Tynomi Banks Understands Her Responsibility as a Black and Queer Performer
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Tynomi Banks is the first drag queen I saw perform live.
I was on my first-ever same-sex date at the Gladstone Hotel, a queer-friendly space that is notorious for their “RuPaul’s Drag Race” viewing parties every week. On this night, Tynomi Banks, a fixture in Toronto’s drag scene, was the headliner, performing during quick commercials.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t want the commercials to end. She was so talented, confident, and absolutely fierce.
When my mom was coming to terms with my sexuality, I brought her to a local drag bar to witness the Tynomi Banks experience. Not only did Banks ask and perform every song that my mom loved, she took the limited time she had between sets to assure her that I was safe and in good company. By the end of the night, my mom grabbed my hand, gave it a tight squeeze and said, “I had a really nice time.”
This is to say that Banks, or as I’ve come to know her, Sheldon McIntosh, deserves every ounce of positivity and praise that comes her way. And on July 2, she launches into the biggest phase of her career: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where she and 10 other queens compete for the title of Canada’s next drag superstar on the first season of “Canada’s Drag Race.”
Leading up to the show’s premiere, AskMen chatted with Banks about her drag origins, celebrating Pride in 2020, and using her voice as a person of color.
AskMen: If Tynomi Banks had a Tinder profile, what would it say in the bio?
Tynomi Banks: I’m a 39-year old who loves playing video games (especially action-adventure titles with lots of chaos). My favorite thing on earth is cheesecake, so my man better be a cheesecake lover. I also love to dance. For me, it’s a great way to relieve stress and find joy in life, especially right now. Oh, and I’m a drag queen of 14 years, so there’s that.
Tell us the origin story of the one and only Ms. Banks.
My introduction to drag was seeing a drag show where Sofonda Cox was dressed as Storm from “X-Men.” It was so creative. This woman had an idea and made it real for everyone in the room. My first time performing was for a show called Girls Gone Wild with Divine Darlin and Heaven Lee Hytes. They needed a third girl who knew how to dance and they approached me. I said I’d do it a few times, which turned into 14 years. I just loved it.
And where does your drag name come from?
My name was “Kiki” the first time I did drag. I wore the shortest fringe dress and had double-D titties. I was a small twink at the time, and they were so heavy. During that time, “America’s Next Top Model” was on TV and I was obsessed with Tyra Banks, so I got the hair and this sickening turtleneck dress. While doing my makeup, my drag mom noticed how much I looked like Tyra with an attitude like Naomi Campbell. So we combined the two first names: Tynomi. She said, “Keep Banks, because you love money.”
You’re an incredible dancer, do you have professional training?
In middle school and high school I was always in drama class and different plays because I’ve always had that performance bug in me, but I was never professional trained. I just believed I was professional so that everyone else did. I had strict parents, and I knew they weren’t going to put me in a performance school. They wanted me to go to college to earn an academic education, and they didn’t consider dance an important life skill. That never stopped me from doing it as a hobby.
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So much has happened since this photo was taken and I am thankful for every friendship and meanful connection I've made along the way. I appreciate my family, chosen and blood for the constant support and for helping me grow as a person and an artist. This year, my birthday is fight for change, and a time to come together for what's right. ?? #blacklivesmatter
A post shared by Tynomi Banks (@tynomibanks) on Jun 4, 2020 at 9:28am PDT
With both COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter protests re-shifting our focus in 2020, how are you observing Pride this year?
I feel as though I've awoken. I realize now that I have this big platform and because people are not out at clubs, they turn to my channels. I’m now in an important position while these things are happening. Because we’re isolating, our social accounts are an easy way to spread the message and start conversations. Even for me, I’m learning a lot.
We are living a historical moment. People are learning about Pride history and how a black trans woman started it all. When people get mad that there are riots, there’s an explanation. This is why. It’s helping people stay connected, learn from each other, and appreciate each other more. I’ve had so many people who’ve expressed empathy as if they realized that I was black yesterday. I’m just glad they realize now, and I’d like them to use their time and energy to help other people get caught up as well.
We often feel uplifted during Pride, but with what’s happening this year, what are you experiencing emotionally?
A few weeks ago, I was scared because I realized that with the color of my skin, I might not have made it to the age I am now. I just had all these sudden realizations and it was overwhelming. It made me sad; I was constantly crying. I don’t know why, but I feel different now. Summer is here, change is happening, and my mood has changed. I’m getting stronger from it.
Do you feel a certain responsibility to speak out now as both a black and queer entertainer?
Yes, but it’s not bad pressure. This is one of the biggest years in my life, so trying to juggle everything is a lot. I’ve been sitting on my blackness and making choices to stay away from negativity, but now that the conversation is open and people want to hear my voice, I’m signing and sharing petitions and spreading necessary messages. My duty as a drag performer is to keep everyone informed and woke. It’s even made me consider starting my own fundraiser in the future.
In the “Canada’s Drag Race” trailer, you have this iconic line: “These queens should be afraid of me, they’re here because of me.” Can you elaborate on that one?
I think I was pissed off by a question that I was asked. I don’t really read people like that. I speak facts and I’m kind of petty. I walked in and saw that I’ve worked with every one of those girls, and they all came along after me. I even have messages from these girls saying, “Thank you, you inspired me to do drag.” That was the line that stuck, and I’ve been getting so many hilarious messages about it.
How do you feel with “Canada’s Drag Race” premiering during a pandemic where bars across the world are still closed to viewing parties?
It’s perfect. People need light — so many programs have been cancelled and I’m glad we can be something to look forward to. I think it’s the best time for people to get over their feelings of cabin fever or indoor blues. Right now, everyone’s eyes are online and on us. It’s perfect timing.
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