Ruby Chopstix is a Winnipeg based drag queen and former film student who came to drag after working on a documentary called Inside the Queendom, with friend Jolean Groundbeef. Since then, Ruby has graced stages big and small bringing audiences a sense of joy and community with every stunning performance.
Can you us a little bit about yourself and how you started doing drag?
It was back in 2017, I helped my best friend (Jolean Groundbeef) do a documentary for school. He did a documentary about the drag scene called Inside the Queendom. So that was my first taste of local drag. We got to interview a couple people and one person was Joan Costalotsa, who was like, “You have a great face for drag, I feel like you can do drag really well.”
That was my first, “Oh, I could do drag?” moment. Then a few months after that, I got Lita Takeela to put me in face. That was the first time doing drag, it was for a talent show for the theatre building. It was a five minute number. I watched it back. It is awful. It is five minutes of me doing God knows what. So that was not fun, but that was my first performance. And then few months later, somebody sent me a drag workshop class. So I did that and that’s when I officially did drag.
That’s when I like found Ruby Chopstix, learned to do my makeup, learned everything about drag and the history, who was in the scene.
And then I debuted May 31, 2018. It was an interesting cycle. It was basically one full year of slowly getting to the actual spot.
What’s the inspiration behind the name Ruby Chopstix?
This is so so stupid. Most people have a great meaning behind their name. We were at dimsum with my friends, and we were just throwing out names. We’re like, “Hey, let’s think about the last name.” So we’re just spitballing stuff and for some reason, my friend just held up chopsticks and I was like “CHOPSTIX!” That sounds funny. Let’s do that. So okay, Chopstix, last name. Perfect.
At the time I was watching Steven Universe, my favourite TV show of all time. And I was like, Garnet is me. But Garnet Chopstix didn’t really flow as well as I wanted it to. So then I was gonna be Sapphire. But that seemed weird. So then I went on to Ruby, which is a part of Garnet and kind of what I am, a little feisty, a little fiery. So that’s how I chose the Ruby Chopstix name. I forget that it’s a description of an object. And sometimes people will laugh I’m like, “Why are you laughing? Oh, yes, it’s a ruby chopstick.” But that’s how I chose my name.
Have you always loved performing? Was it nerve racking at the beginning?
I’ve always loved performing. Growing up, I didn’t do a lot of performance stuff but I’ve always wanted to. I was part of the musical but I was never in the cast, I was a crew or a stage manager but wanting to be on the stage. So when I first did it, it felt so right. It felt perfect, like I was always meant to do this. I also grew up watching Janet Jackson, Beyonce, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and how they performed on stage and their production, how much confidence they exuded. I guess I was always practicing to perform on stage.
But it was very nerve wracking the first time. I remember sitting down and just breathing heavily, hyperventilating and like freaking out. But when you hit that stage, all the nerves just vanished so fast. The music hit and I was like, “Oh, I’m fine. I’m perfectly fine.” There were moments where I’m like, “Don’t talk to me. Sorry. Nobody can talk to me right now. I’m freaking out.” But I feel like I’ve always needed to perform, and it was just like a perfect thing. And I do get nervous though. I still get nervous now.
Where do you find inspiration for your looks?
Pop stars, the pop queens. Like I said, Janet Jackson, Beyonce, Rihanna, Lady Gaga. I’ve also now recently been trying to really take from my own culture, being Vietnamese and Asian, I want to try to do that more. It’s a little harder obviously.
I’m not in touch with my culture as much as I would like to be. But I try to get inspiration from that and just be as authentic to myself.
I also took a lot from the 90s and 2000s when I first started. Also from other drag performers as well, like everybody is so great at what they do that I can’t help not be inspired by everybody.
That dress is literally my prized possession now, I’m going to wear it till it dies. I tried not to wear the same outfit when I first started, now I’m like, I’m just doing my outfits, you’re gonna see it until it dies. So that outfit is gonna be worn forever because it’s one of my favourites now. I can’t wear it to everything, but besides that, it’s gonna be one of those outfits that’s my staple.
What’s your favourite part about performing?
