Mother from London, Ont. explores world of drag in TV show 'Drag Heals'

Encouraged by her nine-year-old son, London ON. native Karen Suzuki appears on OutTV series, 'Drag Heals'.

Karen Suzuki's character, Sasha Me, was inspired by her experiences as a mom

Karen Suzuki explored the world of drag by appearing on the OutTV series, 'Drag Heals.' (Spectra Vaganza (Miles Carney))

When you think of a drag queen, you may not immediately think of a married, middle-aged mom.

But Karen Suzuki, and her self-created drag character, Sasha Me, is changing that. The filmmaker from London, now living in Toronto, had the chance to explore the world of drag when she appeared in an episode of the OutTV series, Drag Heals.

She spoke with CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive about the experience. Here's part of that conversation, edited for breadth and clarity.

Chris dela Torre: what drew you to the drag world?

Karen Suzuki: Like most people, I was introduced to drag through (the TV series) RuPaul's Drag Race. I was just fascinated by the artistry and the talent. I kept thinking, 'wow, that is such a cool celebration of femininity. And why don't I feel like that?' So, when given the opportunity to do Drag Heals, it seemed like a crazy thing to say no to, although it was terrifying. I learned that there's so much more to drag than just men dressing up as women and female impersonation. There's art. Drag, as an art form, has a huge myriad of exploration.

I think a lot of people might be surprised to know that you're part of this world, that you may not be what comes to mind immediately when people think of the term 'drag queen.' Did you ever question your presence in the space?

Absolutely. I was very hesitant to take away the opportunity from someone that was from the queer community, because I didn't want to take up space from someone that may be a marginalized person that might need it more than me. But the producers really insisted that I could be a part of it. I think they saw the value of a mainstream, cisgender,  heterosexual person being involved, to show that there are allies outside of the community that can show empathy. And bearing witness to all of the diversity of the cast was was an important role for me to play. I was very privileged to have the opportunity to do so.

Karen Suzuki was inspired by her experiences as a mom when creating her drag character, Sasha Me. (Spectra Vaganza (Miles Carney))

Tell us a bit about your drag identity and where she comes from.

Her name is Sasha Me. Like most drag performers, I was really trying to find a play on words to explore what it meant to be a cisgender woman dressing as an elevated feminine expression. And also I'm half Japanese, so it kind of fit in (laughs).

At the beginning of the show, my goal was to feel the fantasy of drag - that hyper-feminine ideal of what womanhood was. But as we explored drag through our personal stories and our personal history.

I realised that what made me unique as a drag artist was, in fact, being a middle-aged mom.- Karen Suzuki as Sasha Me

So I really dug into that middle-aged-mom-ness of it, and found a way to explore being a mom through drag. It was very much about asking for attention, as moms are underseen in mainstream media. 

In my years of being a mom, making Halloween costumes and being resourceful in finding ways of keeping things fun for a child, it donated itself quite well to drag. It's such a multidisciplinary art form. I had to learn how to put makeup on myself. I had to create stunning costume from Value Village finds and glue guns and various things. I created a superhero look that involved motherly things: I have juicers as a breastplate. I have toddler utensils on a corset. I explored fun and whimsical ways of elevating the idea of what a mom is into a 'superhero drag mom' persona.

How did it feel to be able to recontextualized things you've lived through as a mom, and to put it in a blender and turn it into this big, loud personality?

It was it was pretty cathartic, I'm not going to lie. Drag is really like a clown - it's using a mask to unmask, to allow yourself to be a bigger version of what's really there. It was really exciting to be able to do that, and to bring this different take on drag from a less sexy aspect of drag and more of a clown, but also a more real look at what it means to be female in the world.

What does your family think about this?

They're incredibly supportive, my-nine-year-old son and my husband. In some ways, it was my son who knew that I loved Drag Race, and loves to lip sync and perform himself. He was the one that really pushed me to do it. As I was hemming and hawing, thinking 'oh I don't know if I can do this, I don't have the time,'  just looked at me and said 'Mom, you love Drag Race and this is your dream! Why wouldn't you follow your dream?' When your kid says something like that, and you're trying to be a good role model for your own child to follow their dreams, you kind of have to follow through yourself.

Karen Suzuki is featured in an episode of the OutTV series Drag Heals, which aired earlier this week.

When you think of drag queens, it's unlikely this demographic comes to mind: married, straight mothers. Karen Suzuki is changing that. She speaks with Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre about appearing on the TV show Drag Heals. 8:04

About the Author

Chris dela Torre

Host of Afternoon Drive

Chris dela Torre is the host of Afternoon Drive on CBC Radio One in Southwestern Ontario. He's worked as a host, reporter and producer in several cities across Canada, and has hosted several CBC network programs, such as q, DNTO and The Story From Here.