… and someplace to go: Drag Racer Trixie Mattel goes Purple
“Oh my God! Are there any painful memories from your past that we can bring up?” quips Brian Firkus, aka Drag Racer Trixie Mattel. That’s her reaction when asked what was going through her mind as she lip-synched for her life — twice! — on this season’s RuPaul’s Drag Race. At the end of the performance first elimination, RuPaul asked Mattel to sashay away while Pearl was able to stay.
“I know Pearl, and I know her skill set and I know my skill set,” Mattel says. “We all have our superhero utility belts of skills. I was 700 percent confident I was going to win the lip-sync! I had seen Pearl lip-sync before. When she was safe, I thought ‘Oh my God! We’re both safe!’ And then RuPaul said, ‘Trixie, get out.’ RuPaul sees different things in everyone.”
Judging by the number of air miles she has recently logged to make live appearances, however, Mattel — who appears in the Rose Room at the Purple Party’s opening event, Ignite — seems to have come out a winner nonetheless. “I currently live in hotels,” Mattel humble-brags. “I haven’t been home in, like, two months. I’m either in hotels or down on the carpet in airports sleeping. I travel with a blanket and pillow. I go to the airport, get to the gate and I set an alarm for the boarding time. I lay down on my back with the blanket pulled over my body and my face so I just look like a freaking corpse.”
Each travel mile she logs also seems to claim another piece of her love life. “It’s destroying it slowly,” Mattel says. “The thing about Drag Race is that it’s hard. I had an amazing boyfriend, but the pieces aren’t staying together right now. When you don’t even have time to wash your dirty underwear, it’s hard to have time to make someone else happy.”
Mattel began her drag career four years ago, at age 21. But unlike most queens, she was not mentored by a drag mother or part of an extended drag family — she struck out on her own. “One thing about my drag you can tell is, for better or for worse, nobody taught me,” she says. “Everything is just something that I did. I taught myself to sew and I do makeup the way I do because I just wanted to do it. I thought it was really important starting in drag not to have a drag family because I wanted to be an original. I wanted my own name and my own image.”
Assuming the name Trixie was itself a take-back-the-night moment. “When I was younger, I had a really bad relationship with my stepdad,” Mattel says. “Whenever I was acting too feminine or crying or being too emotional — acting too gay, basically — he would call me a Trixie. It used to be like the equivalent to faggot for me. It went from being the worst word to my favorite word. And now I love it.” (Mattel, of course, is her homage to the maker of Barbie, her plastic idol and major influence.)
In her recent travels, Mattel has managed to pick up a few sage tips from seasoned drag performers. “The best advice anyone has given me is ‘Know what you are worth and charge three times that,’” she says. “Of course, I don’t put that into practice because that’s insane. I love drag so much. When you first start doing drag, you come from doing it for free basically. But [fellow Wisconsinite-turned-New Yorker] Davina DeVille told me, ‘You’re never going to be a happy drag queen until you have your bills paid.’”
One surprising development since her Drag Race appearances — she was brought back a few weeks ago, only to be kicked off again this past Monday — is that people are now recognizing Mattel when she’s out of drag. “That’s the weirdest thing. My transformation is so extreme, nobody recognized me out of drag. They just thought I was someone carrying Trixie Mattel’s bags. Recently, I was at an H&M and buying something, and a guy behind the counter looked up at me and started crying.”
Despite the rigors of competition and the disappointing early elimination, Mattel has no regret. “You know, you go to Drag Race, and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” she says. “You don’t know what people are going to like or what they’re going to think. And to have people respond as positively as they have is unreal. I thought I was going to be too weird for people and that there was going to be a lot of rejection. People really like Trixie, and that’s what’s great.”
Trixie Mattel performs at Ignite, the opening night party with DJs Wayne and Ivan Gomez at Station 4, 2911 Cedar Springs Road, May 8. Doors at 9 p/m.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 8, 2015.