BEVERLY, Mass. — Brian O’Connor's days are like any other typical nine-to-fiver. He wakes at 6 a.m., has his breakfast and coffee, feeds his dog Dixie, says goodbye to his spouse and goes to work at a rehab facility, where he has been a nursing assistant for more than a decade.
But by night, O’Connor, 36, takes on a different role, that of drag queen Kristi Kreamm, who takes her name from the sugar-coma-inducing Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
“I wanted to play off of something that people would know already and go from there,” said O’Connor, who lives in Beverly with his carpenter husband, Andrew. “I am the doughnut queen.”
O’Connor, who has been performing in drag for 15 years, also acts and does horror makeup for films and Halloween events.
Kristi Kreamm will be one of two drag queens — the other is Mimi Malevolent — who are taking part in Drag Queen Story Hour, set for June 28 at the Conway Public Library, which is hosting the event as part of White Mountains Pride week (Click here to learn more about the pride week).
According to dragqueenstoryhour.org, the group was founded in San Francisco and is now headquartered in New York City, with chapters all over the world.
According to the website, the events they put on at libraries, schools and bookstores allow kids “to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress-up is real.”
Drag Queen Story Hours events have stirred controversy and confusion: Are drag queens transgender? Is it a sexual fetish? Are they sexual predators?
To dispel some of that confusion, it is best to let O’Connor speak for himself and explain why he becomes a she.
How would you define 'drag queen'?
Drag to me is a form of art and a creative outlet for me to express myself, although it has taken on different directions like helping with fundraising for non-profits and, most recently, for story hour.
For those who see it as a sexual fetish, what do you say to them?
I’d probably ask if they knew how drag originated. (Dating back to Shakespeare’s time), women weren’t allowed to be on stage and it was men who were taking their place in theater and having to dress up in “drag,” so that’s actually where it originated from. From there, it evolved, and now you see things like “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and “Jack and Jill” with Adam Sandler, and many other movies, and I don’t think people think twice about those things or their kids seeing them for that matter.
This definitely isn’t anything sexual at all, with what we are doing (for the story hour). I think it is more of an educational thing for people to be more open-minded and understand that there are different people in this world, and that’s OK.
I’ve also heard people compare it to woman face like a version of black face, but for women, and they find it offensive.
That is honestly the first time I’ve heard of that. I’ve never heard of that in my life. Obviously, some people may feel that way, but we are not mocking women. I am dressing up as a woman, but very exaggerated in the form of makeup and hair. Just like for theater, it is dress-up, it is just for fun.
There is a lot of confusion that “Oh, it is just gay men” but it is not. There are straight men that do it, women do it. It is a diverse community.
Absolutely. Actually, I know quite a few straight guys who do drag who have girlfriends, and their girlfriends come to see them at their shows. There are women who dress-up as drag kings. It is a whole avenue of performance art. People use it for different things. Sometimes it is for night clubs, sometimes it for other things to help people. Me, personally, I’m kind of all over the map. I like political. I like to do a little bit of everything. I don’t like to stay in one particular place.
Have your friends and family been accepting of your exploration of drag?
My friends and family have 100 percent been accepting, except for the one, so I should say 99 percent then. My grandmother actually raised me. She has very old-school virtues and I went to Catholic school for nine years. The first time that she found out that I did drag, she was taken aback. She only found out because she was being nosy, snooping through my closet inside my first apartment. She asked what all those wigs were for, and I said “For Halloween,” and she was like “10 Halloweens?”
But as time has progressed, she has really seen how much joy it brings me, and that what I do is making people smile, making people laugh and helping people. It is part of why I am a nursing assistant. I love to help people. I love to make people smile. She has totally come around. She likes to see pictures of me now. She likes to see videos. And this is an 87-year-old woman. By seeing how happy it made me and what I am actually doing, compared to what the perception is, I think it has totally changed her, and if I can change other perceptions just by showing them who I am, then I think I did my job for the day.
Do you recall the first time you put on a dress, wig and makeup?
