By David Cutting
VANCOUVER – The audience is roaring as the crescendo of “Pity Party” approaches. On stage Ilona effortlessly nails every movement and proceeds to smash her face into a cake, only to finish the performance lip-syncing her way to icon status with a face full of blue icing. It’s hard to express the level of art that this queen brings to the stage because it is very rare. She is ferocious and unrelenting, and it is not lost on anyone who watches her perform.
Her name seems very unassuming; however, for most artists inspiration comes from real life. She shares, “I worked at a fabric store and I shared a cutting table with an 87-year-old woman named Ilona. She was sassy just like me. One day she said to me, ‘You know, I hate the gays but I like you,’ so I started talking about gay culture with her. She began bringing me makeup because I told her I was interested in drag. We got real close and I told her that if I ever did drag that I would name my character after her. She was so extra, she was like a movie character.”
There is a common narrative with many artists surrounding adversity. The world we live in is progressing in many ways and when it comes to homophobia, the tides are turning fast. Ilona shared that homophobia was something that surrounded her her whole life. “My family is very old-fashioned and there were a lot of homophobic comments growing up. When I was in high school and found out about homosexuality I just knew that I was; it was simple. I was worried about coming out, because of my family’s view, but I thought about it and realized that I grew up playing with dolls and wearing girls’ clothing so I hoped that my mom would just want me to be happy,” Ilona shares of her family. “After I came out I realized that my family just needed facts; they needed to know what homosexuality is. When we looked back on that time when comments were made when I was still in the closet, my mom said she was growing up too and that she had no idea that it hurt me.”
Drag became a form of expression for her. It became her whole life. It took over. “I do drag because it’s such an amazing creative outlet, cliché I know, but for me being able to transform myself to look the way I want is so empowering. I honestly don’t have much confidence as a boy so being able to look full hot in drag is such a great way for me to get my confidence together and channel that into my day-to-day life as regular old me,” shares Ilona. “Being Ilona isn’t just a drag character for me; it’s honestly who I am. It makes me so happy when people call me Ilona, in or out of drag, because it’s a name I picked for myself and reminds me of what I’ve built!”
Ilona is one of five members of The House of Bitches, a drag family that is mothered by Alma Bitches. Drag families, similar to real families, have the same ups and downs. These relationships to Ilona are not a one-way street; they serve as an opportunity for both parties to learn from each other. It’s a testament to the fact that sometimes family isn’t about the blood that flows through your brain; rather, it’s an energy that likens your spirit to theirs.
“I am a sensitive person and I feel that doesn’t come across all the time. It has always been easy to be a cold bitch because I don’t want to be hurt, so being a cold bitch is a way to keep myself from getting hurt. But it’s not who I am. I am changing and growing and right now I am focussing my behaviour and learning from it. I am focused on my happiness.”
Ilona performs at the Odyssey on the last Saturday of every month for Lollipop, among other places.queen of the month, the Odyssey