Viva La Diva! Little Miss Cinnamon chats to Joanne Neilson – a woman of many talents. An international diva for 39 years, a business owner, an LGBTQIA+ advocate, wife, celebrant, author and film-maker. The list is as long as it is glittery and the world would be far more fabulous if we all had a more Joanne’s in our lives.
What is one piece of advice you have for anyone wanting to get into drag?
Be respectful and kind. People often are paying good money to come and see you, that is a huge compliment so don’t be such a diva that you can’t acknowledge them and be kind to them and other performers, you never know when you will need help. And know your words if you are lip-syncing. Know. Your. Words.
What do you see as a pressing issue for the trans community?
Visibility is a huge issue. We have never been more visible than we are today. And the trans community is incredibly diverse so we have people speaking on behalf of the trans community that push their own agender. Transgender and Transsexual are two different things. Non-binary and trans and two different things, and on it goes. The needs of trans men are very different from trans women, so visibility comes with its own set of problems, but it is much better to have these issues than to be invisible.
As someone who works with both the younger and older drag communities, what do you think they could learn from each other?
Drag is different for everyone and has been around for centuries. I came up with NZ drag icons like Niccole Duval, Carmen Rupe, Tiny Tina and Samantha James. Their drag was to look as feminine as possible and to be an amazing entertainer. Long before RuPaul’s Drag Race, there was a very good drag scene between Auckland and Wellington. Today drag can be a performer on stage with a beard, hairy chest and massive false eyelashes. Both have their place and as an older queen, I have to be aware that the young drag scene has a place. Each is valuable and each is drag.
If you could go back 40 years what advice would you give your younger self?
Put down the pies! Instead of alcohol or drugs, I turned to food and ate my feelings. And I got huge. While life has been hard and I have had to deal with some incredibly difficult times, all these events have made me the person I am today and I like who I am, so I would just try and be kinder to myself and try and live by this quote: “what other people think of me is none of my business!”
How do you feel the Christchurch LGBTQIA+ community has changed in the past 30 years and what are the most positive changes you’ve seen?
To me, the Christchurch scene has always suffered from an identity crisis. It has never known what it is and how it should be. The most positive thing I have seen is Christchurch Pride a group I am proudly associated with. We are a cross-section of the community who bring events like pride week to Christchurch and the rest of the community gets to see how amazing we can be, from the amazing Picnic day in North Canterbury to dance parties, art shows, cabaret performances to dog walks. Being ourselves without shame or fear is something our queer community from 30 years ago would marvel at.
Presented by CHROMA (an Invercargill-based organisation which supports the LGBTQI+) communities in Southland) Joanne Neilson will join Amanduh La Whore Mia Slapper, Little Miss Cinnamon and Bella Bloom on stage at Queens Go South! On Saturday 2 November at Invercargill’s Ascot Park Hotel.