Toronto trans artist turns heartbreak into worldwide success
Sunny Drake is bringing 'No Strings (Attached)' home to Buddies in Bad Times this week
From When Harry Met Sally to Friends With Benefits, people falling head-over-heels for their best buddy is a rom-com staple. Straight versions tend to end in a passionate kiss or a dance number in Grand Central Station. But the gay BFF-romance often concludes with heartbreak. So much so, that the unrequited queer crush catalyzed by a slumber party or Boy Scout weekend is practically a genre unto itself.
In the case of trans artist Sunny Drake, longing for a friend who didn't love him back isn't the subject of his show No Strings (Attached). But it was the misery induced by the experience that sparked his creative process. The show began eight years ago as an artistic antidote to being shot down. Going into the studio a stammering mess, he emerged a few weeks later with a twenty-minute excerpt and a new lease on life. Free from emotional ruin, he shelved the piece for more optimistic subjects. But six years later, he had the itch to return and develop a full-length work. And fresh off a world tour, the show is coming home to Toronto this week with a 11-night run at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.
No Strings (Attached) centres on Jimmy, a guy who's done with being hurt. In the wake of yet another failed relationship, he joins RAA — Romance-Aholics Anonymous. While the story begins with anguish, Drake doesn't hang out in Dumpsville for long. Instead, NSA morphs into a humourous yet poignant look at the experiences of dating while trans in the Internet age.
"I prefer to meet people online since that means I can put everything on the table beforehand so to speak," the Australia-born, Toronto-based artist says. "For people who are very trans-literate, they might look at me and say 'Oh, he's really short, he must be trans.'" (He's a slight 5'4.) "Others won't necessarily know unless they've seen my work. But at some point when I drop my pants it's going to become evident so I'd rather discuss things in advance to prevent awkward situations."
His romantic dalliances have employed conventional dating websites and apps like Grindr. But he's stumbled on most of his lovers in the place people usually turn for used furniture and scalped concert tickets.
"I remember being totally flabbergasted the first time I got on Craigslist and saw all these people posting specifically that they wanted to be with a trans man," he says. "Gay men are often threatened by their attraction to trans men, as if being with someone who has my kind of junk takes away their gay card, so they're more likely to be open about it in a forum that's totally anonymous."
Drake's life since his failed romance has shaped both his optimism and his sense of humour. Happily hitched for seven years to writer/activist Chanelle Gallant, his belief in true love has been renewed. Finding the one doesn't mean a conventional relationship though. Both continue extra-curricular dalliances in addition to their primary partnership.
"I definitely identify as queer, but I'm more on the gay spectrum and tend to date mostly men, while she dates people of all genders," Drake says. "We have a model that works for us that allows us to carry on with other people but we still love to snuggle up with and watch movies and go for hikes. It's amazing to fall in love with someone who also turns out to be your best friend."
No Strings (Attached). Written and Performed by Sunny Drake. Directed by Gein Wong. Mar 16-26. Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto.