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Just Janis, Sahira Q, and Betty Baker. Original photo of Betty Baker by Chris Coghill. Image edited by Brazil Gaffney-Knox.

Meet the Queens Carving Out Queer Space in Peterborough

Written by
Nick Taylor
and
and
September 24, 2021

This feature was made possible through funding from the Canadian University Press's LGBTQ2IA+ reporting grant.

Meet the Queens Carving Out Queer Space in Peterborough
Just Janis, Sahira Q, and Betty Baker. Original photo of Betty Baker by Chris Coghill. Image edited by Brazil Gaffney-Knox.

It’s a Wednesday evening. I ride my bike all the way down Monaghan. Somewhere between sprawling commercial space, and the spot where the road bends away from the river, I arrive at my destination: an unassuming patio across the street from a funeral home. 

Tonight though, it is a drag venue. 

The venue in question is South, a new eatery by Electric City Works, and while I am not here to write about the food, you should know that it was delicious. The restaurant has been hosting a drag event called ‘Hump Day Down South,’ and on this particular Wednesday, I was fortunate enough to watch three of Peterborough’s most beloved drag queens perform: Betty Baker, Just Janis, and Sahira Q

These queens are drag family, formerly under the name ‘Haus of Accounting,’ where Sahira Q was drag mother. These are the queens building a drag scene in your backyard, carving out queer space in Peterborough, which is much sought-after in a city that has virtually none. 

Just Janis started off the show as only she knows how. Her energy is booming, igniting. It’s no wonder that two older gentlemen slowed in their stride across the street, ogling the queens, intrigued or confused, perhaps both. Janis heckled them, telling them if they wanted to watch the show, they could’ve just paid like everyone else.  

She asked the audience how they were doing, and when the response was lackluster she pried at us to let loose and get loud, eventually targeting me as an especially disappointing audience member, and shoving the microphone in my face -- How’s it going tonight?

I tried to yell that I was doing amazing but my voice faltered. Janis moved on to other audience members, but not before making a joke at my expense -- one that involved calling me a bottom, and with that, I knew that I was home. It’s not a drag show unless it’s a little raunchy. 

While she doesn’t like to say it herself, (because it makes her feel like Nina West) Janis is an adept comedy queen and insult comic. In our interview, she said, “I think that most of my strong suits are on the microphone, and I like to work with the crowd and talk with them.” This is her understated way of telling us that Janis is fearless on the mic; she spent a good portion of the night flirting with an entire table of daddies, who tipped generously all night long. 

But Just Janis is quick to point out that she is more than a comedy queen: “[Janis] is the critically acclaimed ‘Sativa Diva’ but a self-proclaimed dancing diva, so I like to think in my delusional self that I can dance really, really, really well.” She summed up her drag persona as “funny, but slutty and pretty.” 

The first queen to bless the audience with a number was the legendary, Sahira Q, who kicked off the show with a lipsync to “Hieeee” by Alaska Thunderfuck -- a song that helps to lay the ground rules for drag shows, including such wisdom as ‘flash photography is strictly mandatory’ and ‘tipping is compulsory.’ 

Sahira Q describes herself as ‘a well-rounded queen’ and ‘the kooky, quirky one,’ but admits that what she wants to be known for is the thought that goes into her work: “I always want to make sure there’s a story, a concept, or an idea there, not just like me twirling for 8 minutes.”

You’d be unsurprised to find out that Sahira Q is a graphic designer and illustrator outside of drag, as her looks often feature her with an elaborately painted face. She told me that much of this comes from her love of animation, cartoons and anime: “If you can’t tell, I try to paint myself like a cartoon character sometimes.” 

Sahira can be painted any colour of the rainbow, and she always looks gorgeous. That night she was painted fiery -- orange, yellow, and red, like her astrological sign might suggest. She wore pink thigh-highs with a matching bikini, and a sheer pink robe overtop. 

After Sahira opened the show, Janis slowed things down a bit with a sensual, power ballad performance of Touch It by Ariana Grande. She strutted about, sitting in laps and making playful propositions. At one point during the number she hit the pavement so hard, her wig flew off. 

Then, Betty Baker took the stage with another Ariana Grande number -- this time, Greedy. She showered the audience with twirls and high kicks, and dazzled them with her original designs. Betty Baker dances on a tightrope between glamour and camp. She loves fashion. And satin. And vintage aesthetics. Her counterparts liken her to the girl-next-door, and the Molly Ringwald characters of the 80s. 

