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Motor City Pride Drag Performer Crystal Harding Hopes to Inspire Younger Generations

Harding on becoming a drag queen at age 16 and why kindness is at the center of her performances

Liam Clymer

For the “Arabian Princess” Crystal Harding, Motor City Pride marks a new opportunity to bring joy to the Michigan community — a community with which Harding’s performance roots run deep.

Harding told Pride Source that the start of her 18-year-long performance journey began with a chance meeting of a mentor at a Michigan gay club. “I was 16 years old when I went to my first gay club, and I met a drag queen there,” she said. “We used to hang out every Sunday. She used to do a show at night, but we’d hang out during the day.”

Nestled between the busy schedules of a performer and a student each week were interactions that provided space for conversation and friendship — until the Sunday when everything changed.



“One Sunday, me, her and another drag queen were in the car, and she was getting worried — ‘Oh my god, another queen canceled on me. What am I going to do?’” Harding recalled. “Then after an hour of them trying to find her, they both looked up at me.”

Harding said at that point she didn’t have a complete understanding of drag performance and was apprehensive to fill in. However, after a bit of convincing and discussion, she decided to give it a go.

Before getting up on stage, Harding said her friends helped get her ready for performance, which was a new and challenging experience in and of itself. “It took me three hours to shave one leg — it was crazy,” She explained. “And baby, I’ve got two legs, so think about that.”

Crystal Harding. Courtesy photo
Crystal Harding. Photo: Tih Penfil

When it came time for her debut, announcers realized that they hadn’t asked for a name, but Harding quickly arrived at the stage name she would carry with her from then on. In that moment, she considered what values and people she held closest, she said. “My brother’s girlfriend at the time was named Crystal — she was like my sister,” Harding said. “Also, with the name Crystal, I think of brightness, a breath of fresh air and something cute.”

Harding said after she saw the audience at that first show, she fell in love with performing. She continues to do so while spreading a message of brightness and care — a message made all the more vital in an era when drag performance has become a common topic of harmful political rhetoric.

While Michigan is currently a blue state, Harding said safety while performing still often comes down to the individual. She said you must realize your own power to affect your life. “They’ll call your manager to get you a gig, and when you get the information, you can either kindly decline or you can say yes,” she said. “You have the upperhand on your safety, your life and your goals.”

But even then, there are instances where confrontational hate must be met with kindness, Harding said.

“I like to kill them with kindness,” Harding said. “[Protesters] are out there in the heat saying stupid things, while you’re in here doing your job with the best crowd ever. Don’t go out and fight them. You can make it fun, or you can make your worst nightmare — I personally make it fun.”

Harding said her mom inspires her to perform while keeping fun and kindness at the center of her art. “My mom’s the best,” she declared. “I wish more people were like her in general. I promise you I'm not saying that because she is my mom, but her heart is sweet, nice and giving.”

Much like those friends and family who’d supported her journey, Harding said she hopes to inspire younger generations with her performances across Michigan. “I get inspired, especially at Pride, when I see the new generation come up and tell me how much they love seeing me year after year,” she said. “At one point, I had this one queen meet me at Pride when she was 15 who then became a drag queen at 18 and we worked together.”

Harding said performance isn’t limited to just inspiring younger generations, it’s a “way out” for all involved. “It’s a way out for the artist — it’s literally a five minute performance of spilling your heart out on stage,” she said. “For people watching, it’s just a way out of stress. You sit and watch a good bubbly song and forget about your troubles for a moment — that therapy without therapy.”

Harding said the only thing she doesn’t like about performing at Motor City Pride is how long it lasts. “The tears, the energy, the food, the other entertainers — Motor City Pride is just so amazing,” Harding said. “It takes so long to get to the date because it’s a whole year, but to me, it feels like it lasts only five minutes when I’m there. I’m so mad about it, because it’s so much fun.”

Crystal Harding will close out Motor City Pride on the Pyramid Stage at 3:30 p.m. on June 9. Find the full Motor City Pride entertainment lineup at motorcitypride.org/entertainment.



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