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The long-running show ended this weekend amid ongoing discourse surrounding queer representation at Paparazzi
After over five years of hosting the staple weekly drag event at Paparazzi Nightclub, Shelita Cox has said goodbye to Drag Sunday. The final show capped off this weekend with 19 local drag artists performing.
Cox announced the end of the showcase series in an emotional video on Instagram last week, saying she made the decision moments before posting, after speaking with Paparazzi’s management and close friends.
Cox pointed to a “multitude of factors” for ending the showcase series, from fewer queer patrons at the bar to the polarizing discourse this changing demographic has created within Victoria’s queer community.
Many have criticized Paparazzi’s shifting patronage, saying that it’s no longer a queer-only space, though Cox says this isn't the fault of the venue.
“Over the pandemic, a lot of nightclubs didn’t survive,” said Cox, explaining that spaces either closed or became event-only venues, causing the number of dance clubs to dwindle. With students returning to universities and colleges, there is a three-year cohort of people who became legal during the pandemic and who want to experience the city’s nightlife. These young people have flocked to Paparazzi, whether or not they identify as 2SLGBTQ+.
“They unintentionally took over a queer haven—which is the dialogue we’re sorting through right now,” said Cox, saying this wasn’t an active choice of the bar. “The new demographic took over the bar and Paparazzi is just trying to accommodate their new patrons.”
The discourse surrounding the changing patronage has been challenging for Cox to navigate.
“Us gays love our opinions,” Cox joked. “It’s gotten to the point where people don’t necessarily know what they’re angry about and it’s thrown me in a really awkward position.”
This has caused an emotional burden for Cox as the producer of the long-running drag show, saying “it’s too many pieces for me to try to put together and that leaves the option of ending the show.”
This is a blow for Drag Sunday regulars, who refer to the show as “church,” being their weekly fix of queer culture and community engagement.
But Cox says there’s no bad blood between her and Paparazzi—“it’s still very much a queer-owned and operated business.” Cox worked at the bar for seven years, starting in coat check, then bartending and eventually producing her show.
While she understands people boycotting the bar due to it being less queer oriented, she says that this has only exacerbated the issue of shrinking queer representation at the venue.
“The community and safe spaces aren't created by a bar manager or serving cocktails—the safe space is created by community members who actually build and fill that space.”
The mainstreaming of drag is also a factor for the rise in non-queer patrons in these spaces—the popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Canada’s Drag Race has brought with it a shift in audiences at drag shows, whose conduct at times can make performers feel uncomfortable.
“There’s definitely been times when I’ve been performing and I feel more like an animal in a petting zoo than a person,” said Cox. “Sometimes you get the feeling that people are just there for the glitz and the glam and they don’t understand the community and the support system that drag creates for a lot of people.”
Cox says she’ll miss the “off-off-broadway, grunge-rock element” of Drag Sunday that created opportunities for new queer performers to test out their drag style and experiment.
Victoria has the highest per capita number of trans and non-binary people of any metropolitan city in Canada, proving the need for these spaces. Cox says she’s optimistic that the community will step up to support queer spaces and ensure the growth and success of these businesses.
If another venue is interested in hosting Drag Sunday, she would be “more than open to the discussion”—but for now, she needs a break.