In her words, “Betty is a totally different person than Isaac. I think she’s a very glamorous person, but I try to be pretty down to earth with people… My favourite thing about doing drag is making people smile so I love interacting with the crowd. That’s what my drag is all about.”

Betty’s drag is also all about the garments she crafts for her audience: “I feel like for my performance, it's not just about going out there and lip syncing, it's also about having that storyline… I feel like that part of my drag is special, where I have those concepts and ideas and I can fit them into different songs and performances. I love sewing.” 

Betty Baker. Photo by Chris Coghill.

After Betty’s Ariana Grande number, Janis jumped back on the microphone to continue with her emcee duties, which include incessantly reading her audience for filth. I think the best way to describe Janis’ approach is that she walks up to the line, stomps on it, does a death drop on the other side, and struts right back over it. 

But she admits that this boundary-pushing is grounded in preparation. Before every show, she observes every table and tries to gain a better understanding of her audience: “I need to know who I’m going to be sexual with, who I’m going to be calm and collected with, who I’m going to insult. It’s usually like the bachelorette party that I’m going to insult -- usually.”

To practice insult comedy, you have to do a dance with your audience, Janis explains, “I test the waters by dipping my fat little toes in them and I see how they’re feeling, and if they’re feeling good, I go further, and if they keep going along, I keep going further.”

When Janis takes the mic, she comes across as completely uninhibited to the outside eye, but she acknowledges that it’s not always seamless: “Every time I go up and say something to someone, I know that there is a 50% chance they could punch me in the face. And it’s true! Because I say some shit that would not be acceptable if I was not in drag.”

In sum, Janis says that she “likes to push people’s buttons and yank on their dicks,” which may one day be her Drag Race intro line. When the night arrived at the intermission, Janis asked the audience if anyone would exchange a cigarette for a sexual favour. 

After the intermission, Sahira Q graced the stage to perform a stand-up comedy set -- something that she’s new to (but you wouldn’t know it). In our interview, Sahira explained that she’s always cracking jokes at home, and her partner encouraged her to refine her jokes and take them to the stage. 

She started the set by reading her drag daughter, saying “To be a drag queen, as Janis just bravely demonstrated, you need a lot of delusion.” 

Much of Sahira’s comedy involves making her predominantly white audiences the right kind of uncomfortable. She uses humour as a means of “reminding people what’s wrong with our society, but through entertainment.”  

Her entire set had the audience roaring with laughter, but there is one particular joke that I’ll probably never forget: “People always say Black people steal, but you know who steals more? White people. They steal land. They steal people. Get a fucking hobby.” 

During our interview, Sahira explained why it’s so important for a Black queen to be such a vital part of the drag scene in Peterborough: “Representation matters. I think that it's more of a reason for me to be doing drag in this city, because people need to get woken up a little bit and I don’t mind being that person.” 

Not only is Sahira a talented comic, but she also managed to correctly guess one of the audience member’s astrological signs in the middle of her stand-up set. What can’t she do? 

After Sahira’s stand-up, Betty Baker re-emerged in a gorgeous pink satin robe that she wore over an equally satin blue gown. She lip synced to Summer in the Hamptons by Brooke Alexx. 

Watching Betty Baker move, you’d probably find it hard to believe that she’s not technically an adult yet. 

Betty is still 17, but she doesn’t like to lead with that. She confessed that she doesn’t feel underestimated, “because I’m pretty, so people see that first. They don’t see that I’m 17, they see that I’m talented.”

She feels humbled and grateful that she’s been able to have the opportunity to nurture her talent on stage and in community: “It’s not just me, it’s a whole collective, a web of people who have helped me to cultivate this as an art form.” 

Betty says that one of the main challenges in being a 17-year-old drag queen is that so many venues for drag gigs aren’t accessible to youth. She is proud that she’s able to hold events in spaces that people her age can participate in, because she knows how important it is for queer youth to have space to find each other. 

After Betty’s performance, Janis took the stage again to offer a high-powered performance of Crazy in Love by Beyonce. Janis’ aesthetic is “a mix between an 80s female rockstar, and a 2000s pop princess.” When asked to describe her approach to fashion, she said, “I love Theirry Mugler. I love some 80s, gorgeous corsetry and padded shoulders and big puffy sleeves. I love colour, I love chains, and metal, and D-rings, and sexy, sexy buckles that jingle when I wiggle myself around.”  

She also explained that her persona is entirely hers, and hers alone: “I don’t channel anyone because I am the icon. I’m Janis and Janis alone is the icon.” And I have to say, Janis is nothing short of iconic. At the end of her Beyonce number, Janis gave a lap dance to one of the daddies she had been flirting with all night. 

