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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

I AM YOUR QUEEN: Raya Light

Posted By on Wed, Jun 15, 2016 at 12:30 PM

click to enlarge RAYA LIGHT
  • Raya Light

Welcome to I AM YOUR QUEEN, a Pride Month series that lets San Francisco's raddest drag performers tell the world a li'l bit about themselves. In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, it's more important than ever to give space for the voices of brilliant freaks and weirdoes, and these queens don't let an opportunity pass.


"There are certainly times when I am getting ready for a performance," Raya Light says of her approach to drag, "and I am thinking,'"Oh god, why I am doing this! I am a middle-aged man dressing up as a little girl ... This is crazy!' "

"Again those voices!" she adds. "But whenever I start thinking about that, I remember something that happened to me during an early performance. I was doing a parody of that crazy Paris Hilton Burger King commercial, where she seductively washes a car and then takes a bite of a burger. Of course, I went all in on my burger instead of just taking a bite, until there wasn't a spot on my body that this burger hadn't touched — if you catch my drift. Anyway, while I was working my way through the crowd after, this guy stopped me and said, 'I just have to tell you. I probably had one of the worst days of my life today, but for five minutes, your performance made me laugh and forget all that. Thank you!' So, I really hold on to that, and I really value my performances and value my audiences, and realize that I can have an impact and to try as hard as I can to never just phone it in or do something half-assed."


What name(s) do you perform under?

Primarily Raya Light, but every year for Showgirls, I was always adopt a different lap dancer persona. Last year I was the infamous Raquel Felch, before that, ZZ Trans, AManDuh Bynes, Teensy Weensy, Michele Myers, Lois Standards. I have done some political spots as Lois Standards and of course I wrote a whole musical about Michele Myers, HALLOWEEN! THE BALLAD OF MICHELE MYERS.

Where do you perform?
I perform At Mother, Monster Show, Some Thing. I do a lot with Peaches Christ Productions ( I will be in the upcoming Showgirls, The Musical, for example). And then various other theater productions; for example I've been involved in various productions of Absolutely Fabulous over the past few years, playing Bubble and other characters.

click to enlarge RAYA LIGHT
  • Raya Light
How long have you done drag?
I started drag in 2005. I had been doing stand up comedy and I had grown tired of the scene, which was pretty stagnant. I went to the Annual Trannyshack pageant where I saw this queen Kiddie get branded mid-lip sync without even flinching ... and she didn't even win! I found it was a weekly night with different themes and it sounded like it was exactly what I needed to energize my creativity.

They had a Gong Show night where anyone could come perform. They actually were desperate for performers because the audience was brutal and the acts usually got gonged in the first 10 seconds, making the show really short. I decided to do "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves as a very unhappy disenchanted goth girl and the name Raya Light seemed to fit the concept. I wasn't gonged but I didn't win. I lost to Roxy Roulette, who stripped out of an astronaut costume while on a pogo stick to "Rocket Man" and at
the end he lit sparklers sticking out his ass. In any event, I was bitten by the drag bug and the rest is herstory. Five performances later, I was performing in the Trannyshack pageant; I went from cluelessly watching it one year to being in it the next!

Does Raya Light have a back story?
Basically her story is my story. I was fortunate to be in Jose Guzman-Colon's photography book Glam Gender and the writer Billy Picture crafted my bio into the following:

Raya Light is a product of Los Angeles in the 1980s, the decade that gave birth to mini-malls, latchkey kids, new wave and crack cocaine. And she embodies her vice-loving hometown's seedy-lined glamour, corrupted beauty and longtime love of excess.

In shocking, horror-clown drag, and fueled by her alter ego's playful penchant for mischief-making, Raya Light explores the beauty of ugly and fully utilizes the limitless freedom that exists to the extreme left of "normal" to spread her creative wings.

Look into her eyes. What is that sparkly glint? Is it genius? Is it evil? The answer requires a closer look. But be careful, for that mesmerizing flicker can erupt into a full flame without warning or provocation!


click to enlarge UEL RENTERIA
  • Uel Renteria
Do you have a theater/performance background?
I grew up in the San Fernando Valley in L.A., and my grandmother lived and worked in Hollywood as a fashion designer, right across from ABC studios, so I was around that whole scene. I eventually stalked Michael Damian and was an extra for a summer on The Young and the Restless and in his "Rock On" video. (I recently told the story of my first encounter with him at a Storytelling show.)

