Her name is Phoenix and you might recognize her from Season Three of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but this queen came onto the scene years before, with almost two decades of performances under her sequins studded belt. Take the dress and heels off, wipe the make-up away, remove those lashes, and you’re left with the creator behind the drag, Brian Trapp. He’s a 38-year-old gay man from rural Georgia living his dreams in one of the drag capitols of the country. From producer to designer, Trapp lives for each performance and continues to spotlight queens from across the city and southeast. We caught up with Trapp to learn just what his line of work entails!
How and when did you get into the world of drag?
“It started out as a way to sneak into the bars, to be honest, as underage. I’d always been into theatre and dance, and one of my friends obsessed with drag but he could never do it. He talked me into it and it kind of stuck. I started winning little competitions and 18 years later, here I am. I started here in Atlanta. I’m actually from cumming which is about 30 minutes from here. There was a bar called Metro many years ago. It was over on Peachtree Street. They had a Latin night. My best friend was Latino. We would drive from Cumming to Atlanta just about every Tuesday. It sounds horrible but I would get ready on the mirror in his SUV.”
Do you consider drag as a professional job?
“For me, it’s not just on-stage. I do a lot of off-stage production. I produce a lot of shows. For ten years, there was a club called Jungle, I was the entertainment director for them, and entertainment director for Burkharts. I did it all. I had 50 girls under me. I ran about eight shows a week. I enjoy that part of it. Drag is changing so much but Atlanta is known for a certain standard of this entertainment industry and a certain quality it brings. I’m big on trying to keep that.”
You were on RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Three. Is drag the same now as it was then?
“The whole industry is changing. When I started, I never in a million years dreamed I would be able to be on an international television show or be in movies. I was just doing it because I enjoyed watching Charlie Brown and Shawnna Brooks, and I wanted to do it also. I feel like there are definitely some creative people in the industry who are new. One thing that drives me crazy about the industry is that it’s now so easy to call someone to make your wigs or get on Amazon and buy your costumes, and then you kind of feel like you’re a star already. I feel like the artistry of it is diminishing. I hope that comes back.
Is it difficult to rely on drag as a full-time job?
“It can be difficult. I’m fortunate to be in a different area with producing. Atlanta is a great city to do this as a living. People do come out and tip and they do show up. Maybe not as great as it was a few years ago but people still come out. I always encourage people to come out and support the queens. Don’t come out just when it’s a big named drag race girl and tip them 100 bucks. But they just made $5000 to be here, so make sure you tip your local queens. It’s tough for some people to make a living in this. It’s a hustle, it’s not just showing up and getting paid a lot for one gig. You’re doing five, six, seven, eight gigs a week. That may sound simple but everything is supposed to be different. That’s a lot.”
Why are circuit parties a focal point for you as a drag performer?
“The circuit scene has always been the reason why I started doing this. There used to be a club called Fusion at Amsterdam. It was an amazing circuit club and I saw this queen, EJ Aviance, and it was just this insane energy she added to the night. I love that. What I want to do with circuit parties, no matter how amazing the DJ is, to have a break in the night and your attention go somewhere else for five to seven minutes. It just gives a change to the energy. I do my research to make sure my music can go with their set and I want it to flow right in. I never want to interrupt the night, I want to add to the night with my performance.”
Do you feel like certain venues or promoters haven’t allowed you to represent who you, your style and your own vibe?
“It’s a trust thing. Especially with circuit parties, it takes a lot of money and even with any kind of bar, it takes a lot of money to produce and to have your own club. It’s kind of difficult to allow someone to come in and be themselves, and promoters not question it. Keith Allen Young and I have developed a relationship over the years and now he lets me go do my own thing.”
Any downfalls to drag?
“Dating is difficult. I was talking to a guy who works a 9-5 Monday through Friday. My work week kicks in when his work week is ending. It’s hard to have a normal life. After 18 years, I’m tired! It’s exhausting. It’s creatively exhausting and physically exhausting.
How do you out-perform what you’ve done in the past or what another drag queen has done?
“For me, I never think about any other queens. I just kind of do what I can do. If people like it, they like it. If they don’t, so be it. One of the reasons why I chose my name as Phoenix, is because I’m always recreating myself. I’ve done everything from the crazy shaved head avant-garde look to glam. I enjoy reinventing myself. It’s my process of being an artist.”
How do you choose which way you go with your look?
“It’s just really a feeling. It’s whatever I’m in the mood for. I love every style of drag. Sometimes I might be a little more androgynous, but there’s also the traditional southern drag which I love as well.”
How do you help people understand that drag is simply just a job and not who you are as a person?
