Graeme Houssin is well-known in Winnipeg as drag queen Contessa Lestrange and host of the podcast Drag in the Peg, but before ever setting foot on a stage in drag, Houssin was simply a tremendous fan.

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This article was published 11/1/2020 (867 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Graeme Houssin is well-known in Winnipeg as drag queen Contessa Lestrange and host of the podcast Drag in the Peg, but before ever setting foot on a stage in drag, Houssin was simply a tremendous fan.

"As a non-binary person who was assigned male at birth," says Houssin, "I thought RuPaul’s Drag Race was revolutionary. I wanted to learn more."

Inspired by the drag queens on TV, Houssin, 22, created Drag in the Peg — a podcast devoted to Winnipeg’s drag scene — for a school project while studying Creative Communications at Red River College.

Houssin never imagined he would do drag himself, but anxiety began to set in: "There was a moment where I became very self-conscious of the fact that I was telling a story about a community I didn’t belong to, so about a week before the podcast debuted, I tried drag for the first time."

The experience is still fresh in the performer’s mind.

"My first show was on a Sunday night and all of the friends I had made over the past year of researching drag came out. They were all tipping and lined up around the stage. It was a wonderful experience. It was one of the most special moments of my life."

Now, armed with lived experience of drag as both a performer and spectator, Houssin says Season 2 of Drag in the Peg will dive deeper into the complex history of Winnipeg’s drag scene.

"When I began the podcast, I just chose the most popular performers at the time," says Houssin, about the special guests — who have included Pharaoh Moans, Tyra Boinks, Peppermint Phattie and Satina Loren — on each episode. "This season we have a number of local legends, but also a number of people who have been shut out of those titles for many different reasons.

"It’s really important followup to that gives audiences a more complete idea of what drag in Winnipeg really is like."

As it turns out, drag in Winnipeg is substantially different from what many of us are used to seeing on TV.

"RuPaul’s Drag Race is to real drag what The Bachelor is to straight people dating," explains Houssin. "The local drag scene in Winnipeg is about as far away from mainstream portrayals of drag as you can imagine."

Houssin notes that drag has historically been exclusive in terms of who is allowed in — usually cisgender white men — but says the local scene is welcoming of people of all genders and backgrounds.

"Mainstream drag represented a very narrow window of what drag can be," Houssin says. "Drag in the real world covers the whole gambit of gender expression: we have drag queens (males performing femininity), drag kings (females performing masculinity) and drag things (encompassing a fluidity of gender)."

That inclusivity has contributed to an influx of new audiences and performers.

"People do drag for a variety of reasons," says Houssin, "but for a lot of folks it is to better understand their identity, their gender and to confront living in a gendered world.

"It’s a night where you get to completely become a different person, whether that’s the same gender as you but heightened, the opposite gender, a completely different gender, perhaps the gender you were always told you were supposed to be.

"It’s also simply a lot of fun."

For those curious about the local drag scene, the Drag in the Peg Season 2 Launch Party and Drag Show takes place tonight at 9 p.m. at Club 200, 190 Garry St.

Houssin has some expert advice to help first-timers.

"Drag is very interactive. The performers are really leaning on the audience for energy, excitement and interaction. Also: bring money. Drag performers rely on tips. What we do is very expensive and we often don’t get compensated."

The cover for the show is $10, the proceeds of which go directly to the artists. But make sure you get there early.

"Our Season 1 launch show was one of the best attended shows in Club 200 history… after lesbian lube wrestling."

Season 2 of the Drag in the Peg podcast premières on Saturday, Jan. 11, at noon on Anchor, Spotify and Apple Podcast.

Twitter: @franceskoncan