When Kevin McIntyre, 34, an actor, told his boyfriend David Fisk that he wanted to perform in drag, David gave his blessing. He accompanied Kevin a.k.a. “Charmagne Aultra,” to clubs watching her compete on stage and sometimes flirt with other men all night. Then David got cancer.
For me when I go out and perform as Charmagne. I consider everybody I meet fans. Not like I’m going out and being like, like me, like me like me. I am a little bit. But I’m just also like I want to give them a reason to like me in a way of being like nice.
At one point in my life I would look at drag or look at performing people and see them transform themselves into confident and self-aware people.
(lyrics cut in here) And just be like I want that.
When I’m Charmagne, people will just come up to you and be so open and honest. Whether it’s just like “Oh I had a bad day or my cat died.” Just being there and listening, it is a way to get people to just feel good about themselves.
I literally decided I was going to do drag and like a month later David got diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. I mean this is life. We all go through rough times one time or another. My mom actually has multiple sclerosis. I understand what it’s like to be in a difficult situation that sometimes may not be going away.
Cancer we knew it was going to go away. We knew there was an end to it. We just had to get to that end. I actually stopped working to go to David’s appointments with him.
There would be moments where he couldn’t do it anymore. And he didn’t want to do it anymore. And he was just like I can’t do it. And I’m just like pshh yes you can, you don’t have a choice.
Before I started doing drag, David and I sat down and talked about it. If you don’t have support at home it’s not going to be fun. (How do I look? , Oh my goodness. You look great!)
This one time I was like sitting next to David my boyfriend and this guy, he’s like you so pretty. He buys me a drink and he’s like, I hope you’re boyfriend doesn’t mind. And I’m like. No he doesn’t mind. He’s right over there.
So, we talked about it. He understood that two years down the line I’m not going to come home with big old fake titties. And I think that was what his concern was. He just wanted to make sure that when the drag comes off, the drag comes off.
I could have performed and gone out as Charmagne and told anybody who would listen about David going, going through cancer. I told a couple of people and they would just give me words of support.
So we’re coming up on his like first scan. Which after stem cell we’re not worried about it. It’s definitely going to be clear.
To say his boyfriend’s illness was a roadblock to Kevin’s career sounds callous, but it's also inaccurate. Instead of giving cancer the weight and importance that most people associate with the disease, Kevin disdained it. Cancer was something that needed simply to be dug out and dismissed. Initially, Kevin kept up his weekly drag performances at the Barricuda in Manhattan. He needed the break from the hospital routine to revive him.
Kevin, who can see the bright side of almost any situation, recalls days at the hospital that were actually fun! He and David played board games, watched TV and he shared the gossip from the “girls” at the club. And on David’s worst days Kevin knew how to “turn it off” and just be present.
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Before I met Kevin, I’d never spoken to a real performing drag queen. I have friends that are gay but none of them do drag. I realized how little I understood about the gay community. I didn’t know there was a difference between transvestites and drag queens. (Trannies want to be women and drag queens want to perform.) There is also a lot of friction between some of the drag queens. Kevin says this stems from insecurity. The queens that like to “read” others are just anxious and have low self-esteem.
I had a lot of reservations about choosing a drag queen as a subject. I expected all drag queens to be self-absorbed and shallow, the kind of people who are just dying for attention. While Kevin loves the spotlight and tries always to keep the conversation light, he wasn’t afraid to open up and talk about his life in real terms. I misjudged him. It was refreshing to be so wrong.
Leland Bobbe’s photos.
New York Magazine video
Queen Mothertv.com hosts profiles of drag queens