Following her participation in Macy's Drag Queen Story Hour during WorldPride week, Brooklyn-based drag queen, Cholula Lemon, spoke about the Story Hour, her background and her perspectives on life as a drag queen.
How did the Macy’s Drag Queen Story Hour go?
It was great! For Story Hour as a program it was a really great moment of visibility. It was great having the support of Macy’s and having them invite us to come and share what we do with the public.
I read the children's book “Love the World” by Todd Parr. It’s such a beautiful book. It’s very simple but it goes through and talks about everything that we could possibly love, from our physical attributes to our emotions to people around us to helping the community. So, it’s a really great book to open up the conversation with children about loving themselves, but also loving those around them and spreading that love.
How often do you do Drag Queen Story Hours?
As an organization, we have readings weekly, throughout the week. I personally do four or five a month. But for Pride month, we’ve been booked solid.
What would it have meant to you as a kid to have been in the audience of a Story Hour like this?
I grew up in a small South Texas town where queer visibility was very low. I remember one person who was the principal and then later became the superintendent and the hairdresser who would come to our house to do my mom’s hair. Those were the two in this tiny town and I think they were closeted.
So, as a child, if I had had a program like Story Hour, I would have seen a drag person or just a fully out gay person and seen how positive that person is and can be. I think that’s what we’re providing with Story Hour. There aren’t very many queer positive role models for kids and that’s what we’re doing with the visibility this program affords us. And this is how I’m giving back. If I had seen a drag queen when I was a kid, I would have thought, oh, so it is okay to play with makeup and it is okay to love glitter and colorful clothes and sparkles and all that kind of stuff that I was told that I couldn’t play with or was shamed for playing with. That’s why I do Story Hour—so that I can help create a safe space for children who are looking to be validated for being different.
How did you get started doing drag?
Drag for me really was about self-discovery and owning my feminine side and wanting to express that in a beautiful fun way. So that’s how I ended up in drag. It took me awhile—I was afraid of that part of myself. And it wasn’t until I was able to accept myself fully that I was able to express myself as an artist.
Anything you see outwardly right now I’ve drawn and taken out of the well of my inner beauty and displayed it for the world to see.
Please respond to this comment: It’s now how you dress or what you put on your body that determines who you are, but it sure can help you express it.
Drag is dress-up and you’re creating a character, but really, it’s also an extension of who you are. Just like how you decide to dress for the day is essentially your drag that day and how you feel within is expressed and shown on the outside, depending on how you want to express it.
How do you come by confidence?
I think true confidence comes from within. You exude the most confidence by knowing yourself truly and loving yourself truly.
We can gain self-confidence from others as well, but I think it has to start from within and then people can add to it, depending on where we are in our lives. It’s important to surround yourself with people who you care about and who care about you. Gay people talk a lot about chosen family—the people you decide to spend time with.
Talk about the sense of empowerment you get from being yourself onstage.
I create this character and on stage feel fully realized. It’s a really beautiful thing. I mean, imagine if you gave all this creativity to somebody and said, “do with it what you want. Use every color, use every texture, use everything at your disposal to create this fantasy.” It’s a really beautiful moment when you’re onstage and feel that all the time, effort and love that you put into your drag are being reflected back. There’s something about the performance and the emotion that you’re conveying through your performance that touches the audience and seeing that connection gives you energy and power. It’s great!
What do you want people to know about drag queens?
Drag has evolved so much and I think being open to different types of drag is really important because for so long there was a very narrow viewpoint about what drag is or should be. Now drag is more accessible, which I think is great, and there's Drag Queen Story Hour. The reason I do Story Hour is if I had had this type of programming when I was a kid, things may have turned out differently. I want to be the visibility that some of these kids need.
What’s hard about being a drag queen? What’s the hardest aspect of this choice?
The heels! Physically, it takes a toll. But you also have to be tough to be a queen because you’re out in the public and you're faced with so many different types of people—some support you and some don't. You’re gonna get “yes!” or like, “what is that?” The reaction ranges so you have to be tough emotionally to be able to withstand it all. But when it’s positive, it’s so fun.
What motivates you to play with gender?
I’ve learned that gender is a spectrum. There are the two extremes that we’ve been taught most of our lives but, truly, we all live within the spectrum. And so, it’s silly to think that, for example, that these clothes were designed specifically for women, when, again, going back to childhood—and why I think Drag Queen Story Hour is so important—kids don’t care about that kind of thing. They’re just drawn to what they’re drawn to.
So, we liken drag to dress-up, which it is. I think it’s fun to play with those lines and deconstruct it all a bit, tear it apart, question what this thing that we’ve created for ourselves is because, truly, if you give a child a box of crayons, they’re going to choose whatever colors they want to choose. It's fun to kind of poke at the systems we have in place—that’s how we enact change. If you start to question things that maybe you’ve believed your whole life and then start to reframe your thinking, you’d be surprised what you come up with.
Would you describe your drag persona and how it evolved?
Cholula Lemon is a rose from the dusty southern plains of Texas. I draw a lot of inspiration from my Mexican heritage growing up in Texas. I have a comedy background, so I’m a comedy queen. I do standup and I do funny lip syncs.
In one way I’m honoring my heritage with my name Cholula—it’s one of the oldest cities in the Americas, established 2500 years ago, and my grandparents are from that area. And Lemon, well Cholula Lemon just sounds funny.
My well of inspiration is filled with things that I remember seeing on television or in magazines while growing up. I remember flipping through W Magazine in junior high. And, oh, Selena—I love any Latina pop star and actress. I’m really inspired by super models of the 70s and 80s like Jerry Hall and Farrah Fawcett, that glam look.
Professionally, I work as a fashion stylist and when I first started drag, I would treat each performance like a styling gig, so I would prep as if I were shopping for a photo shoot. I had 10 options for everything. My initial drag style was very conservative, very mother-of-four, dinner parties for 10, double income, kind of like an affluent suburban housewife from Dallas. That’s how my style started, but then it evolved into this disco ‘glamazon’ and it’s more fun now.
Follow Cholula Lemon on Instagram: @cholulalemon
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
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