I've always known that Steve has a drag queen alter-ego--Donna SueMa--and have chatted with him briefly about performing in drag, but didn't get around to seeing him perform until this year's Glitz drag show.
It was epic, and I finally worked up the courage to ask Steve ALL the questions I had long been harboring about Donna SueMa, which he enthusiastically answered and agreed to let me publish on O.H.M.
Q: How did you first get interested in performing in drag? In other words, how did you become a drag queen?
A: I dressed as a woman for parties in college a few times. In 2002, I was in Skagway and up for trying almost anything. A fabulous Queen had an idea for a drag show and was looking for volunteers to perform. What could possibly go wrong? The show was super camp, but I really enjoyed the process of transformation and felt a huge rush from being someone else for a while. I enjoyed the attention from the multiple reactions and those that thought I was courageous for putting myself out there. I did not really think about whether people would wonder how I identified sexually and I really didn't give a damn. I still don't today. If someone wants to label me then so be it. I don't see myself as a drag queen. Yeah I dress in drag and perform, but I feel like I am still trying to earn Queen status. I call myself a Queen in some circles, but still not comfortable enough to use the title all of the time.
Q: What was your first big drag show and how did it go?
A: My coming out of my drag closet was in 2015 at the locals show/competition at Femme Fetale. This was my first "big" show in Juneau. I don't think that people knew I had drag in me and I surprised a lot of people. My make-up was really crazy now that I look back on it. I can also see some progress, which feels good. Glitz 2016 was my first huge show. 600 peeps in Juneau, Alaska is a big deal. I have spoken in front of a crowd this big, but worrying about a bulge, my tights slipping down, or my wig falling off is a whole different deal. I did trip down the stage, but saved myself. That was super scary for a moment.
Q: How do you "identify" along the LGBTQ gender/sexuality spectrum?
A:I don't identify. Fact: I am married to a woman. Almost every one of my drag family in Juneau are friends with me on social media and know my partner is a woman and that we have sons. None of them have ever asked about how I identify, and they just give me space to be who I am and I give them the same. It doesn't matter. Life is too confusing for me to worry about someone else's identity, and mine is mine.
Q: How did you pick the name Donna SueMa for your drag alter-ego (is that what they're even called? alter ego doesn't sound correct).
A: I was struggling to find a drag name. The kick ass pediatrician that is our son's doctor gave it to me. At first I was pretty lukewarm about it, but I have grown into it. Yes it's a play-on Don't Assume and with the SueMa it makes a nod to my real name and Chinese heritage. It's fun I get to keep this when I am a woman too.
Q: How much work is it/how long does it take to get into the full Donna SueMa getup?
A: With hair removal operations, probably 2.5 hours. It's work for sure, but every time I get a little better with it and/or learn ways to be more efficient. I can do it in two hours if pushed, but almost always stress hard at the end. I actually paint my nails at the end just for a calming activity.
Q: You have a wife and two little boys ages 9 and 5. What do they think about Donna Sue Ma and what is their overall attitude about it?
A: I usually do a lot of prep at home so they have seen me in drag pretty frequently. I wouldn't say that they have met Donna because she is who I am when I leave the house. "Dad do you have show tonight?" is their usual question. Dad getting ready for a show and dressing as a woman has been normalized for them. I have done 8 shows in Juneau in the last 22 months and they are used to it. I did take the 9 year old to a drag show recently, but they have not seen Donna out or performing. I think it will be fun when they finally get to see Donna doing her thing.
Q: What about your extended family, friends, and colleagues? Are they supportive of Donna Sue Ma or are they confused about why you do this or supportive, judgmental, or . . . ?
A: My parents have seen me in quasi-drag for a family super bowl party we had a couple of years ago. They made no comment. As conservative Christians, I am sure they were freaked out but it's not the first surprise I ever gave them! They are not on social media, so that is a blessing in that I don't think they have ever seen glammed-up Donna. If they know they haven't asked, and I haven't told. Most of my friends have either been supportive or they don't say anything. I have seen some comments on social media about it being "gross" or "go back to being you" but not enough to think it was harassing. This was early on and now I think they just ignore Donna if they don't like me being her when she pops up on my feed. Sometimes I like to change my personal profile to Donna to fuck with everyone on Juneau Community Collective or other pages. I do it less often now but I do get a wild hair now and then.
Q: Have you ever faced hostility, discrimination, or judgment of any kind for being a drag performer?
A: If people are judging me, it's behind my back and I like it that way. Joke! With so many Kings and Queens in Juneau, we usually travel with one another when out in Juneau. I think it's our safety net. I feel fortunate to say I have not experienced any hostility, discrimination, or judgment. I have experienced a lot of old and drunk guys groping me, but I think it's probably just the realities of a woman in the scene.
Q: What motivates you to continue performing in drag?
A: I want to be a Queen and this is what motivates me. There is so much to work on. My make-up game, better costuming, better performances, etc. What motivates me is that I know I can do drag at a certain level, but I want to hit that next level. Now that I have some idea what I should be doing and have such a supportive network of drag brothers and sisters, I am gaining even more confidence and enjoy myself even more than I have before. For example, this last show was my first show with some boom-curvy hips. It felt different but it felt good. Now it's time to get more used to them and move on to the next drag challenge.
Q: What has been the most fun/rewarding thing about performing as Donna SueMa?
A: I am still surprising people that I do drag and that I am OK at it. That's rewarding. One of the most rewarding moments was when Donna appeared at home to head to a show, and my sons didn't skip a beat about how I looked and what I was doing. That felt rewarding. Just finishing a number is rewarding and having a crowd happy to see me and cheer for me still feels really good. Getting pats on the butt and compliments from my drag family feels really good too because they are so talented and they know where I started from.
Q: What has been the most difficult?
A: In-grown chest hairs! I am a hairy dude and the amount of hair removal that needs to happen before a show is a pain but it's getting close to routine. I am still not super comfortable with my make-up game the learning curve has been steep for me. I look forward to be able to be consistently good with it. I think that may be the most difficult thing for me.
Q: Do you ever dress in drag other than when performing as Donna Sue Ma?
A: Getting Donna ready is at least a two-hour process. I wish I had other opportunities and time to take her out, but I haven't yet. Unfortunately, it would need to be scheduled with my current life commitments.
Q: Are you an exception in the drag community---like a family man with a wife and two kids is not what one thinks of as the typical drag performer. Have you met others "like" you?
A: Daphne DoAll LaChores is married to a woman. I am not sure if they have kids. We have connected about our similarities. I think we have a kinship of sorts. Maybe I am an exception in the Drag Community at large, but it's not something I think a lot about now. I love doing drag. Drag makes me feel good, special, and honest with myself. I am not hurting anyone. Drag queens are just not typical. Unlike other people, they just show their human complexity differently. I have so much respect for people that drag. It's hard but so rewarding if it's what someone wants to do.