Historians say defiant drag queens have long played a major role in the gay civil rights movement, so it’s likely North Carolina’s sweeping anti-gay law House Bill 2 will come up for pointed discussion during this week’s Miss Gay North Carolina America pageant Thursday and Friday in Charlotte.
Curtis Sigmon, 54, of Charlotte will figure prominently in the pageant. The Hickory native’s drag persona, Shana Nicole, is the reigning Miss Gay Charlotte America and her dream is to snag the state title and advance in October to the Miss Gay America contest, the world’s longest running female impersonator pageant at 37 years.
The Charlotte event, at the Scorpio on Freedom Drive, is one of North Carolina’s largest annual gatherings of female impersonators, and it comes just a week before the annual Charlotte Pride festival and parade. Sigmon, who was born with a hearing disability, has been a contestant three previous times but has yet to win.
If crowned this week, the Charlottean will be the oldest female impersonator ever to reign as Miss North Carolina America.
“This will be the year,” vows Sigmon, who runs a costume shop in Hickory.
Q. You have won more than 90 titles during your 37 years as a drag queen: How many dresses have you accumulated?
A: Between actual gowns and also dance outfits, probably around 200 to 300. Ones in current wear for shows or pageants, maybe 75 to 100. I own 146 pairs of shoes and I just bought five more pairs.
Q: You are a gay man in a relationship with a straight woman, registered nurse Anna Hairfield: How is that possible?
A: Love has no gender. … I just fell in love with her. We wear the same size bra and shoes. And I help her with her make up, and try to keep her from bleaching her hair blonde. We’ve known each other nine years. We share everything. Hair products, make up, you name it.
Q: Your father was a construction worker and your mother a school teacher. Which one are you most like?
A: My dad, because I can build anything. But I’m like my mother, too. … The first time my dad saw me in drag, he said, ‘You look just like your mother,’ which is true. … I mean, I am a man, and I can do anything a man can do, if not better. But I have a feminine side that comes out on weekends … and when I’m getting paid. I don’t do this every day. I live my life as Curtis. I don’t want to be Shana all the time. She’s a sassy redhead and high maintenance.
Q: What’s the most you’ve made as a drag queen?
A: $400. That’s $400 for one song, about seven minutes work. They had to sweep the money up off the floor with a broom.
Q: Is it true Shana once started a show by coming out of a coffin on stage?
A: Yes, I got so sick one time (in 2001) that the doctor told me I didn’t have much longer to live and he said to get my affairs in order. … I thought if I’m that close to dying (of HIV), I want to go on stage one more time, so I had all my drag stuff brought to the hospital where I could sew and make my clothes. I told the doctor I was leaving for the show, but I’d be back after the weekend. I had something to prove. … I was so weak (at 119 pounds) I could hardly open the coffin, but I got out and I sang ‘I Will Survive.’ The applause kept me alive.
Q: The state’s anti-gay House Bill 2 has thrust LGBT rights into the national spotlight. What’s the first example of homophobia you recall?
A: I opened up to a teacher in high school. I thought she was understanding. But instead of keeping it private, she made it public and it became a big issue. I was 16. She told another teacher and another, and before long everybody else heard, including students. It was a mess. I was confronted and I thought I’d end the rumors by telling the truth, so it would go away. It didn’t. It just got worse because I was a male cheerleader at school. But by the time I was a junior, I didn’t care any more. In my senior year, I was missing every Friday because I was doing drag shows.
Q: On “Gilligan’s Island,” would you have been Ginger or Mrs. Howell?
A: Ginger, of course. I’ve seen drag queens that looked just like her. Oh, I loved Ginger.
Miss Gay North Carolina America 2016
When: August 11-12. Show time 8 p.m Thursday and Friday. Crowning on Friday will be at 11 p.m.
Where The Scorpio, 2301 Freedom Drive
Details: There is a $10 cover charge. Competitions include male interview, evening gown, on-stage question, solo talent and talent. 704-373-9124 www.thescorpio.com