Drag Race’s BenDeLaCreme reveals the powerful message she wishes she could have told herself as a ‘sad, isolated’ queer kid
BenDeLaCreme is ready to reclaim Christmas for every queer kid who ever felt like they didn’t belong.
The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special finds BenDeLaCreme teaming up once again with her fellow Drag Race legend and friend Jinkx Monsoon for a camp and colourful odyssey through the holidays.
In recent years the pair have staged a number of acclaimed holiday tours, finding themselves up against the Mariah Careys and – well, the Mariah Careys of the season, though they have no plans to supplant her as the queen of Christmas.
Rather, their shows and this, their first streaming special, are for and by the community, part of their continued mission to carve out Christmas iconography that’s queer through and through.
Written and created by the pair, and directed and produced by DeLa, their new musical film is a “mad-cap romp of dance and song and comedy and puppetry” that “lives in the world of all those classic holiday specials – everything from the Judy Garland Christmas Show through to Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special“.
“It’s also a story about my my relationship with Jinx,” DeLa adds, “and our journey as a chosen family and finding our own meaning in the holiday season.” As the holidays draw closer, PinkNews caught up with DeLa to talk reclaiming Christmas, celebrating camp and finding queer family.
You and Jinkx have been on such a unique journey, can you tell us a little more about that relationship?
The two of us have been friends for a decade. She was fresh out of college and I was living and working in Seattle when I saw her perform for the first time – I love to tell the story, she makes fun of how much I like to tell this story.
She was performing at four o’clock in the afternoon for free in a Starbucks, with her performing partner Major Scales. It was an early incarnation of their show The Vaudevillians, which then went off to have multiple off-Broadway extensions years later. I was, at the time, producing a lot of content in Seattle for stage, and I immediately said to my friend that I went with: “I need to start working with this person, because if we don’t start working together, we are going to be fierce competition against each other.”
We’ve gotten to run the full gamut of experiences as drag artists. We were both just starting out and hustling – well she was starting out, I’d been at it for a while – but still hustling, doing that kind of scrappy, queer community theatre. I used to write the shows, paint the sets, make the puppets, design the costumes, so we came from that world and now we get to have this experience of having risen to Drag Race fame and getting to travel the world and share our work together.
When you go through that much with a drag sister, such unique experiences, it really bonds you closely. Jinkx and I are so close at this point, both as artists who respect each other’s work and as friends and family, and one of my favourite things about the film is that I think that really comes across. You can really, I think, see the love between us on screen. And that’s so much of what makes all the comedy and the antics and the battle between us that we go through during this journey – I think that’s what makes it all work. You can tell the even though the characters are at odds, there’s so much love between us.
Chosen family is so important at this time of year, especially for young queer people who can find Christmas quite tough. What were the holidays like for you growing up?
There is some autobiographical influence in this film on both the part of Jinkx and I.
I grew up celebrating the holidays with my family in these snow-covered hills in a farmhouse, everyone got together and there was big dinners and lots of presents and singing carols around the tree and all of it.
It’s very much the kind of thing that we’re told Christmas is supposed to be, and that we’re supposed to derive all this joy from, but my family didn’t actually get along that well. So all of this was just on the surface. And so many people clung to those traditions in my family, whether they served them or not.
So 14 years ago, when I started doing Christmas shows, a big part of it was that I didn’t want to be part of that anymore. I wanted to create a tradition that was for me and my chosen family, and a place for us to be, where we could reclaim that idea of homecoming, because so much of the imagery and messaging of the season just doesn’t really include us.
That tradition is wonderful if it still works for you. And if it doesn’t, you don’t have to hold on to it, you get to create your traditions, you get to create your family.
It does feel as though gradually we are creating that imagery for ourselves and getting to do it on a larger platform, in things like Lifetime and Hallmark movies, for example.
Part of the zeitgeist right now is that is that queer folks are reclaiming the holidays. Jinkx and I get to do a cameo in Clea DuVall’s new film starring Kristen Stewart, Happiest Season, which is a really gorgeous, funny, heartwarming film, I’m so proud to be a part of it. And there’s so much other content coming out in that same vein, so it really does feel like there’s something in the air.
I think that so much of that comes out of how fraught things have been in the world, in the states and beyond, over the last few years. We’re seeing a lot of ugliness rise to the surface, we’re seeing a lot of people show themselves for who they are, in terms of their values and their value on other people and their lives and their differences.
The silver lining to all of the nonsense that’s been going on is that folks are pushing back harder, we’re seeing more of a fight for representation among folks of all genders and orientations and and colours and backgrounds – and it’s fiercer than ever.
So I think we’re just going to continue to see that kind of pushing out of all the edges. And thank goodness, because that’s the antidote, that’s the antidote to all of this. We need to not just find things that bring us joy at this difficult time, but things that bring us joy with the message of inclusion, and of all of us striving to do better.
Let’s talk about The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special. Tell us all about it.
It has everything you want in terms of a stage show and a Christmas special with songs. It’s a variety show, but I think people are going to be really surprised that it’s also a film with with very fleshed out characters and a story arc.
It’s really a movie about Jinkx and DeLa trying to put on a Christmas special and we have a wonderful cast of characters and dancers that really tell this story so beautifully. And so I think people are going to come in expecting to laugh a lot – and they’re going to get to laugh a lot – but hopefully, we’re going to bring on a sense of joy and warmth and maybe elicit some emotions that people aren’t quite expecting.
You’re so committed to your aesthetic and to that very specific campy tone. Where does that come from?
I have just always loved it. I mention Pee-wee’s Playhouse a lot, but I think that what Paul Reubens [who played Pee-wee Herman] was doing with that show…it was packaged for children, and it was wonderful content for kids. But it was so queer influenced.
I mean, Miss Yvonne was a drag queen, there were all sorts of hunky men on set, and just this big camp, over the top aesthetic. And that was something that I was so drawn to as a kid. I loved all the MGM musicals like Ziegfeld Follies and anything with Ann Miller in it.
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When I first became aware of the larger drag scene that was happening in New York – when I was growing up in New England that was the closest spot – it was really when the Wigstock documentary came out. And that was the first time that I got exposed to all the wonder of Lady Bunny, Jackie Beats, Mistress Formika, all of these incredible legends. And that was a time when I was so sad and isolated and felt like such an outcast when I was young, in Connecticut, and I saw all these people be so camp and so over the top, and it was so joyous.
When you’re working on something like this show, when you’re on tour or on stage, does it run through your mind that you now are what you’ve just described to the next generation?
Absolutely. I mean, that’s one of the things that tell myself when I’m struggling or things are difficult. I remind myself of what all those queens were to me and I think about myself as a kid.
I think, what if I could travel back now and speak to that sad, 13-year-old, isolated child who just feels like they don’t have value, and there was not a place for them, and say, hey, look, not only are you going to be OK, but you’re going to get to live a life that’s weirder and more fun and more glamorous and self-invented than you ever could dream of! And you’re not just going to be able to do that in spite of what people don’t like about you now, but it’s actually intrinsically tied to what people don’t like about you now, it’s the flip side. I think about giving that message to my young self, and I hope that that’s the message that I’m giving to other young people, that will help them to know that no matter what life feels like, you can create anything for yourself.