News & Politics

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Vet Tatianna on Going to High School in Drag for the First Time

Then, a few years later: onstage at a real live drag show.

Teen dream: “I was like, ‘I think I can do that. Like, I look great as a female.’ ” Photograph courtesy of Tatianna.

“My first time in drag outside home was my freshman year of high school, and it was Halloween. That was the good ol’ excuse when you can do drag and can’t get made fun of.

“I bummed some low-rise jeans from one of my friends and a crop top from another and added a little side-part wig. I didn’t think too much about it, just got on the bus and went to school. My school [Yorktown High in Arlington] was pretty big, so I thought no one really noticed, because I feel like half the school wouldn’t see the other half throughout the day. I’m pretty sure everyone thought I was just some tall student that went there. But in my classes, the teachers and students knew who the hell I was. Everyone thought it was hilarious. They said I was very pretty, so that was fun.

“[Later on] I was going through my CD collection and came across my Tatyana Ali CD—you know, Ashley from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I was like, ‘Ooh, Tatyana—that sounds nice. ’ So I started going by that. But when I had to write it down, I spelled it completely different, which I think is for the best.

“I’d never been to a drag show until I was 19 or 20. I went to a show in DC at Apex hosted by Kristina Kelly. I remember watching this one girl, and the entire performance she just death-dropped over and over again. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, she’s gonna hurt her knees.’ But I was like, ‘I think I can do that. Like, I look great as a female.’

“After the show, I was like, ‘I’d like to talk to the host, please,’ because I had a lot of balls on me back then. Kristina Kelly was like, ‘What’s up?’ and I’m like, ‘Hey, you don’t know me, but I want to do this.’ She looked at me like I was crazy. ‘You do drag?’ I’m like, ‘Yes, and I would like to be booked.’ She’s like, ‘You know what? In a month, I’ll put you on the books.’

“So a month later, I had my first drag show, and I did two songs. They were very at-the-time—Cassie’s ‘Me & U’ and Britney Spears’s ‘Radar.’ All my friends came out, and everyone cheered. That’s where I got the bug—like, ‘Oh, I wanna do this more.’ ”

This article appears in the November 2021 issue of Washingtonian.

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Jason Fontelieu
Editorial Fellow