Arts·Canada's a Drag

Toronto drag queen Allysin Chaynes wants to be your new overlord — and wouldn't that be fabulous?

Watch the first episode of the new CBC Arts docu-series Canada's a Drag, where our country's drag performers sashay into the spotlight.

Watch the first episode of Canada's a Drag, where our country's drag performers sashay into the spotlight

Allysin Chaynes gets ready for a show. (CBC Arts)

Allysin Chaynes 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.​

When we asked Allysin Chaynes how she'd like to be described in this article, this was her response: "Allysin promises to be a benevolent and fair overlord once the uprising comes and the world is hers."

If only we could someday be so lucky. A world run by Chaynes would likely resemble a supersized version of the West End Toronto drag community she has become such a staple of. Alongside her drag family House of Filth — an alternative performing arts collective also featuring Judy Virago, Igby Lizzard, Nancy Bocock, Champagna and Dottie Dangerfield — there would most certainly be a new world order of fabulosity.

"Drag taught me a huge amount about body confidence and things like that," Chaynes says. "When you are able to control exactly the way you want your body to look and be perceived by a bunch of people — that's insanely powerful."

Chaynes, who grew up just outside of Toronto, says that for someone who spent their childhood being made fun of for their weight, the idea of taking their chest, taping it together and making it bigger is a pretty substantial act of empowerment.

"It's all kind of a big fuck you to anyone who thinks that there's any sort of wrong body."

Imagine that as an ideology behind a world uprising?

I was always just really fascinated by the idea that someone could transform themselves into something different and get away with it.- Allysin Chaynes

Chaynes' episode of Canada's a Drag was filmed at one of two venues she considers her "home bars," The Gladstone Hotel (the other being The Beaver).

"The minute I walk in here it's just like everything goes away," she says of The Gladstone. "It's a queer castle full of magic and wonder and art. It's like — how could you not love this place?"

The audiences there exemplify a huge part of what Chaynes feels makes the best drag shows.​

"It's not you are presenting one thing and they are consuming it — you are creating something together," she says of the collaboration between the audience and the performer. "The energy of a space and the energy of a performance has just as much to do with how an audience is reacting to it as how the drag queen is performing it. The idea of connection with an audience is what thrills me the most about performing. And I love the idea that the art I'm creating — I can watch people consuming it. I can watch how it's affecting people while I'm performing it and that is what really connected me to it."

Allysin Chaynes on Queen Street West in Toronto. (CBC Arts)

Chaynes says that one thing about drag that people don't seem to realize is that how difficult it is.

"People get to see glamour, outfits, performing. People don't see the struggle of your friends not understanding why you want to do it. People don't see the disgusting focus the queer male community has on masculinity that seems to shame any sort of femininity within one's persona at all. "

She says there were times she hadn't eaten for two days because she needed to spend her last five bucks on tights and a blank CD.

"People don't see things like that," she says. "People don't see that we just want to put everything into this art form."

Stream seasons 1 and 2 of Canada's a Drag now on CBC Gem.

Series Producers: Mercedes Grundy and Peter Knegt
Episode Directors: Istoica
Packaging Editor: Asmi Chandola
Titles Designer: Hope Little​
Special Thanks: Gladstone Hotel


Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada and nominated again this year) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.