“It’s funny, my dad and I had this conversation the other day. I was saying I was going to meet some friends for dinner. He said, “So, do they dress up also?” I was like, no dad! My dad knows what I do for a living but he had that perception that drag was a 24-hours a day, seven days a week. I told him, it’s just a job. That’s one positive thing that’s come from RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s opened people’s eyes to the artform. It’s opened people’s eyes to, you can be a man. Am I overly masculine? No. Am I overly feminine? I don’t think so. I feel like I’m just a gay man. It’s made people realize that you can still be a normal guy and do drag. You don’t have to be flamboyant and super over the top to do drag. It is that perception that all queens are super feminine and when you get outside of make-up, you’re going to be the same, and that’s not true.
As a drag queen, what does it mean to you to be able to do this as a profession because of the sacrifices from those in the LGBTQ community over 50 years?
“There’s a queen here in Atlanta, her name is Lena Lust, and she’s been doing drag for like 40 years. She’s at Blakes on the Park and she’s told the stories about years ago having to have one article of men’s clothing on to be able to do drag. And they would stop and ask you. One of the reasons Charlie Brown’s name is Charlie Brown is because of that reason. Seeing that kind of stuff, I hope everyone understands how hard these people fought for us to be where we’re at right now. I think I’m a strong person but trying to put myself in their shoes is just insane.
Do you think the younger generations are fans of drag or just RuPaul’s Drag Race?
“I would say they’re not necessarily fans of drag, they fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race. There is a difference. You can be a fan of drag and know your history, appreciate all types especially queens that aren’t on drag race, and understand who people like Charlie Brown are, who is a legendary queen that before drag race was on tv, she was on television. Then you have people that are, if you’re not on RuPaul’s Drag Race and you didn’t make it to your top five, they don’t really know who you are.” They don’t really care? They don’t really care who you are and that is a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Do you get frustrated when bigger crowds come to Atlanta venues for RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants?
“From a business standpoint, no, because that’s what I want and chances are, my hand is in it to bring them. I wear different hats in this industry and sometimes I have to be just a performer. Those moments can be a little frustrating. But when you see people who are literally never out and then come out to tip these Drag Race contestants $100 bills. I’m like, I literally just paid this girl thousands of dollars to be here. We never see you support local girls who are just as good, if not better.
Tell me about this competition called Dragnificent.
“Dragnificent is a 10 week drag competition that’s open to all styles of drag. I started it years ago and I believe it’s the 11th season. We had auditions last Tuesday and now the full cast is out! It’s one of the city’s most exciting drag events. It happens on Tuesdays at heretic at 9pm.”
There’s a new club opening up called Future. I hear you’re working with them to bring new entertainment to the city!
“I’m the entertainment director for the new dance/cabaret club opening downtown “Future.”
It’s going to be beautiful venue with a dance club downstairs and a full cabaret/restaurant upstairs. Atlanta has been missing this element to the nightlife scene for years and it’s finally going to be back here. We’ll be doing multiple shows a night on the weekends and shows during the week. I’m super excited about it.”
What’s the most memorable moment in your 18 years as a drag queen?
“One of the first times my parents asked to see a photo, that’s always a really cool feeling because me being from Cumming, Georgia, this little country town, it’s a crazy thought. My dad is a country boy from Georgia, plays sports, seeing where we’re at now is a crazy one. Actually, a story that will always stand out to me is that I just had some new promos done. They were somewhat showing skin, not anything crazy. I thought it might make him at least a little uncomfortable. My dad is in awe of the transformation part of it. He sees his son that he raised, to this. I sent him a photo thinking it was going to throw him off, and all he said was, “Bigger tits son.” It floored me, I didn’t even know how to respond!”
So how does your mom feel about your career?
“She’s amazing with it. My mom always says I look like her. My mom is one of the reasons I think women are some of the most beautiful people in the world. As a kid, I grew up watching my mom styling her hair and wearing make-up, and getting herself together. I was in awe of her, I just thought she was the most beautiful person in the world. Now, I wear blonde hair most of the time because of her. She’s definitely influenced my drag.”
What do you say to teens reading this struggling with their identities, who aspire to do drag or have other dreams to make it big? “Back in my hometown, this just happened. There’s this girl that’s trans. She came out as a trans and just won homecoming queen at my old high school. The thought of her doing that where I used to go to school is just when I read that, I was just speechless. The strength of that girl to do what she’s done. I want people to live their truth, don’t be scared of who you are, but be safe with who you are. Not everyone wants us to be proud and just be careful right now. Love who you are and accept who you are!”