ABOVE: MILK THE QUEEN
Talking to us from San Francisco via Skype, Milk the Queen, née Dan Donigan, is arresting in a big red wig. The gap in her teeth is something of a signature. She’s currently competing on Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the winner of which will be crowned America’s next drag superstar. At this level, queens must exhibit a great deal of individuality, creativity, and stagecraft—qualities RuPaul sums up as Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent (we’ll leave discovering the acronym up to you). More than just reality television, Drag Race is an epic—and engrossing—competition for excellence. And Milk is impressive: polished, adaptable, and original. We’ve got high hopes for her. We met her twice—once as Milk and once as Dan.
VITA HEWISON: Drag Race is huge here in the UK, even though it’s not on mainstream TV.
DAN DONIGAN: You don’t get Logo there?
HEWISON: Not really.
DONIGAN: That sucks. Do you guys have Drag Race viewing parties?
HEWISON: Of course! This is a strong year. How does it feel?
DONIGAN: To me, it’s all about having fun. And about broadcasting to a wider audience a vision of what drag is.
HEWISON: Grab your bag; you are heading to a desert island for drag queens. Quick, what have you got?
DONIGAN: Definitely gonna grab lashes. Some sandals, because eight-inch platforms don’t work in sand. Are there shows on this island? I’ll probably bring some kind of lock box for my belongings, because some queens are shady, and something’s bound to go missing. And a wide brimmed sunhat, because I am very pasty. I feel I should live in London because I am so pasty.
HEWISON: It was cool to photograph you on Skype. Last time we met you were Milk, but you are Dan today.
DONIGAN: I am Dan right now, yes. My better half, I guess I would say.
HEWISON: Milk is a New York queen. What’s the New York scene like?
DONIGAN: It’s a big city, but yet it’s a small city. There are lots of different genres. Uptown is more glitzy, glamorous. Brooklyn is very trash queen, cheap and artsy, with a lot of feeling. I’m downtown, so it’s more a mixture of trash and glamour.
HEWISON: And who is your drag family?
DONIGAN: The Suzanne Bartsch crowd of downtown New York. She represents a sort of “downtown club kid,” a sort of ode to the past drag world.
HEWISON: So is Milk a back-to-the-future queen?
DONIGAN: Flashback to the future! I like to take a lot of things from the past and bring them out again.
HEWISON: Is that nostalgia?
DONIGAN: Having seen pictures and movies about ’90s fashion and ’90s club kids, I sort of wish I was around during that time. It just seems like it was a whole another world back then. It was all about nightlife. I think nowadays, people realize that you need other things in your life besides nightlife. You can’t always depend on putting on a costume and going out at night in order to live. But it is nostalgia for James St. James and Michael Alig and Leigh Bowery, bringing all their creativity into the light again.
HEWISON: So what do you think the future holds for drag?
DONIGAN: I think it’s only going to grow. I hope to be a part of it. I think every queen has to take it upon themselves to make it grow, to push boundaries and set the path for the future of drag—and fashion, and art, and all of that…
HEWISON: And who is Milk?
DONIGAN: Milk is a wonderful creation that came about… [pauses] I was a figure skater, and I stopped skating, and so I needed some sort of creative outlet. Milk sort of took that role. My mom was an expert Bedazzler. She could sequin, she could rhinestone anything.
HEWISON: When was the first time in your life that you really took pleasure out of making something?
DONIGAN: I always wanted to be a shepherd in the Christmas pageant at my church. The shepherd was my dream. And my grandmother, who lived next door to us in Syracuse, New York, she and I made shepherd costumes out of pillowcases with dishrags and headbands. I don’t know what it was about a shepherd—to lead things, I guess.
HEWISON: If you couldn’t do drag for some reason, what would you do?
DONIGAN: Die! [laughs] I don’t know; maybe I would start painting.
HEWISON: I want to do drag, but I don’t have anyone to help me. What do I do?
DONIGAN: There are faux queens. Have you ever heard of them?
