Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill Wednesday that is aimed at blocking venues from admitting kids to “adult live performances,” which critics are calling an anti-drag bill.
At the forefront of the issue is South Florida’s drag community and entertainers who are experiencing in real-time the effects of the legislation.
One such entertainer is drag diva and host of R House’s drag shows, Athena Dion, who despite the legislation is producing high-energy drag extravaganzas in the heart of Wynwood.
“I have a lot of feelings about the legislation and all the political conversations that are going on surrounding drag,” Dion told NBC6. “We’re here to look beautiful and fabulous and wear all these beautiful things and go out there and make people smile and smile while we’re doing it.”
In her 13 years as a drag performer, Dion, otherwise known as the “Greek Goddess,” has created a dynasty in Miami and Mykonos, Greece and says that drag has been around since ancient times and is not going anywhere.
This is her story, told in the first person.
My mom never took me to a drag show, and yet I found it. I discovered it on my own, and I fell in love with it.
I’m not a parent and I’m not somebody here to tell a parent how to parent. But if you ask me, am I safe to be around children? Absolutely.
My boy name is Stavros Stavrakis, but you may call me Athena Dion.
Athena was always my favorite Greek goddess — so strong and powerful — and I wanted to be that.
I was born in Tarpon Springs, Florida, which is a little Greek community. (Think of Little Havana with Cubans.)
I think before I did drag, I used to go out as a boy and I would wear flamboyant colors, all these necklaces and earrings. I had my hair dyed and I would gel it in crazy ways. And then once I started doing drag, I just started to take a break when I didn’t have it on. I became more of a boy when I started doing drag.
And I think I’m the same person in drag and out of drag, I just really think it’s the way people see me that is different.
When I was about 19 or 20 years old I started coming out and I was going to gay clubs because there were no cell phones or online communities. You had to go out to find your people.
There was a position available at a bar in Fort Lauderdale called Living Room Nightclub, and they had a door hostess position open. I had never done drag before in my life, but I put on a random wig, my friend did my makeup, and I went to the front door and told them, ‘I want the job.’
My career started there in the nightlife, doing the shows on the circuit — the little gay bars– and from there, it just kind of took off.
I was working in so many different places, and then I started winning the pageants and kind of getting my name out there in the community.
But everything changed when I went to Greece for the first time.
Over the summer, I got a residency in Mykonos in this legendary beach club called Jackie O, and being Greek, it was a dream come true.
That experience took me to another level. People started to look at me in a different light and I did too.
Now, I was taking my craft a little bit more seriously. I started to polish it a little bit more, started to smooth out the edges and created the character of Athena and decided who she is, what she does and what she can offer and made it more of a business.
I have a lot of feelings about the legislation and all the political conversations that are going on surrounding drag.
You grow up gay and yes, there’s all this stigma and yes, people don’t like you, and growing up in the closet, you kind of learn how to navigate those waters and stay away from people that are going to hurt you or at least know how to handle it or internalize it, but I’ve never felt this pressure from the actual government.
I grew up in a military family, and I’m a very proud American citizen and love this country. So for me, to even think there are people in the hierarchy of this country that are saying these things about what I do, is just really scary.
I never saw it so black and white as I do now, because I live this — I do this for a living. And the things that they’re saying are absolutely not true. We’re here to look beautiful and fabulous and wear all these beautiful things and go out there and make people smile and smile while we’re doing it.
There’s been never an instance, with any drag queen I’ve ever worked with or ever known, where they want to go out there during a show and hurt somebody, cause harm or do anything wrong.
Nobody’s forcing you to watch a drag show, but in the same breath, nobody can force me not to do drag or not to be a performer. There’s no harm coming from my show or what I do. And I feel like it’s the parent’s prerogative. It’s a person’s prerogative.
And so to say that drag is illegal to do in public, I say well, if I want to put any of these dresses on and paint my face and walk down the street as an American citizen, I’m allowed to do that.
And if you tell me I can’t do that, that’s a complete infringement on my freedom.
I’m not here to entertain kids. I’m not a clown. It’s not going to make or break me if you say kids can’t come to my show. If you don’t want kids to come, don’t let them come, but at the same time, there’s really no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed.
I know that they’re making up all these crazy assumptions that drag queens are not good for kids or whatever, and I really don’t care what they say.
You know, I grew up in a time when I had older gay people tell me about the fights that they went through to get the recognition and the visibility and the rights that we have today. And I think I was a little spoiled.
My generation is a little spoiled that we kind of walked into that. We heard about what happened in the 80s with AIDS and the discrimination in general, and I think now we are being met with a very similar situation where we have to step up to the plate ourselves and defend ourselves.
I’m not one for violence at all. I think we can share more by learning and educating each other and just showing that no one’s here to hurt you and no one is here to do anything wrong. You can turn on the lights. Nothing bad is happening here.
And it’s really sad because some kids did look up to me and did love coming to my show and they had a good time. They sat, they drank juice, they ate French toast, and they watched me lip-sync to Cher or Lady Gaga and I really don’t know what is so dangerous about that.