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What’s the future you want to see?
New York drag queen Gilda Wabbit experienced a strange moment of internet fame thanks to a photo of her riding the subway in full drag next to a Muslim woman, captioned “This is the future liberals want.”
What that photo didn’t capture was Gilda’s background, searching for her voice — literally, as for years she struggled as an opera singer to find roles that felt right. Turns out putting on a wig and a dress helped point her in the right direction.
Sailor Moon Was an Early Influence
Gilda was my guest recently on The Sewers of Paris, a podcast discussing the entertainment that’s changed the lives of gay men. Reflecting on her early influences, she noted Sailor Moon was her obsession when she was young.
Being a superhero, Gilda said, “allowed her to transform into something stronger and somebody that had more agency, and somebody that had an effect on the world because she found an inherent power in herself.”
Sailors Uranus and Neptune were also a deep interest, although it wasn’t until years later that she learned the characters were originally written to be queer. In the Japanese version, they’re lovers; in the original North American dub, they’re cousins.
Another important figure in young Gilda’s life was Ginger Spice. In fact, when she was a young, closeted gay boy, she would insist she was straight because she kissed a picture of the Spice Girls every night before bed. She loved Ginger’s flirty side and incorporates that personality into her act to this day.
Plunged Into the Arts
As she grew older, Gilda became a dedicated artist, swinging between acting, singing and visual arts. She lacked confidence singing onstage, and despite showing promise as a teen opera singer, she avoided operatic training.
And then one day her mother pointed out that one of her favorite singers was Kristin Chenoweth, who was herself a professional opera singer. Gilda realized that learning opera could help her develop her voice as a tool and open doors to performance opportunities, so she began her rigorous training.
From there, she moved to New York — one of the only places in the country with work for an opera singer. Her voice was particularly feminine, which was a challenge when it came to auditions. But then she realized that it was an incredible asset as a drag queen.
Liberated by Drag
Jumping into drag was difficult at first. She wasn’t sure if she belonged. “Drag is about self-created artistic expression,” she says. “I had to continue to have momentum to create. … I had to validate myself instead of seeking the validation of others.”
But in drag, she found, she could fully be herself. People appreciated what she thought of as “the fullness of who I am.” And although she was covered in makeup and dresses, she could actually expose herself more honestly and make herself more vulnerable. And that honestly was a piece in the puzzle of her performance career — as important as learning to sing and finding characters onstage, Gilda realized, was knowing herself off-stage.