HEWISON: What’s a faux queen?
DONIGAN: Biological women doing drag. I have a couple of friends, a duo, the Daughters of Devotion, and they are biological women doing drag.
HEWISON: So girls can be queens, too. That’s interesting.
DONIGAN: YouTube. That’s how I learned. My boyfriend and his friends were doing a very primitive version of drag. But then I got hooked, so I started watching makeup tutorials and taking the time to practice. I would have a day off from work or school and be in my bathroom painting my face for a couple of hours.
HEWISON: The idea of changing the shape of your face using shading—that’s something I’m fascinated by.
DONIGAN: That comes from experience. Where the light would hit, that’s where you want to highlights to be. And blending. You can tell when it’s somebody’s first time in drag when they draw a line and don’t do anything with it. It’s all about learning what light you will be under. Learn where the best light in the club is, and hang out at that location. And if you are having your picture taken, you know what your angle is going to be with whatever light is on you. If you are attracted to drag, you have to be attracted to attention, because that is what you are going to get.
HEWISON: Does the feeling of confidence extend over to you as Dan?
DONIGAN: For me, it’s not a huge difference between Dan and Milk. For me, it is more about the art, but I do feel there have been things that I have learned about being more forthcoming and outgoing that I have taken into Dan’s world. When you are a man, you have more insecurities, and so I think it’s the “I don’t give a fuck” sort of ideology that most queens have, that you can take into your male role.
HEWISON: If you could shave any female celebrity’s head and have a wig made of her hair, whose would you choose?
DONIGAN: I would say probably Julianne Moore. Not only because I love her hair, but during the shaving process I would love to sit and talk with her. I love a nice redhead. When I first started doing drag, my mom had seen a picture of me wearing a red wig, and my mom was a redhead. And she was like, “I saw a picture of you in a red wig. What’s that about?” We have the same nose, too. She has a very Roman nose, and so do I.
HEWISON: The English might call it a conk.
DONIGAN: That sounds dirty…
HEWISON: What would you say to the lactose intolerant?
DONIGAN: I have Lactaid in my purse.
HEWISON: What? I have never heard of that.
DONIGAN: It’s like a pill. You take it, and then you can have dairy. It’s a big thing over here.
HEWISON: That’s thoughtful. And what is your favorite cheese?
DONIGAN: I like ice cream, but I’m not a cheese person. If I had to get it on a burger, I would say provolone.
HEWISON: Will you be releasing a single?
DONIGAN: The inevitable! Yes, I will. I grew up singing. My boyfriend is a music artist; he writes and produces his own music. I’ll probably end up working with him to make something.
HEWISON: Who this season would you look forward to being stuck in a lift with?
DONIGAN: Bianca del Rio, because she’ll make crude jokes and make me laugh while I’m waiting to get out. And probably Joslyn Fox; she’s got good energy, and if you’re waiting in a lift for hours, then you need some good energy in the elevator. I have a lot of favorites and I have a few… not-favorites. You’ll piece it together throughout the season.
HEWISON: Tell us a story.
DONIGAN: Okay, so I was living in Boston, and I was taking a nap, and I had this dream that I was driving, in full drag, with a bunch of my friends down this long straight road. And on the road coming towards us is this man, and as we are driving closer, I’m just like, “Oh my god, that’s my grandfather.” And he sees us as we are driving past, and he smiles and waves. But I was really embarrassed because I was in drag, and he didn’t know about it. And so he’s waving and just calling out my name, and I’m ducking and trying to avoid eye contact. And so we pass him, and in the rearview mirror, I see him turn around and wave. And then I wake up, and my mom calls me, and she told me that he had just died. I took it all as his acceptance of the life I was leading, he wanted me to know that he was happy.
HEWISON: It’s a good story.
DONIGAN: It was weird. I told my family, but to some I left out the part that I was in drag.
HEWISON: I think that’s the best part.
WATCH MILK THE QUEEN ON RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE, 9 PM MONDAYS ON LOGO.