting those people.
I know it’s very cliché to say that drag changes lives, and I think as somebody who has been doing drag for a few years — obviously there have been so many people who have been doing it so much longer than I have — I feel like I attribute a lot of my confidence and figuring out who I am and what kind of person I am, even out of drag, to drag. When you put yourself in a position where you’re performing every night, you’re putting yourself out there, and you’re in front of all of these people all the time. Especially being on a show like “Drag Race,” which has millions of viewers and is one of the biggest shows on TV, it’s really crazy how much you learn about yourself through drag. And I think even watching other people and being inspired by that — I have so many people that come up to me and are like, “I want to start doing drag.”
There was a big stigma about drag years ago and it was kind of like, “OK, whatever,” and now everyone wants to do drag. I think that’s amazing. I’ve learned so much about myself and it’s one of the things that anytime anyone wants to start, or any new queen needs some help, I am absolutely there to help anyone who wants to start doing that, because it’s something that I think can be so amazing for so many people. And somebody like me who has anxiety and has dealt with body dysmorphia in the past, it’s really liberating to go out there and kind of be someone else.
RuPaul has even said that drag allows the “superhero in you that’s dying to get out” to shine through.
One-hundred percent. That’s exactly what it is. I think finding that superhero inside of you helps you find yourself and build your confidence and it makes you inspire others, which I think has been the most liberating thing for me. I feel like this Pride season is going to be one of the biggest. And wild. I think especially with everything going on, I think this is the time that we really need to come together as a community and show more love than ever and more support than ever and really just kind of revel in the fact that we are all in this together.
Catch Orion Story at Lansing Pride on June 17 and learn more about Lansing Pride at lansingpride.org.