I was probably about 21 near Halloween with my best friend, and we looked horrible, but it was a lot of fun and I just enjoyed it. I thought that if I could actually feel prettier and make people laugh then I would continue on with it, own my craft and work hard at it with costuming and stuff like that, and here I am.
Was there a specific moment where you knew drag was something you wanted to explore?
It was actually before I started dressing up. I think I was 18 or 19. I was going to gay clubs in Boston on Lansdowne Street, and I was watching all these Boston icons who are drag queens — some of them still do it to this day — I remember just looking up at them and seeing how they made people laugh and smile and were just having a good time and enjoying it. I was like “I want to do that.” It was amazing to see that it is part of their job to entertain us and to have fun and to make us smile and to dance. That was the moment, my first time going to a gay club and seeing a drag queen. Instantly, as soon as I saw those performers on stage, I was like “I want to do that.”
What was your first drag performance like?
Disaster. I performed in an amateur contest at that club (I saw my first drag queen). You just picked a song and got up there, and it was just awful. At that time, I was on a reality show for my first actual competition and they filmed it all. I remember looking at it and just being like “Oh God.” It was an absolute disaster. I’ve come a long way since then.
As a performer, what and who influences you?
I’d like to think I’m original, but I’d be lying if I said no one influenced me, but definitely Britney Spears is one of my biggest influences. Not only her music and her look, but also the troubles that she’s gone through, and to see her come back time and time again and keep doing what she loves because she loves to do it. And she loves to see her fans, and so she is a big inspiration on me. To see how powerful she is and to be able to push through all the negativity and a lot of the bad press that she’s gotten. Nobody is perfect in life, and she’s really pushed past that to become a great person and performer.
Why did you get involved with the Drag Queen Story Hour?
I feel like there is a need to educate about what drag queens really are about. There is a misconception that they are sexual predators, or that we go into Drag Queen Story Hour with these sexy short dresses and are looking provocative and just trying to provoke attention. When, in reality, I’m actually trying to bring awareness that there are different people in this world, and that everyone is not the same, and that’s OK.
I wish that there was a Drag Queen Story Hour when I was younger because maybe I wouldn’t have felt alone in life. I really wish that had been something I’d been able to go to as a youngster, to be able to see, and maybe it would’ve made me feel a lot better. So, if I go to one of these things, and I read a story to some kids and, even if it is a teenager, and they see me promoting that it is OK to be different, that’s it all right, I feel like, even if it is just one person, then I did something.
What has the response been from children at these events?
Actually, this is my first story hour. But the overall response in general, they don’t even question it, at least not at us. I’m sure there are some questions when they go home, but it is pretty simple answers. In general, from what I’ve seen from my friends doing it, it has been pretty positive. Obviously, there are some parents that don’t like it, and we’re never forcing anybody to be there. We are not using anyone’s tax dollars. Nobody has to come if they don’t want to. It is promoting inclusivity.
You were talking about how you like to do everything as a performer, so what are the different levels that Kristi has?
I wouldn’t be able to count all the different levels that there are, but like in most everything in life, you have to act different in different situations. You go into a restaurant, you dress up a little bit differently than you do if you just go down to McDonald’s or Five Guys. Obviously, if I am doing a story hour, I’m not going to be doing the same thing that I am doing for a 21+ night club. I’m not going to be doing the same thing at 21+ night club at a political event. I’m not going to be doing the same thing at a political event for story time. I’m able to gauge what the audience is, and what I am actually trying to convey, and be able to bring that person forward into life and bring the levels up and down as I need to.
In addition to being a drag performer, you also work as a nursing assistant. What has that experience been like?
I’ve worked for the same company since I was 17 years old. They are great. The patients, some of them know because they followed me after they left because some of them are in a rehab-type thing, and they follow me on Facebook. They’ve actually shown up to my shows — these elderly people that come to my shows bringing me flowers randomly. It has happened two or three times, but it has been the most incredible thing to see someone I helped get better come out to support me and see one of my shows. It is just incredible.
My work, in general, is amazing and progressive in terms of they have had plays and they’ve always had me play the queen and I’ve been in drag for it. It has never been an issue. My first time there dressing up was for Halloween, and a lot of people didn’t even know who I was. They had to ask who the new girl working in maintenance was, so that was kind of funny. They are all amazing.