Just Janis. Photo courtesy of SnapitMatt Photography.

Sahira Q then closed out the show with a high-powered number, to a song that I can’t even remember, because all that comes to mind when I think of that performance is Sahira vogueing in pink pumps and doing a death drop on concrete. This is probably an opportune moment to remind you all that the entirety of the show took place on a patio, that had surely once just been a parking lot. I can think of few surfaces as unforgiving as asphalt, but these queens made it look easy. 

Watching Sahira, Janis and Betty perform, it would be easy to mistake them for seasoned queens deep in their careers, but it wasn’t all that long ago that they first fell in love with drag. Even drag mother, Sahira Q, has only been at it five years. She remembers performing for the first time at the Trent Queer Collective’s annual drag show, on a whim. Sahira describes this first foray as humble beginnings: “I just threw on a wig and some lipstick, and I was like, I am fish, bitch.” More than anything though, Sahira remembers falling in love with this new art form immediately. Five years later, she is a mainstay in the drag scene and a leader in the queer community. 

Because they are drag family, each of these queen’s origin stories are woven together. Janis just so happened to be on Facebook one day and saw that Sahira was looking for people to perform in a drag show -- she wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but she knew she couldn’t be the only one performing. Janis decided to give it a try, and what was initially intended to be a one time thing, soon became “a monthly show… then it turned into two monthly shows and then three monthly shows, and now it’s like three shows a week in different cities.” 

Betty went to school with Janis, and was also a huge Drag Race fan, which soon morphed into an urge to paint herself like the queens she saw on screen. She, too, recalls humble beginnings in her early drag days, and remembers getting Janis to put her in drag and feeling ‘less busted, but still busted.’ Then she did a gig with what was then Haus of Accounting at Trent, and hasn’t looked back since. 

When I asked Sahira Q what it’s like to be a drag mother, she responded, “I feel like it’s the same as being a real mother, in the sense that it’s both rewarding and exhausting at the same time.” Being a drag matriarch is hard work, but seeing her daughters develop their talents and thrive makes it all worthwhile. 

And while drag motherhood is a lot like motherhood, drag family does not escape the familial tendency to fight. When I asked the queens if they ever have conflict, they all simultaneously burst into laughter. In their responses, they all assured me that yes, they do fight, but their relationships run deep. Sahira Q explained that “working through conflict makes bonds stronger, and it’s very specific with us because there’s no other people in this city like us. We found each other in that way.” 

In conversation with these queens, the sororal energy is palpable: one minute they’re reading each other for filth, and the next they’re cascading a steady stream of compliments, refusing to allow each other to downplay their talents. 

Betty added that working together also benefits the group professionally: “I think we’re all learning so much from each other, … so every time we get to perform together, I think it impacts us all individually and as a group, to create better art.” 

The relationships between these queens, and the sisterhood they share in with other local queens, is in some ways, the backbone of Peterborough’s queer community. At the very least, these relationships function to quite literally create queer space in this city. 

I asked the queens what it’s like to perform drag in a place like Peterborough -- somewhere without designated space for queers to congregate, where it can begin to feel like the queer community lacks visibility. Sahira explained, “because we’re so small, we don’t really have a venue that’s just ours, a place where we can consistently go and perform, which is why we end up performing on patios, and at random restaurants, and across the street from funeral homes.”

But what this city lacks in space, it makes up for in the intangible. Sahira went on, “Peterborough is very special because the queer community is very tight-knit. I always know the people coming to the shows, we’re all on a first name basis -- I could literally call one of them up and ask for a cup of sugar.”

Local queens give this vibrant and tight-knit community a place to gather, and a reason to celebrate. Their work is entertaining, and mesmerizing, and it brings us boundless laughter, but it’s also fundamental to the vitality of our city’s queer community. 

Drag is inherently transformative. It is meant to transcend and shatter gender norms, to widen our collective imagination, to bring joy and beauty in all of its glamorous subversion. Betty, Janis, and Sahira show us that this transformative power goes beyond all of that, to transform people and places, too. They wield this power with grace and gumption, and it is an honour to witness. 

Sahira Q. Photo courtesy of SnapitMatt Photography.

You can catch Sahira Q this Saturday at 1pm, hosting Peterborough’s Virtual Pride in the Park event. If you want to see all three of these queens perform, you can find them at The Venue on October 2nd, where they’ll be performing alongside the legendary Tynomi Banks. 


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A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

"Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system."
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