How a Saint John drag queen ended up performing for the Memorial Cup
Normand Hector bringing drag to thousands of hockey fans
Normand Hector's mother always dressed to the nines.
Even to go to the backyard, Normand's husband of nearly 30 years, Richard Chaisson, said in an interview. A big hat, just for sitting outside. Beautiful shoes and garments, just for her job as a bilingual telephone operator.
Normand Hector, a drag queen in Saint John, will be performing at the Memorial Cup later today. As a queer, Black man, he knows how much it means for someone like him to be performing at a major hockey event.
But it all started with his mother, whose fashion sense inspired his drag persona, Normani. When Hector performs as Normani today, he'll be sporting his trademark outfit — a long, elegant gown.
Hector's mother was the first person he showed Normani to, and when she lost her leg and became wheelchair-bound, performing was a way for Hector to entertain her, keep her spirits up.
For a while, it stayed between them. When Hector eventually told his mother he wanted to bring Normani out to the public, she said she'd support him and be there for him, but she also warned him: it wouldn't be easy.
"As a queer, Black man, I mean, you're judged already as a queer, Black man. But you're going to be judged even more, once you walk out as a drag performer," Hector said.
Still, he told his mother: I think I'm strong enough.
From Xerox to the Memorial Cup
Some people will recognize Normand Hector's name from the long, public battle with his former employer, Xerox, over allegations of racism and being paid less than his white coworkers.
Now, Hector says leaving that job is the best thing that ever happened to him. He was doing drag while he was working at Xerox, but leaving the company pushed him to take his drag to new heights — like the Memorial Cup.
Hector started publicly doing drag at the end of 2018, hiring professional photographers and posting photos of Normani on Instagram — and people started following.
"When am I going to do a show? When am I going to do a show?" Hector said people asked him.
His first show was in January 2019. From there, he went on to do the first drag show ever at Kingsbrae Gardens in St. Andrews, where the 93-year-old owner hugged him after and said we need more of this, and the sun shone all day long after Hector prayed to his mother, who had passed away the year before, for good weather.
"I believe that the blessings come from above. I'm a huge believer that my mother is watching over me," he said.
Hector has performed all over New Brunswick, and earlier this year, he performed at a Saint John Sea Dogs hockey game. Dressed as Normani, he stood in front of about 3,500 people, he said hoping to make them understand he was nothing to be afraid of, hoping to send an invitation to be open, teachable and to listen with a goal of understanding, not reacting.
"And that's what people did, they embraced me in such a way," Hector said.
After the success at that performance, Sea Dogs management reached out. Considering the Memorial Cup was happening during Pride Month, would Hector consider performing again?
Absolutely, he said.
Breaking the ice
Hector said performing is all about trying to get people to change their views of both the queer community and people of colour. He wants to show people how he's moved forward in life, beyond his past struggles.
He said meeting people where they're at is work he's willing to do. He pointed to that first Sea Dogs game, walking into a sport that historically, he acknowledged, hasn't had the best relationship with queer people and people of colour.
"I thought, 'I've got to get in there. And I've got to make them see me as a person first, not as a drag performer, but as a person first'."
How could he integrate himself with hockey?
The players were warming up next to his dressing room and, in full drag, Hector decided to join them.
"I really wanted them to see, I'm just like them. I'm like them. I'm like everybody else. Because I wear a dress and a wig and wear makeup and perform doesn't make me any different."
It broke the ice, Hector said, adding the players treated him with great respect.
Today, Hector admits he's a little nervous — his performance is going to be broadcast to thousands more than just the folks in Saint John, after all.
Mostly, though, he's proud.
"I am proud to be a queer, Black man who performs in drag. I'm proud to be able to stand up there and communicate my message."
His husband, who switched his shift as an assistant manager at a local retail store so he could attend, will be watching and cheering him on.
You get one true love in your life, Hector said, and for him it's Chaisson. He helped Hector care for his mother when she became sick. He's supported Hector during 29 years of marriage, first seeing him in drag during a trip to a full-gay resort in Cancun.
But why wouldn't he support Hector? Chaisson asked. "He's not doing anything wrong."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.