My favourite part is just the reaction of people and if they’re having fun, like I want you to have fun with my numbers, or like emotional with my numbers. I don’t do a lot of emotional ones but when I do, I want you to feel some type of emotion. I think when people do stupid, funny things in performing, you always remember those numbers. Like when somebody does a lot of tricks and flips and dips and whatever. It’s like, “Wow, do remember when Ruby just barrel rolled across the stage for no reason?” That’s so stupid, that’s so funny. I love when I see people laugh. The best performer in the city in my opinion is Feather Talia and it’s because she just has so much fun. Not only does she do really meaningful numbers but she also does a lot of fun and stupid numbers. She takes her drag seriously, but she also just has fun with it, like “Let’s just have fun, I don’t care,” and dabs every three seconds. I’m like, “Yes, this is the funniest thing ever.”
What is the most rewarding part for you?
I would probably say the most rewarding part is how people react to it but I also like the community aspect of it as well. When I can make my community feel some type of emotion, that is always a huge win. Because we watch each other like every single weekend, for so many years. It’s harder to make our drag community feel some type of way because they’re like, “Oh, we know what you’re gonna do.” So when they react, it’s always like, “Hell yeah, I did it! I made you feel something and that means I’m doing a good job.”
What’s something that’s challenging about doing drag, other than being absolutely boiling hot in your outfits!
The feeling that you have to outdo yourself, or everybody else, or always keep up with the times is kind of challenging. And since I’m an older queen now, when the new batch comes in, the older batch kind of, not fizzles out, but just doesn’t get the spotlight as much. That’s kind of how drag is, you have to just keep going.
It’s just like performers in any type of art form. That’s just what happens. That is the most difficult part, it’s not getting in a headspace of like, “Oh my god, I suck.” No. No, you’ve been doing this for so long, you have been working your dues, you are good at this. It’s just getting out of my mind and just having fun. It’s drag, you did it for a reason, you’re doing it because you’re having fun and whatever. You don’t have to outdo anybody else.
When you first start drag, depending on what you do with it, it’s a lot of impressing everybody and trying to get along with everybody and just knowing the ins and outs. And then when you’re at this stage, a staple, you’re like, “Okay, I don’t have to do that anymore, I’m done, I can just have fun now.”
What’s been a career highlight for you for drag?
I would say the main highlight is doing my own show that I produced completely by myself. For the first four years, I did a lot of shows that everybody else produced or co-produced shows, so nothing was actually under my own name. But last year, I started The Velvet Rope, which was an all BIPOC drag show and party. It was super successful and so amazing. It’s a thing that we don’t do in the city very often. There are some shows, but we don’t have those spaces. So I was just so happy I was able to create that for not just myself, but the whole BIPOC and QPOC community as well.
It just felt so good because it was just me. I did everything with the help of other people but I mostly did everything and planned it and all that stuff. So it was super stressful and scary. And then this year I did Chapter Two. I’ve been able to produce a show that’s not just like a one off show that we perform. It’s something with meaning, with intention for the community and not just for myself.
I’ve also done other things, like I’ve been on Mainstage that’s been a great highlight as well. I’ve opened for Canada’s Drag Race for season two.
That was really fun. That was actually very scary, that’s a lie, it was kind of fun, but it was horrifying at the same time.
So that was weird. But when you do like a full big show here curating it for a specific audience, and having specific people and having a full production, it’s taxing. But it’s rewarding at the end. Like I feel great now, but if you asked me last week, I’d have been like “I’m stressed. I’m scared. I’m nervous. I’m going to shit myself”
Can you talk a little bit about the importance of representation in drag?
It’s so weird, because in the last five years, I feel like it has changed so much. I feel like in my first years, there wasn’t a lot of Asian performers at the time. So the representation was pretty low. There was a few, but they couldn’t get the spotlight as much as other performers did or other people. So representation was lacking. I felt like it was my job to also represent Asian people and Vietnamese people.
I think the representation matters so so so so so so much.
I’ve had so many people come up to me and just just say how happy they are to know that I exist, and how happy that I’m getting spotlighted and doing well and being authentically myself. Because growing up, I didn’t have many people to look up to. And then when I talk to these people, they’re like, “Yeah, we didn’t have people like this, so finding out that you exist, and you’re here in Winnipeg feels so liberating.”
