Ryan Wharton performs in Wigging Out as drag persona Ketamina. / Courtesy photos

Sitting Down with Wigging Out Winner Ketamina (aka Ryan Wharton)

For six weeks, amateur drag performers took the stage at Future Atlanta to compete on behalf of LGBTQ charities in Georgia and beyond. The first season of Wigging Out raised a total of $11,000 for LGBTQ nonprofits — $2500 of which came from Ryan Wharton’s winnings; Ryan took home the crown as Ketamina. We sat down with Wharton to discuss his win, the experience of performing in drag for the first time, and the charity he competed for.

Quotes have been edited for clarity.

 

How did you get involved with Wigging Out?

So, Phoenix, who is the creator of Wigging Out, she also has a competition called Dragnificent. I have a lot of friends who are drag queens who have competed over the years who I have helped out, like behind the scenes doing like choreo, costume design, and stuff like that. So Phoenix came to me and said, ‘Hey, I’m working on this competition. What do you say?’ I was like, ‘Oh, I’m in — done, signed, sealed, delivered. Go ahead and fit me.’

 

What was it like to perform in drag for the first time? Were you scared at all?

I don’t really have fear — going into week one, you could not tell me that I wasn’t a trained dancer. I just went into it with the mindset of like … I want to win. Phoenix was like, ‘We’re not going to be hard on you. It’s not like Dragnificent, it’s for charity. We know it’s for amateurs.’ I was like, ‘Oh, no, I want to be treated like you would judge anyone else, whether they’ve been doing it for five or 10 years’ — which she did.

 

What was the inspiration behind your drag persona, Ketamina?

Ketamina came about years ago for Halloween. I was trying to do a rebrand for this competition, but nothing was clicking with me at the time. I kind of get annoyed with one of the Southern drag mentalities that’s kind of developed over like the recent years where [some performers] forget that the drag can be a little bit irreverent. It doesn’t have to really be palatable to your 80-year-old grandma. My partner was like, ‘Ryan, you’ve got to change the name. I want to be able to brag to my mom about what you’re doing, but I can’t tell her your name’s Ketamina.’ And I was like, ‘That’s kind of the point. I’m not trying to do this in front of your mom and your cousins and your family. It’s just like a little bit of a reminder of like, we don’t all have to be Sasha Davenport Alexis Matteo. Drag isn’t necessarily meant to be PG or even PG-13.

 

What was your experience on Wigging Out like? What were the highlights of the competition for you?

It was a competition for people who had never performed in drag, however, it was not necessarily a competition for people who never performed. When we actually started and I got into the dressing room on night one, I realized I’m the only one who had never been on a stage. Some of my competitors had been performing for 15 years as either a male entertainer or in musical theater, they all had some kind of background. The only thing where I had a leg up was that I’m a costume designer and I can make my own stuff. For the first three weeks, I was really getting my feet in and learning. Learning my words was more of a challenge than I thought it was going to be.

I never wanted to take the easy way in the competition, even though I knew there would be faults and failures each week, I still swung way outside of my comfort zone. I was constantly trying to push myself and be as creative as I could.

Winning four challenges felt really good. I knew I’d have my core group of friends supporting me each week, but I did not realize by the end, I was going to have like, like 80 to 100 people showing up on a Tuesday for me. I was just mind blown by that. Also getting to see these looks that I made and I worked really hard on each week gain such praise from the judges — each week, I had at least one judge or one of the professional drag queens backstage like wanting to buy what I was wearing — that was really cool because I really hadn’t flexed that muscle in years.

 

You decided to compete on behalf of Rainbow Railroad. Tell me about that organization and why you decided to choose them.

My charity was Rainbow Railroad, which is all about helping queer people all across the world immigrate into safer countries as far as queer rights go.

I have a friend who runs another charity called TRANS ASYLIAS in New York. They help trans women of color get their immigration status to the U.S., and they are a sister charity of Rainbow Railroad. I’ve gotten to meet some of these refugees over the years of working with my friend, I’ve seen the effect of money and where that goes, and how that can change someone’s life that I may never meet, and maybe never know like the full impact that that may have, but I know that it’s happening.

Rainbow Railroad doesn’t always deal specifically with getting people immigration status because sometimes immigrating isn’t necessarily the best option for someone. Sometimes they do have families they have to take care of, and they just need help as far as getting them into a safer place where they are currently living. They’ve got a multistep approach to how they handle each case that is given to them, starting with allocating funds to helping them where they are currently and then, as needed, helping them emigrate to a safer place.

 

What’s the future of Ketamina? Will you do drag again?

I will say that Ketamina is dead. I have figured out the new name, I think I’m gonna start going by Drama, I think it describes my personality and my drag. I don’t think I’m going to be lacing up my heels four nights a week, I do not see that for myself with where I’m at in my life. But I don’t think I’m completely done with drag.

Dragnificent starts back in a month, and I think I’m going to do it, because I just want to see if I could win again. I liked the competitive aspect of drag more than I thought. I love the art side of drag and pushing the boundaries of what drag can be, but I really like beating people!

 

Anything you’d like to add?

Phoenix has mentioned she wants to do this again. When this comes back around in about a year, I would say it was a really, really rewarding experience. It was a lot of work, but I really want to encourage people who have ever given it a thought to try it out and just see what comes of it. As someone who was already very confident going into Wigging Out, I left believing I could do anything. It really does push you to become a better version of yourself in or out of drag.