Obviously, I don’t go around telling all my patients, but there are certain people that you feel very comfortable with and that you have a connection with that you are taking care of. When you see someone literally 10 hours every single day, you get a connection with them and sometimes they look you up, and sometimes I just talk to them about it.
You also do makeovers and horror makeup, how did you get into that?
That’s always something I’ve been interested in. In general, it is all an art form for me, so it is kind of like a bunch of little subcategories that all come together. I love makeup. I’ve always loved makeup. I love horror movies, so I just started trying it. Then I went to a little workshop to learn how to do horror makeup. Most recently, a few people have contacted me after seeing my photos on Facebook of my horror makeup to work on their independent films. It has kind of taken off in different little subcategories of things that I am doing apart from drag.
This is something that came up talking about it the other day in my office, what is the difference between a drag queen and a guy in a dress?
A drag queen is out there to perform and out there to give people a show. If you’re talking about someone who is transgender or just crossdressing in general, I can’t tell you exactly how they feel. I know that for someone who is transgender, it is how they feel in their heart, it is how they feel in their mind. They were born in the wrong body. That’s not who I am. I’m a gay man and I dress up for art, entertainment, and to help people. Transgender is about being who they are. Although, it does sometimes come together. Sometimes people dress-up for drag and then realize that they are transgender. It can mix. It is not like it has to be one way. There are transgender people who perform and do drag.
And then you could just be a guy who wants to wear a dress.
Absolutely, you could be a guy who just wants to wear a dress. Why not? Who says that you have to wear this or that? Clothing can be anything. Why do you have to wear pants and a tie? Why can’t you wear a dress? Why not?
I dressed up as Lydia from “Beetlejuice” for Halloween and I was like “This dress is very comfortable. I would love to wear it another day.” But I never would because I would get so much crap for it, which is unfortunate.
If you want to wear it, why not? There’s really no reason to have to stick to the gender norms or like the normal “attire” for a man or a woman. I don’t even think there should be. If somebody wants to wear what they want to wear, who cares? If it makes them happy, why should anyone put them down? If it makes someone happy, why in the world would anyone put it down? Let people be happy. Let them do what they want with their life. They aren’t hurting anybody.
People seem to forget that gender is defined by society and, at some point, we decided girls wear dresses and boys wear pants, but that was decided by society not by biology.
Exactly, which is really weird because, like I said, in the past, it was totally acceptable for a man to get up in theater and be in the part of a woman, because women weren’t allowed to get up and do that. So men had to play those women’s theatrical roles and it was totally OK. But now somehow people think it is taboo.
What’s next for Kristi?
With Kristi, the sky is the limit. I’ve done so much. In the last four years is when I’ve started going hard on drag and doing it almost like a full-time job. I’m just going to continue taking on opportunities that are given to me to help other people and to do the things that I enjoy. I really have no limits on what I am going to do. Like I said, I’m working on a few independent films doing makeup and that’s a subcategory of Kristi. I’ve had some acting things, that’s a subcategory of Kristi. All these subcategories, I will take on anything as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else and it makes me happy. That’s where I’m going.
I was going to ask “What’s next for Brian?” but it is all kind of the same.
It is, except one thing could come between all that one day. I have thought of adoption. If it came to that, my number one priority would not be drag anymore. It would be my child. I just don’t think I’d be able to juggle a full-time nursing assistant job, having a kid and doing drag. I think it would be too much, and my number one priority would be my child. I hope to one day be able to do that with my husband. Not anytime in the near future, but one day, I’d really like to adopt.
Do you think, unfortunately because of societal hang ups, that the drag could be a hurdle in that process?
Absolutely, it could. I’m hoping that the world changes slowly. Like I said, part of why I am doing Drag Queen Story Hour is to let people know that it is not a perverse thing. It is about being different, sharing with other people your experience in life and that everyone is different and it is OK to be different. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person. Hopefully, through doing some of these things, I have helped in some small way to be able to make things better in the future.