It felt liberating for them, because they’re like “There’s somebody here I can look up to, you.” That’s what I always want. Ruby has always been somebody I wanted people to look up to, just because I didn’t have that. So even if it’s just you seeing somebody and even if you don’t like me, well, at least I’m just there. That’s what matters to me.
Representation matters just in a way that you can believe in yourself and not have to second guess who you are, where you came from, or what you want to do. Growing up Asian, I had to be the model minority. I had to be somebody that was good in science, good in math, that’s what the world told me. But I’m not that. I am so shitty at math, so shitty at science, I dropped out of school. So here I am being a drag performer and a successful drag performer. I’m here, having fun with my life and being able to express who I am and not be ashamed of who I am.
It is always so disheartening when I see shows that are very lacking in diversity in every way. Like they don’t have any trans performers, any Indigenous performers, Black performers, Asian performers, they’re all just cis performers. It’s disheartening, because we have such a diverse array of people in Winnipeg, how did you not pick or realize that your privilege is showing? People want to see themselves. And we, as BIPOC, don’t get to see ourselves every day. Even though the reputation is getting better, it’s not where it should be.
So it’s great to see when there’s a whole diverse group of people. It’s really about this space and taking up space because we as BIPOC and any underrepresented folks, it feels like we’re taking space, it feels like we’re sucking the space out and it’s like we’re not deserving of it. But in reality, we are 100% deserving of it and we need the space, that’s why The Velvet Rope happened, because I wanted to show people that we deserve a space, we needed the space, and it’s for us as well.
Don’t second guess that you’re taking space from people when we never had spaces before.
So let’s make the space now. And that’s what I think everybody who is starting drag should kind of think about as well.
What advice would you give to someone who’s trying to break into the world of drag or is interested in starting?
My biggest advice is come to shows, support local drag, support everybody that’s come before you and learn from other people as well, get to know this community. We’ve been here for so long. I’ve only been here for a small portion of it, but others have been here for decades. So you have to respect these people and get to know them. We will come and support you, you come and support us.
Also don’t feel entitled, that’s another thing, to not be entitled for anything. In any kind of art form, you have to work for it. I did not get thrown anything when I first started, I had to ask, I had to work for it. You’re not gonna hit the ground running, you might have a small stumble and you might have to wait a couple years until you take off but you just have to keep working at it.
Like any other work. We all look bad at the beginning. It’s fine.
Like some of us still look bad now, like I’m still trying to get better. So it’s okay, it takes time to learn. When I first started, I did not know anything about makeup. I think it was a year and a half to finally figure out my face, a year and a half of looking disgusting and stupid. So trust and believe it’s okay. It gets better.
What advice what advice would you give to readers who might be struggling with their sexual identity, their gender identity, especially now with this uptick in hateful rhetoric?
It is so cliche, but it is really just remembering that you’re not by yourself, especially in this queer community. Most of us are here for each other. And we all have very similar stories. So just really believe and try to get your mind in a spot of knowing that you’re not the only one. And that’s not saying your story doesn’t matter.
It’s more like there’s other people you can talk to that have the same experience and can relate and that can help you through that situation. It’s hard to figure out your sexuality, your gender, what you’re feeling. It took me 24 or 25 years until I found out that I was non-binary. So it took a lot of years and it was literally just me, talking to people, talking to friends and talking to one friend specifically, Contessa. I had broken down and just said my feelings, it was like, I don’t know how to react, I don’t know what I’m feeling. But they helped me out of this hole that I was in and helped me realize, “Oh, I am non binary, I am trans, that is what I am.”
Find somebody you can talk to. There’s a lot of resources out there. Sunshine House is a great resource if you ever just need to go and just talk to somebody, there are a lot of beautiful people there. They can talk to Rainbow Resource Centre. Communication, communicate with somebody. If you want to talk to me, you can talk to me.
What are three words that you would use to describe yourself?
Asian Pop Princess. I always tell myself that. Actually change Princess to Queen because I feel like I’m at that level now. Pop Queen. There we go.
One more question for you. What is your favourite song to perform?
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