By Maddie Van Horn
Editor’s Note: The entertainers featured in this story are referenced by their Drag names instead of their real names for privacy reasons.
Social media manager by day, Chattanooga’s favorite cocktail by night – Gin Von Tonic expresses her creativity through the art of drag and has gained a new community along the way.
“Performing is my favorite thing. I really love just being on stage. I love being the center of attention on my own terms,” Gin said.
With 15 years of dance experience, Gin has always appreciated performance art, but it wasn’t until she started going to shows at the Palace Theater five years ago that she discovered her passion for drag.
“I started going to shows, I mentioned having a dance background and there was an older entertainer, Juicy St. Clair who was like, ‘you should perform.’ And I was like, ‘well, I can’t be a drag queen, I’m a girl,’” Gin said. “And then that’s when I found out about Bio Queens and Afab entertainers who are female entertainers who do the art of drag.”
Gin describes her drag as hyper-feminized and says she pulls inspiration from a unique mix of old-school burlesque artists and neon rave fashion when crafting her looks. Although Gin is very well known in Chattanooga’s drag community now, she describes her rise to drag as “weird, just like most of [her] life.”
“Being a female in the drag world is still kind of a newfound concept,” Gin said. “I used to pride myself on doing everything that a male traditional drag entertainer would do. So, I think that was a way for me to get that mutual level of respect. Like, ‘Hey, I’m here.’ I’m not just throwing on lipstick and being like, ‘Oh, I’m a drag queen.’ I’m doing the same level of illusion that they are, just in a different way. Like I’m enhancing certain features I have, whereas they’re changing certain features they have.”
Gin has always stayed true to herself and over the years she has earned the respect of the drag community. As someone who is constantly challenging herself and keeping things interesting, Gin became a show director soon after she started performing and met one of her best friends, Hormona Lisa along the way.
“So I started show directing at the Palace and then entertainers like Hormona Lisa came along and I was able to see them rise to where they are now. Like the president of Chattanooga Pride and a household name in Chattanooga,” Gin said. “ So it’s really cool to like grow together career wise and personally too.”
Hormona Lisa, Chattanooga’s Pastel Princess, entered the drag scene in 2019 and has quickly become a cornerstone of the community. She is an event producer, costume designer, entertainer, host, and artist. With such a large drag scene in Chattanooga, both Hormona and Gin are grateful for the opportunity to express their creativity and the community that drag has brought them.
“Growing up I didn’t have a big support system,” Hormona said. “And so, from doing shows and doing drag, I have a lot of close friends now that I never had before and family too. And I think for me that’s really the most important part of it.”
When they aren’t performing on stage, they are supporting in the audience, running the lights, or even picking up left behind tips for their drag sisters. While not everyone has what it takes to become a queen, there are many ways to support local drag.
“I would like to see more support for drag in Chattanooga,” Hormona said. “I think that drag is something that everybody can enjoy and find some kind of enjoyment in. So I would just like to see more people that may not typically go to a show, go to a show, just to kind of see what it’s all about.”
Meet the Storyteller
Madison (Maddie) Van Horn is a Senior Communication major and is currently working as the Head Editor of Rising Rock Media and Editor in Chief at the University Echo. Maddie is a writer, editor, storyteller, leader, and a voice for those who need it most. Throughout her time at UTC, she has captured pockets of Chattanooga’s community, from rowing and dance to addiction and women’s rights. This summer, she will begin her master’s in Interactive Design Journalism at UNC Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Maddie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for any collaboration inquiries.