Columbus After Dark: Drag is What You Make It

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Nina West gets ready for a show at Axis Nightclub

Three members of the West family-Virginia,Nina andCandi P Anties-reminisce about how drag and LGBT nightlife in Columbus have evolved since they started performing more than 15 years ago.

What is your drag origin story?

Virginia: I started doing drag 20 years ago at a turnabout show at Union Cafe's one-year anniversary. Turnabout is when employees get dressed up in drag, either to raise money for a cause or just entertain people at the bar. I danced to "Bring on the Men" from "Jekyll and Hyde."

Was it something you wanted to try?

Virginia: No. Not at all. I was scared to death of drag queens.


Virginia: They're larger than life. It was THE gay.

Nina: Yeah, when you saw drag queens, it was like, "They're GAY."

Virginia: You're intimidated, I think, by them when you're younger. My generation was. This generation's not. They were the celebrity status of the gay community.

Nina:My senior year [at Denison University], I wanted to organize the gay student group's drag show. So I drove into Columbus. Virginia was bartending at the old Union Station, had a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, completely slammed. I walk in, some dumb college kid, like, "Um, I think I want to do this drag show. Can I be a West?" And she was like, "Yeah, yeah, whatever, whatever." I was going to be Jocelyn Butane. She's hot as fire!

Virginia: I was like, "No, you're not."

Nina: That was my first show. I was Nina West.

Why Nina?

Nina: Nina Simone. I was a college kid. It was the shit I was listening to. I thought I was cool.

Candi: My friend would sew me dresses, and my first boyfriend was a drag queen and he would paint my face. I was always Candi. Remo's was my first show. I thought it was totally frightening.

How has performance changedsince you started?

Virginia: I think it's definitely gotten more intense. We've become more choreographed, and we're constantly pushing ourselves harder. There's definitely some people who think you should be more of a female illusionist and some people who think you should be a drag entertainer, and I think our group is definitely more drag entertainers. I think drag is what you make it, and I hate when people say this is drag or that is drag. Drag is what you make it individually and what you want it to be.

Candi: When I first started, I thought I wanted to be all serious about being feminine. That is just hysterical if you think about it. I think there's nothing funnier than a man in a dress. For me, I've grown more comfortable with being stupid on stage.

Have the crowds changed?

Virginia: It's a completely different experience than 20 years ago, because we have a completely different crowd. Now it's a complete blend of people.

Nina: We've had to evolve musically to suit our crowd, too. In the bar shows, you have to stay Top 40 or something that 20-somethings know because everyone's attention span has become so short. The second they get bored, they pull out their phone.

Candi: We've had to take some of the edginess out of it, too.

Virginia: Fifteen years ago, it wasn't unusual to see an abortion on stage.

Candi: Peg A-Go-Go, when Sonny Bono died, came out dressed in a ski suit and did Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time."

When did the diversity of the crowd start to change?

Nina: Late '90s. The old Union Station was the first gay bar to have its windows open in the city.

Candi: I remember when The Eagle got a sign, and that was a huge deal. Usually you just walked in the back door. You used to have to ring a bell at Remo's to get in, and they would check your ID. They would make sure you weren't in there to beat people up.

Virginia: The generation of queens before us paved the way for us because they had a completely different experience. We can walk down High Street, and people honk and take pictures. Back then, they were afraid for their lives. You really gotta be thankful. We have a huge clientele of straight people who come to our shows. We have straight people in our shows. In Columbus, drag has helped break down the gay-straight barrier. I think it's a huge reason Columbus is so incredibly open about things.