The Business of DRAG
Kendall Gender on staying true to yourself and getting ahead
By Anna-Liza Badaloo
When Kendall Gender first sashayed into the
(CDR) workroom, she proclaimed, “Gender is a construct. The only one that matters is Kendall.”
Gender certainly did matter, making the coveted top three in CDR Season 2. While audiences were living for her drop-dead gorgeous
and stunning performances, they were also charmed by her real talk about being biracial and sober and the importance of living as your true self.
Now, Gender is both a bona fide drag phenomenon and a boss CEO. Drag has become big business, and Canadian drag queens have more opportunities than ever before. We sat down with Gender to get her take on the business of drag and learn what advice she has for new drag performers.
FROM MOM’S CLOSET TO BEYONCÉ
Gender connected with her innate femininity early on. “I was always borrowing my mom’s hats and pearls,” laughs Gender. “That character was developed at a very young age.”
By her early 20s she was hitting the clubs and getting into the art scene, and that’s when she got her first glimpse of drag. “Drag combined how I felt about myself and my interests,” Gender recalls. “It was really cool to immerse myself in that world and feel, ‘Wow, this is totally where I fit in!’”
When she heard about a show that put people into drag for the first time, she begged the organizers to let her participate. It took a few tries, but they finally said yes. “I performed ‘Ring the Alarm’ by Beyoncé in Vancouver. I’m still performing Beyoncé to this day, so some things don’t change,” laughs Gender. “It was absolutely electric!”
ENTERING A NEW DRAG STRATOSPHERE
Making top three took Gender into a new phase of her drag career. “Prior to
I loved drag, and I was super passionate about it. But it was definitely more on the hobby spectrum,” Gender explains. “When
happened, it took me into this whole other stratosphere.”
Gender is a construct.
The only one that matters is Kendall.
Since the end of Season 2 in December 2021, the drag world has been Gender’s oyster. Her merch line is booming, featuring elevated basics like tees, hoodies and sweatpants emblazoned with her name. Expanding further into fashion, Gender has collaborated with a number of big brands. “For Pride, I did a design collaboration with Canadian swimwear brand Londre. My hands are in a lot of different things!” Gender exclaims. “But that’s the coolest thing about this level of drag and this level of exposure. It allows me to use skills that I’ve cultivated in different aspects of my life and put them into my passion projects.”
TAKING CONTROL WITH KENDALL GENDER INC.
Gender is now the proud CEO of Kendall Gender Inc. “I wanted to be in control of my own career and consider longevity,” Gender explains. Prior to CDR, she got a lot of business advice from different people. Much of that advice was to sign with a management company, who would handle everything and pay Gender out once a month.
But that advice just didn’t resonate. “I like being in control of my own career, money and destiny. All the decisions are my own,” Gender explains. “It also made me feel more comfortable diving into other business ventures, like clothing and apparel. And it all sits under the umbrella company of Kendall Gender Inc.”
Full business control also allows Gender to take drag outside of the usual places like clubs and drag brunches. “Taking drag into spaces you wouldn’t necessarily expect is a mantra for me. Exposing people to queer identities and drag in different areas is how we become more accepting as a culture.”
And being a stellar CEO isn’t all about her. “Technically, you’re at the head of it – but a team is really what makes you successful. It’s the people that you work with that get you to your end goal.”
STAYING TRUE TO HER VALUES
New drag performers may feel pressure to take gigs that don’t resonate with them
to pay the bills. But Gender cautions against this approach. “When I see people advertising things, I can tell if it’s not true to them,” she notes. “When you’re going into the business side of social media and drag, you have to stay true to yourself. That’s how you get ahead.”
Gender now has the freedom to be more selective about her projects. Although she has been sober for many years, she continues to get offers from alcohol companies. “The opportunities keep coming because there’s a lot of alignment between nightclubs and alcohol sponsorships,” Gender explains. “But no matter how big the cheque, I wouldn’t endorse it because it’s not true to who I am.”
A LIFE-CHANGING CAMPAIGN
With so many post-CDR achievements, which one stands out for Gender? “Definitely the cross-country campaign for Annabelle Cosmetics. I was featured in drugstores across the country!” Gender exclaims.
Annabelle Cosmetics’ 2022 Pride theme,
encouraged LGBTQ+ people to live as their true selves. Gender produced a video to share how she lives this theme, and Annabelle Cosmetics made a donation to Rainbow Railroad – aglobal not-for-profit organization that helps LGBTQ+ people escape persecution – for every view.
But Gender’s joy in this campaign has a more personal side. “I just can’t imagine little me walking into a drugstore and seeing a display of this authentically queer individual, living proudly,” she reflects. “If I had seen that at a younger age, it would have saved me a lot of heartache. To do that for people across the country is just monumental!”
Never one to sit on her laurels, Gender continues to explore new business ventures. She scored the lead role of Kaleb/Ivy Diamonds in the upcoming film
set to be released in late 2022 or early 2023. “It’s a story that I haven’t seen told on film – about the inner workings of a drag performer’s romances, and how those intertwine with daily life,” she says.
But the future project she’s most excited about is all about self-care. “I’m learning about life-work balance. I’ve been so fortunate and blessed to have such an electrifying career. But I’ve been working basically nonstop since CDR started airing,” explains Gender. “I got engaged this year. I need to focus on my personal life and the happiness that comes with it.”
By taking time out, Gender ensures that she continues to love her drag. But as she notes, taking time off can be challenging for racialized performers. “We always feel like we need to continue running. But there’s no way to win the race unless you have a little water along the way.”