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Exclusive: We kiki with Q from RuPaul's Drag Race

Exclusive: We kiki with Q from RuPaul's Drag Race

<p>Exclusive: We kiki with Q from <em>RuPaul's Drag Race</em></p>
photo by Tanner Abel

The season 16 fashionista discusses her early life, her journey on Drag Race, opening up about living with HIV — and looks ahead to what's next.

The Emmy Award-winning RuPaul’s Drag Race series has featured legendary drag artists like Ongina (season 1) and Trinity K. Bonet (season 6), trailblazers who shared their journeys as people living with HIV. But ever since Drag Race moved to its biggest-ever network, MTV, and started streaming its past episodes on services like Paramount+ and WOW Presents Plus, season 16 star Q has become the first cast member to discuss her HIV status on this global platform that is now reaching a record-breaking number of fans from around the world.

photo by Tanner Abel

On episode 11 of Q’s season, the runway category “DragCon 1980” inspired Q to open up about living with HIV. “I’m doing something very sentimental for the runway today,” she confided to her costars. “It’s inspired by the generation of gay people we lost to the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s. I’ve been HIV-positive for two years now.”

When Q walked the runway in a Keith Haring-inspired look, the judges were mesmerized by the stunning outfit and powerful message that she’d brought to the most popular LGBTQ+ show on television. Haring was a well-known artist and activist who rose to fame in the 1980s and died from HIV-related causes at 31 years old. Q ultimately placed fourth in the overall competition, but the dent she made in breaking down stigma is truly immeasurable.

A sampling of Q's amazing creations she displayed on the Drag Race runway, including the Keith Haring-inspired dress (center) she wore on the episode in which she disclosed her HIV status.courtesy MTV

“I was giving myself an ultimatum to come out and tell my family about it. If I did this on the show, it would force me to have that conversation with them.” Q tells Plus. “I remember how scared and alone I felt when I was diagnosed. [Being] on RuPaul’s Drag Race, I didn’t want people to feel like [that diagnosis] is the end. It can feel like that in the moment. It feels so final. But it’s not.”

She adds, “I had been on PrEP before, but I was off PrEP at the time and I can’t remember why. I meant to get back on it, but I hadn’t. When I started feeling down and getting kind of sick, I decided to go get tested early with an at-home test. It came back positive, and it was scary. I was alone, and I just didn’t even know what to do. My husband was at a clinical rotation a couple of hours away, but he immediately came back just to be with me and comfort me and make sure that he was there for me. And I’m positive, but my husband’s negative.”

But the choice to keep this information from her family did come from a place of love for Q. “It wasn’t hurting anything, them not knowing,” she says. “I was healthy and hadn’t gone through any complications with my diagnosis. And my mom…she worries so much about everything. She worries when it rains too hard out. I didn’t want her to worry or to take on the stress of something that didn’t need to be so stressful.”

photo by Tanner Abel

Q’s story begins in Emporia, Kansas, in the mid-1990s. The city, which sits between Wichita and Topeka, has an estimated population of 25,000. According to the 2020 United States Census Bureau, however, Emporia has somehow shrunk to fewer than 24,000 residents in the last two decades.

“My dad passed away when I was three, so my mom raised me,” Q says. “She worked as a teacher’s aide. She’s married now, but she was a single mother raising four kids in rural Kansas. We kind of had to figure things out a lot of times.”

The second-oldest child of four, Q had a hard time growing up as a “different, effeminate, and queer” kid in a financially struggling family. Surprisingly, this resulted in Q playing a lot of sports. “But I was terrible,” she adds, laughing. “It was honestly hard for me to accept [my sexuality] for a while. I dated a lot of girls even through middle school.”

“My mom eventually thought I might like theater and the arts, so I started doing local theater around second or third grade. I’ve been doing that since I was little,” she says. “I came out in junior year — and once I came out, any problems I had with anybody saying anything about my sexuality immediately dissipated. Once you come out, it kind of takes power away from people trying to use it as something negative.”

photo by Tanner Abel

Q graduated from high school and moved to Lawrence to attend the University of Kansas. She finally found a clique of queer friends in college, and they introduced her to RuPaul’s Drag Race just as season 7 was airing. “I loved Violet Chachki for her fashion, but I honestly thought Ginger Minj was going to take it,” Q recalls. “But I didn’t even start thinking about doing drag until my senior year of college.”

College taught Q about queerness, art, design, and costume-making. Upon graduating, she moved to Kansas City and met her eventual drag mother, Mulan Gabby, who taught her to make clothes and be a professional drag queen. Q started establishing herself in the local bar scene and doing open shows, and after five years of hard work, here she is — a Drag Race alum and the latest cover star of Plus.

Looking ahead, Q talks about wanting to tour the world and maybe even create her own fashion events at some point. “I’ve always had this dream,” she adds, “of putting together a huge runway collection of just avant-garde, custom couture fashion…like having my own runway show. That would be so sickening — having a bunch of queens walk in it. I think it’s something that’s never been done before. I know it’s a huge project, but it’s something that I’d love to do.”

cover photo by Tanner Abel

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