Stepping onto the streets of Fernie in full drag, Misty Meadows, Amy Grindhouse and P.M. knew they had nothing to fear.
The Vancouver-based drag queens received a warm reception when they arrived in Fernie to host several events as part of the second annual Elk Valley Pride Festival.
Misty was excited to see how the event had grown and developed after attending last year.
“It really means a lot to have Prides in smaller centres versus just major metropolitan areas like Vancouver. I think these matter just as much, if not more,” she said.
“It’s also amazing to see a Pride that’s so community focused and community driven.
“It’s not necessarily as big when it comes to the after parties but it’s more about showing that you can be who you are (and) you can live your life how you want to.”
Amy grew up in Squamish, B.C., and was pleased another mountain community was getting the Pride experience.
“When I was going through high school and middle school, I never had anything like this, so it feels great to be able to give back to the kids here because it kind of reminds me of my own upbringing,” she said.
The trio arrived at Fernie Heritage Library clad in stilettos, matching polka dot dresses, wigs and make-up for Drag Queen Story Time on Friday.
About 100 children and their parents gathered in the library to hear them read from books of their choosing before experimenting with dress ups.
“I read It’s Okay To Be Different by Todd Parr and I think the message in the book is really beautiful, the fact that it is OK to be different, it is OK to be who are and whatever you want to present yourself as,” said Misty.
P.M. identifies as non-binary (not exclusively masculine or feminine) and chose All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, and Suzanne Kaufman.
“It’s just talking about opening up and welcoming all genders, and experiences and cultures because that’s what life is, so it was really great to read it and see the reactions to that,” they said.
Amy opted for Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman.
“This is a book I was saying I really wish I had when I was younger,” she told The Free Press afterwards.
“I really relate to Jacob and his experience where sometimes he wants to wear something to school that not everybody understands.
“I think it’s so important that little kids understand that you can wear whatever makes you feel confident and comfortable, and Jacob teaches everyone a good lesson in self expression so I love this book.”
Misty has been doing drag the longest of the three (seven years) while P.M. is the newest to the culture.
P.M. likes to tell a story with their makeup, so naturally, it takes them the longest to get ready (usually 3-3.5 hours).
They have previous experience working with children, having taught gender diversity workshops at the Boys and Girls Club, an after school program in Vancouver.
“It’s different doing performances or being with children rather than just adults all the time because I think drag especially gets caught up in performative aspects, but really it is about bringing awareness,” said P.M.
The three drag queens regularly perform together and for the past year have been raising funds for The Dogwood Monarchist Society, which supports community members during times of disaster or hardship.
They feel Canada is becoming more accepting of drag queens and the wider LGBTQ community.
“When I was in high school there were no drag queens reading to our kids, there were no drag queens doing bingo with teenagers, there were no gender diversity workshops, it wasn’t a thing,” said Misty.
“We didn’t have non-binary friends, so there was no real discussion that was happening. I think we still have a long way to go but I think the discussion has definitely started and it’s getting better.”
P.M. agreed. “We’re very lucky in Canada I think as far as gender diversity and acceptance goes because there are so many places in the world where there is no culture or expression,” they said.
“About two years ago I was super scared to walk around as P.M. and in the past two years in Vancouver alone it’s changed so much, so it’s been really great and I can’t wait to see it continue.”
Amy admitted she also used to fear going out in public in drag and people harassing or following her.
“Thanks to all the work that’s being done, I feel more and more safe in my city, and to be as I am and to dress how I am,” she said. “I think for all of us there’s more of a collective sense of security and safety, and that’s what’s also great about having a trio and a group, that’s what drag can provide you is that family and security.”
For anyone struggling with their identity in Fernie, P.M. had this advice:
“It’s a major cliché but it’s a term I live by – you’re not alone,” they said.
“You can reach out to other communities if you’re feeling alone… with media and the internet, it’s so easy to find resources and people who have similar interests to you.”
For information about local resources, visit ferniepride.ca/resources.