The following is an edited transcript from a panel discussion featuring three Providence-based drag performers: Ladda Nurv (she/her), Oma Fobe (she/her in drag, he/him out of drag), and Yung Onyx (they/them).  

Yes, the stage name puns are intentional. 

Out of the Closet, Into the Spotlight

Ladda Nurv: I started when people like [Yung] Onyx were taking over the scene. I followed it for a bit, before coming out as a drag queen myself. It was always nice to see there was a different kind of art form out there that wasn’t well-represented in the mainstream media. Seeing that locally was especially inspiring. 

Ladda Nurv. Photo by Kris Laliberte.

I think you [Yung Onyx] were the first person I hit up! I asked you “How do I start [performing drag]? Like, what do I do?” And you said, “Honestly? Just go for it.” 

Yung Onyx: Yeah, that sounds like me! 

LN: My journey has been a huge love letter to my ancestors and my ethnic background. When I started, there weren’t a lot of Southeast Asian queens, if any. I’m committed to representing my people, and I love it. I’m also a Providence native, so it’s nice to be able to do drag in the community that I grew up in.  

My drag now is colorful, fun, eclectic. I try to do a bit of everything, be a bit of a chameleon. I’m just someone with … a lot of nerve!  

YO: Period. Great branding!  

I started performing around 2016. I was a Johnson & Wales University (JWU) student commuting from Connecticut. And right across from JWU is EGO. Like Latta, discovering EGO made me think that I could do this too. And I didn’t know how to get my foot in the door, especially because when I started, it was very white-dominated. 

That’s kind of been a throughline to my whole career. I’ve been a big fan of trying to break walls down, even when there aren’t any walls there. That’s reflected a lot in my aesthetic, which I would say is 90s female rapper meets Bratz doll. 

Oma Fobe: I started doing drag, oddly enough, during the pandemic in 2020. But I did grow up around a lot of drag. I’m also from Connecticut, where my mom runs a pride group for queer youth having a hard time with family. I grew up helping with fundraisers. My top surgery – I’m a transgender man – was actually paid for by drag queens! Because of all of that, I like giving back as much as I can with my drag. 

My aesthetic is very adaptable. I feel like I can go very campy and over-the-top ridiculous, which is great for all-age shows where I feel like a cartoon clown. But then I can go to the art scene, or the drag horror scene. I like taking something that looks silly and making it terrifying, or taking something terrifying and making it the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen [laughter].

Once the pandemic restrictions lifted, I started going to a lot of open stages. The first big thing I did was the Providence Drag Gauntlet. It’s a local competition held weekly at Mirabar, formatted like drag reality shows. I ended up winning, and that pushed me to go beyond that. 

LN: When I first came out, I was comparing myself a lot. My best friend dances, does splits, and all this pageantry. They’re fantastic, but that style is nothing like mine. I felt like people didn’t see my potential because I wasn’t doing that stuff, and I still don’t. I never will because I love my legs and don’t want to break them [laughter]. 

But seeing artists just being so pure and true to their art form was something I eventually looked at and realized what really mattered. I don’t need to look like everyone else. I don’t need to do splits. I can literally just move one arm and call it a dance move. Like, that’s my move! 

That sense of individuality is what drag is for me. There are so many different forms of drag, and I think that’s the most beautiful part about drag today. Everyone gets to express their art and whatever way they can shape and form that they want to. 

YO: Yeah, I started drag as representation for myself, but also for other people. I realized that I can’t be the only person who views the world in the way that I showcase through my drag. But I was the only one at the time showcasing in that way. So it’s really about opening up your point of view to other people who might also see the same thing. 

OF: At its core, drag is about expression, whether it’s playing with gender or just sharing what you’ve been feeling inside, and hoping it resonates with someone else in the community too. Especially for queer people. I also think drag is about bending the rules any way you want. There’s no other art form where you can watch somebody do this glorious pageant number, immediately followed by somebody looking like a monster from the swamp. 

The Providence Scene

LN: For such a small city, there are so many art forms in Providence. It’s not just drag. We have burlesque, we have photographers, visual artists, theater, music … it’s one big salad bowl. I don’t like to call it a melting pot because I don’t think we necessarily bleed into one another. I think we’re all our own ingredients that make up one big mix. When you see Providence drag, you see so many different things. I don’t think there’s one person that can embody just what Providence is. And I don’t think there should be! There’s a stage for everyone here. 

Yung Onyx. Photo by Ryan Welch.

YO: When I started out eight years ago, it was very white-dominated, very vanilla. Now, there are so many different genres of drag and all of them are celebrated. I think we’re all kind of scrappy in a way, so no matter how you present or what your style is, we have that in common. We’re all trying to get in there and make our mark, yet we’re not trying to one up each other. There’s a big overlap between friend groups, and it’s really all of us trying to gag each other … we want to hype each other up! 

OF: And now if you go out to a show, you’re going to see probably an equal number of kings, things, and queens. There are very few shows where it’s only drag queens doing [RuPaul’s] Drag Race numbers. It is really diverse. And a lot of it’s weird, which I love. 

