- Steve Conlin
It wasn't E. Cooper Jr.'s first rodeo when he took the Miss City Weekly stage late last month at Metro Music Hall. A certain magic was in the air when, for the talent portion, he decided to sing the showstopper "This Is Me" live in front of the packed house. Simultaneously vulnerable and empowering, Cooper brought the house down and snatched the crown. Here he reflects on his drag origins, and how to unite the LGBTQ community.
How did your drag career start?
"It all started as kind of a fluke. I became good friends with the queens at Try-Angles. One day about three years ago, they asked me if would sing a gospel song in drag. I initially said no. The thought of donning makeup and a dress seemed so foreign to me. Eventually, I went out and found a dress at Goodwill, some boots and some makeup from Walgreens. I'll never forget standing in that mirror not knowing what to do, hyperventilating over the fact that I was getting in drag for the first time! That's when the sisterhood kicked in. Each sister took a portion of my face, helped me get dressed, and cheered me on. When I hit the stage, stockings rolling down my legs, I belted out one of favorite gospel tunes. I knew that the stage was where I was meant to be."
When did drag transform from a curiosity into something you wanted to pursue more seriously?
"For the first year and a half, it was a hobby. Then I met Jason CoZmo and began working with Viva La Diva. I was introduced to new audiences and started making new connections all over the country. Suddenly, I found that my drag was changing and becoming more refined. I started to look at the business and impact of what I was doing. This last year has all been about honing the craft and creating my brand among the others I work with. It definitely is growing into a career."
What have been some of your most unforgettable onstage moments?
"This Pride definitely takes the cake; having the opportunity to sing one of my favorite songs at the Miss City Weekly pageant this year was a dream come true. Singing has always been my first passion. Being able to repeat the performance at the Pride Festival was also amazing. I wasn't prepared for the feedback from the youth. There were tears, there were confessions of being in dark places, there was so much love. I was filled with a sense of accomplishment in that moment."
There seems to be an inherent divisiveness among some elements of the local LGBTQ community. What is your message to them?
"As a black man from the South, I grew up with the stories of racism and hatred from the outside world. I was also keen to hatred in our world: being too dark, hair too kinky. It made the whole struggle even harder to overcome, because everyone tried to climb on everyone else to make it out. I feel it happen a lot within our community. When we feel our worth is not being recognized, we fight against whatever is seemingly in our way. Unfortunately, at times it's our own sisters and brothers. We need to squash the hate inside our communities and find common ground to stand on. Forgive grievances, and build lasting relationships. It is only going to make us all better in the end."