How Vancouver drag icon Berlin Stiller went from serving Big Macs to serving her own 'full fantasy'
Watch the latest episode of Canada's a Drag, where our country's drag performers sashay into the spotlight
Berlin Stiller is just one of the many fabulous subjects featured in Canada's a Drag, a docu-series from CBC Arts that showcases drag artists from across the true North strong and fierce. You can watch all 21 episodes here.
"My entire childhood was wasted hiding who I am and holding down the eccentric person I was deep down," says Berlin Stiller, the stunning centre of our Vancouver episode of Canada's a Drag. "Drag saved me from myself and my own self-hate. I've discovered who I am as a person through exploring and slowly letting out the person I kept hidden deep with in me."
Berlin isn't just a character, but a reborn version of herself.
"She has taken the hardships and the brunt of all the sacrifices made, family lost and regained, addictions suffered and overcome," Stiller says. "I've explored myself and experienced things through Berlin, only to find my true self. I stand proud to be gay, to be sober, to be in touch with my inner strength and finally feel the self-worth I've fought for and will continue to fight for. I owe everything to Berlin."
When she was a teenager, her mother kicked her out when she found Berlin was spending her nights at gay bars.
"So I got a job at McDonalds," she says. "And during my break I'd have 45 minutes so I'd always change into an outfit and go up to the bar and go dancing a little bit. It kind of became my little shtick. Everybody knew about me working at McDonalds, so they'd come and visit me after the clubs closed. My eccentric style kind of like started to bubble forth."
From there, Berlin started getting hired to hang out at clubs and within a year or so was one of the more recognizable faces on Davie Street, the heart of Vancouver's LGBTQ scene.
"It was fun because all of a sudden everyone's holding doors for me and taking my bag and treating me like a queen."
But in the midst of that rise, Berlin started to fall.
"For the first year of me doing drag, it was just like gigs and bookings and everything was going my way. But doing drag and performing, drinks are for free for the most part for queens and every time that liquid courage that I need. And I'm always drinking, and it's always drinking to get wasted. It just started getting...abusive."
At a low point, Berlin decided to contact her mother and try and sort things out with her — and they did.
"Something switched in my [head] and I felt accepted again for the first time from the people that are supposed to love and accept me from the beginning. I finally felt reconnected and like I am loved. I just had no more desire to drink anymore."
Berlin hopes that her story helps other people get through their own struggles.
"[For me to be] dressed in a tiny little outfit and not feel scared of any homophobia or what other people will say then it might help somebody else's confidence," she says. "Not necessarily to do drag but live their truth and be who they want to be without the fear of people judging them."
Series Producers: Mercedes Grundy and Peter Knegt
Episode Director and Editor: Josephine Anderson
Episode Director of Photography: Farzine MacRae
Production Assistant: Rama Luksiarto
Packaging Editor: Chanel Klein
Titles Designer: Hope Little
Special Thanks: 1181 Lounge, XY, Joey Wannamaker, McDonald's