LN: It’s genuinely nice to see a city that has drag performers who are also actual friends outside of the performing world. Like you can see us out and about, out of drag, hanging out or going to eat. In some places, people are very performative and don’t really build bonds off-stage. Providence is not like that at all! We kiki where we work. And we kind of dominated the West End [of Providence] into “The Gayborhood.” [laughs] 

OF: In terms of challenges [in Providence’s drag community], I’d say pay equity’s big. I would like to see smaller performers get paid more. As well as us paying our photographers. But I’m definitely biased because I am dating a drag photographer [Trinity Rep Marketing Apprentice Kris Laliberte]. I perform at a lot of open stages because drag isn’t my full-time job. But I do know many performers want to do this full-time but can only do open stages. They need that financial support.  

YO: I agree we should be paying drag performers better, bottom to top. I also want to see bigger shows at bigger venues. Right now, there are maybe one or two big shows at each venue, but I think we need more because the community is growing so fast. Everybody deserves an opportunity. 

LN: I’d second that. I’d also like to see Downtown Providence to give back to the community. We put a lot of love and work into what we do, and I’d like to see more venues and businesses give back, whether through sponsorships or letting us use space. I’ve seen places charge us an arm and a leg to work with them when we’re only making a finger. 

And some places are hesitant to partner with us at all. We love Providence, but sometimes it’s hard to think Providence loves us back when these institutions don’t show it. 

A Little Guts and Lots of Glitter

LN: Here in Providence, we’re so lucky that we don’t face the same challenges other states [do]. But it’s still scary to do drag, especially in the past year and a half, because there are so many people who really don’t want us to do it. At the same time, it makes you want to fight back. It makes you want to do it even more. So I’m scared, inspired, and fired up all at the same time. There’s a huge risk factor in it that’ll never fully go away. 

YO: Drag is inherently political and always will be. But with the drag bans over the past few years, there has definitely been a big change in who wants to work with us. You also have people trying to use drag performers for Pride Month who drop us the moment it hits July. Then, those people are not only nowhere to be found, but [are] actively voting against us. 

OF: I was a queer kid who grew up with drag shows, so the “drag should never be for kids” stuff hits pretty close to home. It’s why I love doing children’s and all-ages shows because kids love anything silly. I work at a high school. You hear about people literally getting fired in some places for being a drag performer outside of work. It’s hard because drag is what I love to do, but so is my day job. I [want] queer kids to know they’re not alone. 

Oma Fobe. Photo by Kris Laliberte.

LN: In April 2023, I quit my full-time job to pursue drag, because I was conflicted with how I could amplify the voices of the people that I wanted to fight for. I was directing a college access program downtown (my career was in education and nonprofits for over 10 years). 

My work today marries my identities in education and the queer community: I’m doing drag, and I’m going for my education doctorate. I am finding more confidence in marrying both queerness and education and understanding that there is a risk factor to anything that I do. Every day of my life is a protest being from a marginalized community: as a queer person, a Southeast Asian, a first-generation college graduate, a drag performer. I hope I can work hard so people who feel the same way as me can feel seen or heard.  

I sit on the board of multiple orgs now serving LGBTQ+ youth. Fundraising and development [are] a big part of a lot of my drag. I do a lot of gigs for free because I want to raise money for people I work and live with. It’s easy to look at drag and think it’s very glamorous, but sometimes it’s not. That sense of activism is what we need in drag right now. 

YO: For me, a lot of amplifying voices is done through social media. I’ve built the following that I have specifically so I could do that. I can’t say this enough: I started doing drag to show people like me that we exist, and that it’s okay to be out there.  

It’s easy enough to repost a GoFundMe on your Instagram story. But [a] lot of it is about actually getting out there, protesting for your rights, and fighting for people and letting your voice be heard. Now that I have a platform, I can make shows like Shade Range. 

Oma Fobe, Yung Onyx (pictured out of drag), and Ladda Nurv. Photo by Kris Laliberte.

OF: My mom and I [host] a local pride event in western Connecticut called the Festival of Rainbows. Last year, I performed in my hometown for the first time, which is in a rather conservative, rural area of Connecticut.  

 We’ve [put] on this event since 2016, but never really had any sort of pushback until last year. People were accusing of us luring away their children into the bouncy houses and all this crazy stuff! But you don’t have to bring your kids. It’s an all-ages event, but no one is forcing you [to go] … 

I try to fundraise, particularly for GSAs and student groups. I don’t want to say that I’m trying to be the person that I wanted to see. But as a trans man, or I guess trans boy at the time, I didn’t think I could do drag post-transition, or dress up “as a woman,” so to speak. So I try to be the person that I needed to see when I was young, not that I wanted

Providence Drag Glossary

Drag King – A performer that adopts a flamboyant masculine stage persona, regardless of their personal gender identity 

Drag Queen – A performer that adopts a flamboyant feminine stage persona, regardless of their personal gender identity 

Drag Thing – A performer that blurs the lines of gender, regardless of their personal gender identity 

EGO – an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Providence 

Gag – A term used in the drag community that means to amaze or make your jaw drop 

GSA – Stands for “Gay-Straight Alliance,” a club some schools have for LGBTQ+ students and allies 

Kiki – A term used in the drag community to describe a social gathering or hangout 

LGBTQIA+ – An acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual.”  The “+” stands for all other gender and sexuality identities that may not be encompassed by this acronym 

Mirabar – A Providence gay bar known for its drag performances and karaoke 

Open stage – Open mic equivalent for drag performances 

Shade Range – A showcase for Providence drag performers of color 

The Stable – A Providence gay bar on Washington Street 

Top surgery – A gender-affirming surgery some transgender people pursue that either removes or augments breasts