While Pride Month may feel very different this year, those who give the event its soul aren’t going anywhere. From Peekskill to Mount Vernon, these creative, talented, and deeply community-conscious entertainers continue to enrich Westchester — each resplendent in the regalia of drag.
New Rochelle’s Amber Guesa is a queen on the rise. At just 21 years old, Liam Bohan’s drag persona has already garnered an impressive roster of fans, boasting nearly 5,000 Instagram followers, as well as respect from the local drag community.
Four years ago, while studying at the Culinary Institute of America, Guesa created her signature look. “I never had anyone do my makeup, and I didn’t really watch YouTube that much,” she says. “I just tried different products, copied pictures, and then it became muscle memory.”
After college, Guesa picked up an unlikely ally. “I moved in with my grandmother, who is an Irish Roman Catholic,” recalls Guesa. “I was doing drag, and I would throw everything in the closet before she came home from work. [Eventually,] I was like, ‘Look, this is what I do,’ and now she loves it. She tells me if I look stupid, if I should change my shoes, or if I should iron my dress.”
With her own show (pior to the pandemic) at The Alamo Sports Bar & Restaurant in Mount Vernon and brunch at Liberty’s in NYC, Guesa advocates for drag kings and queens from across the Hudson Valley. “It’s really cool to see that we are here in Mount Vernon,” she says. “It’s funny that some people out there can be so hateful, [yet] almost everyone who sees drag loves it. It’s so great to see that I can change people’s minds.”
White Plains-based Gigi Cutina, who often has performed at NYC’s Pieces bar and at the iconic Stonewall Inn, or alongside Dotty Spartans at Birdsall House in Peekskill, became interested in the art form after noticing that a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race shared her given name.
The persona of 27-year-old Jorge Flores was born on the entertainer’s 20th birthday. “I went to B Lounge [in Valhalla], which is now closed,” shares Cutina. “There was one drag queen there named Rhoda Rollins Stone. I told her I was just getting into this and asked if I could perform.” Stone agreed, and Cutina found an outlet for her passion.
Today, Cutina is a popular drag persona with thousands of social media followers and an aptitude for designing dresses. “I self-taught how to sew,” she recalls. “Everything I have worn for the past two years, I have made.”
Unsurprisingly, the coronavirus is not slowing Cutina down. “I am doing an Instagram live show every Sunday, to still be out there and entertain,” she says. “I think drag is for everybody — to give people some entertainment, forget about a few things, have a few laughs, and look at something sparkly,” she says. “When I first started, I would sometimes get an odd look, but now I can walk to the train station in full face, and people just compliment me.”
Dotty Spartans, the drag persona of 30-year-old Philip Degaltini, boasts a horror-tinged look that has received rave reviews at Birdsall House in Peekskill. An eloquent advocate for her art form, Spartans speaks more like a professor than a performer.
“For me, Pride is really important because it’s not just being proud of who you are but also of the community and of the people who are creating art and supporting one another,” explains Spartans. “It is about providing a safe place for the next generation to know that they are loved, are accepted, and have support.”
Spartans began her drag career eight years ago, when the art form was far less popular than it is today. “I love horror movies and murder mysteries, and aesthetically I am very drawn to the macabre,” she says of her look.
Since then, Spartans has not only evolved into one of the county’s most celebrated queens, she’s also changed a few hearts in the process. “In Peekskill, the support has been overwhelming,” she shares. “We get kids; we get straight couples; we get older people. We are showing people that drag isn’t this scary, sexualized thing. It is comedy; it is glamour; it is performance — and it is really, really cool.”
Tess Tickles, a queen with a glamorous, glittering look, is a fixture of the regional drag scene and a gifted entertainer. The persona of 24-year-old Daniel Silvestre, Tickles launched her drag career relatively early.
“I have always liked the thought of dressing up in girls’ clothes. My parents would catch me in my grandmothers’ clothes, and my grandma herself would let me wear her heels around the house,” says Tickles with laugh. “I first got into the drag scene when I was 18, and I would sneak into this bar called B Lounge, in Valhalla, to see Dotty [Spartans], Gigi [Cutina], and Roro [Rhoda Rollins Stone].”
Tickles soon became friends with this local sisterhood and began hitting the stage herself. “I started dressing up and performing, but I didn’t take it seriously until two years ago, when I started putting money into it, performing, and creating my own shows,” she says.
Tickles is known for helming her own drag brunch at The Liberty in New York City, along with frequent appearances at The Ritz Bar & Lounge and The Alamo Sports Bar & Restaurant in Mount Vernon. According to the queen, the current pandemic won’t stop her — or drag.
“I feel like drag is going to change a lot now, with everyone performing online and kids being able to watch shows who couldn’t go to bars,” says Tickles. “This is a huge thing for us, and I know once everything is back to normal that drag will still be there.”