I did theater in high school and dabbled with it in college at Stanford, though I majored in Computer Science. After college, I did some community theater up and down the peninsula before I became immersed in the dotcom explosion. When the dot com crash happened in early 2000s, I decided I wanted to pick up exploring my creative side, and I started doing stand-up, but I didn't do the typical routines. I was doing more bizarre monologues rather than one-liners, and I preferred to be constantly changing my routine and exploring something new. Other comics were doing the same routines, same jokes night after night to the point that I could do their routine for them. So I found the whole scene to be very stagnant and that's when I discovered Trannyshack!

Is realness important to you? Genderfuck? Something else?
I am more concerned about the performance and telling stories through the art of drag, and tailor the look towards that, rather than trying to impersonate a woman, plus I prefer a meaty tuck! I also like to challenge myself looks-wise so I can't say I have a standard look, I love to explore and evolve.

click to enlarge RAYA LIGHT
  • Raya Light
When you were starting out, what was the biggest hurdle?
Looking back at it, I really had no idea what I was getting into. There was no Drag Race then, so I had no clue about the ins and outs of drag culture. So I just made it up as I went along. But the reality is that everyone was really accepting and it didn't take long to make inroads and gain people's respect, which is important because at some point you need to start reaching out to people for help, whether it's to do backup in a number, or help with costuming, makeup, getting booked.

Also, I really had no clue about drag makeup when I started. That's why I started mostly with doing horror makeup, scary clowns, abused kids. But thankfully I befriended drag icon Putanesca, who casually suggested that I might need some help with my makeup during my second run at the Miss Trannyshack pageant ... Puta became my drag mother and Glamour Raya was born!!

And in a lot of ways, not understanding what I was getting into was beneficial. It is so easy to sabotage our efforts of self-expression, i.e., "Everyone is going to laugh at me. I'm not good enough. What I have to say isn't interesting." Honestly, there are times I still hear those voices today, and it is really difficult to silence them and take risks, but for me, the challenges are what make life exciting.

What do you love most about drag?
I really love the sense of community within the S.F. drag scene. Sure people can be shady and competitive, but the for the most part, everyone is supporting each other. There is a real sense of collaboration and mutual exploration. We encourage each other to keep creating and expanding the art form of drag. I don't think you will find that in other cities.

click to enlarge RAYA LIGHT
  • Raya Light
Assuming she is among us, does your mother know?
Absolutely, I will enclose a pic of my mom and me as Raya!

Have you had any trouble with Facebook's "real" names policy?
Incredibly, I have not, but I am certainly in fear of it. I am one of those people that unfortunately could get fired from my job for being gay. The company I work for has been bought and sold many times over and now I work for a company that is based in a state that is not gay-friendly. I remember being on a conference call the day after Obama was first elected and the moderator of the call started off the meeting with "I'm sure everyone is depressed after that ridiculous election." I, of course, piped in, "Not everyone!" Sadly quitting and finding another job is much easier said than done.

What's your day job?
So I work in tech but I am one of the good techies, I promise! I do software development for call centers at the moment. Yeah I am one of those people trying to keep you from talking to a real person! But in my tech career I have been fortunate to work on some cool applications. I developed UCLA's first online student class registration system, I developed the first online-only real time banking system, and I developed Borders' online book ordering system. Through it all, I've been able to work with a variety of different companies under a lot of stressful situations. And the one big lesson I learned along the way was "No one has all the answers.
Everyone is making it up as they go along. So don't be intimidated into thinking your ideas don't matter."

Besides tech and drag, I also have one other alter ego that I don't talk about much, but might as well toot my own horn for once. I am also a highly competitive tennis player. I played at Stanford, where I was on three national championship teams, I played professionally for a hot second, I've been proudly playing on the gay circuit for 20 years now winning several golds at the Gay Games, and I compete at the senior level nationally and internationally. I've been ranked in the Top 5 nationally for my age division the last 15 years, and I have been fortunate to captain and play on numerous teams representing the U.S. in world competition.

I say all that not to boast about my accomplishments. Tennis, for whatever strange reason, is still a very homophobic sport; there has yet to be an out professional male tennis player, which is shocking. And even at the high level I am playing at, I'm the only gay in the village, and I can't tell you the crap that has been said and done to me. But it never deters me, I feel an even greater obligation to keep competing, to keep representing our community, and to keep confronting homophobia, especially in sports, so that at some point,
I'm not the only gay in the village.



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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Bio:
Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.

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