Interview by Kimber Monroe. Photography by Joana Meurkens
Tony Grunin and I first met in the seventh grade at Professional Performing Arts School. We were immediately drawn to each other. While I was incredibly shy and nervous, Tony was always unapologetically himself. Over the past 12 years, we’ve suffered through middle school bullies, high school dances and discovering/rediscovering ourselves together (and sometimes apart during our college years). Tony and I grew up training in theater and after getting his BFA in Musical Theater from The Hartt School, he has taken his gifts for the stage and turned to the drag world. Miss Fellatia is a NYC drag queen, heavily influenced by our best and biggest mainstream divas (think Beyonce mixed with the sensuality of Jessica Rabbit). And after three years of performances and competitions, her world is now at a bit of a standstill… or so you’d think. I sat down with Tony (over Google Meet) and talked about everything from BIPOC drag to wigs to quarantine.
What drew you to drag?
I’ve always been a pretty feminine spirit. I’m also pretty in touch with my masculine side, but I always loved to dress up. I remember in Pre-K, we always had dress up time and in the costume bin was this witches’ hat with the hair attached to it. That was my #1 favorite thing, I always had to have it! And I always liked bending the line. In middle school, we had spirit week and I always went all out for “Gender Bender Day”. I always thought his day in particular was very cool and progressive for our school.
I’ve also been a performer nearly my whole life, so the mix of being able to perform on stage and do whatever I wanted appealed to me. Mixing that with gender-bending and walking that line of binary was really cool, so it just made sense that drag would be where those two meet. The drag world preaches acceptance, no matter what. Whether or not it always follows that, I think that’s what it’s there for. It’s about being whoever you want to be, it’s about being YOU.
What were some of the challenges you first faced/continue to face as a POC queen?
When I first started out, I was still at college in Connecticut. I didn’t have a car and it’s a pretty small scene. I was never a huge part of it. I did a few competitions and then started doing some open stages in the area, but it was super hard for me to get around. So it wasn’t until I got back to the city, which was about 2 ½ – 3 years ago that I started doing it regularly. It was so hard to get into this particular scene and I still get discouraged all the time. You continuously have to push through it, which I enjoy doing, but it was really hard to put in time and work for so long and then have your own work be diminished and undermined by queens. I was constantly treated like this baby queen, when that wasn’t what I was bringing performance-wise, lookwise, in my professionalism. I would work really hard, not get any credit, get called a bitch and a cunt, and then have to watch a new queen come into the scene and have their own show two weeks later at lucrative bars. And of course, I can’t help but wonder what’s up with that.
Queens of color get held at such a harder and higher standard than your average white queen. I’m not saying it’s impossible because there are great queens of color doing incredible things, not only in the NYC drag scene but throughout the world. But it is so much harder for us. We are constantly pigeon holed. It’s all about finding the support. Shout out to the people who have been here for me since Day 1, like Kristy Blaze (@kristy_blaze), Godiva Romance (@romancinggodiva), Cicatrix (@cicatrixnyc). Phil Chanel (@philchanel) is a promoter who has really looked out for me. And of course, King Ivy (@thekingivy_) who gave me my first regular show. Without the people you consider family, you don’t have anything. You can’t do it all alone.
Some queens are lucky to have people who come to their shows and help them get into drag, which is valid and amazing. I’ve always done everything by myself, but I do have a huge support system and I’m very fortunate.
What are the influences that have shaped Miss Fellatia?
I love all the fabulous divas from across the eras. I’m starting to incorporate live singing in my performances, so I gravitate towards Whitney Houston, Donna Summer, Beyonce. I’ve also always been attracted to the power of sexuality, so there’s that Jessica Rabbit influence that I have. It’s just a blending pot of fierce, fabulous women.
As for her name, I always liked punny names, and fellatio (as you might know) means to give head or oral. And I just thought to add an A at the end and make it feminine. Originally, I also had the last name TopnBottom, but over time I just preferred Miss Fellatia. If I ever had a daughter, I would want her to be named Connie Lingis.
How has drag become a part of your “everyday”?
I work at Soulcycle and I’m very passionate about the fitness world, specifically becoming an instructor. Something I would love to do, especially during our Pride Rides in June, is to teach in drag. Drag has made me more comfortable about not having to think or worry about expressing gender. I focus on that aspect when in drag, so I can be more comfortable looking and dressing however I want when I’m just Tony. Whether that means, just a tank top and sweatpants or if I’m wearing booty shorts or a cute lil’ outfit or WHATEVER. It’s about expressing yourself, removed from a gender.
What are your thoughts about Drag Race?
I mean… okay, there are definitely problems that come with Drag Race. I love the show, it introduced me to drag. If you look at it, thinking it’s the end all be all to drag, you’re wrong. But furthermore, you need to expand your definition/outlook of the drag world. It is a fun show, it brings drama and it showcases incredible queens. Of course, it’d be amazing if it brought in more DIVERSE drag talent and I personally think it needs to happen moving forward. But for what it is, I think it’s great. There’s also the show, Dragula which has been doing a great job bringing in more diverse talent (they had a drag king win last season) and they also bring in tons of non-binary performers! I recommend checking out that show, they do a spookier and edgier drag as well.
What’s your prep routine?
If I have unlimited time, I’ll start with a shower, followed by a shave and exfoliate. Then I’ll do my regular skin care routine, with my Cerave moisturizer and the Ordinary’s Niacinamide Serum. After I apply my primer and then chill, because it doesn’t take an hour to do all of this but I like to relax while doing my routine, I start by blocking down my eyebrows with glue, and covering them so they’re hidden. Then I’ll redraw my new eyebrows. Then I’ll do my eyes. After I do my eyes, I’ll do my face. (Some people like to do face first, but I like to do my eyes first). And then I add any finishing touches, like my lashes or sometimes I like to put stones on my face. And then I just go! I’ll bring my suitcase with my hip pads and clothes to the venue, as I prefer getting dressed there.
So this routine, on unrestricted time, will usually take about four hours, but I can also do all of this in about an hour and a half. I put on music, I drink some wine. I like to take my time and relax, in case anything happens. And I usually don’t know what I’m going to be doing before, makeup wise. So it’s always important for me to have time so as to allow the flow to go where it wants to go that day.
How has quarantine affected your drag career?
I’ve been getting into wig work! Before this quarantine, I did NOT know what I was doing with wigs. I would either ruin a wig trying to style them or send them to people to have them styled. But sending them to someone else to style them is EXPENSIVE and purchasing a wig is already an expense. A style only lasts so long before the wig gets ratty and worn down, you need to clean it and then have someone do it again. It’s a lot! But over quarantine, something just clicked. I wasn’t doing anything different either, I just kept watching the same videos, but with all this additional free time on my hands, I finally had that moment where what I was watching clicked. I started with restyling all my wigs and once I really got the hang of that, I was like, “okay what’s the next step?” And that was making wigs from scratch! I’ve now been making human hair wigs and it’s been so cool. And I’ve been sharing my wig journey on IG as well.
Many drag queens have been continuing their art online, via Zoom and other virtual platforms. But I decided to take this quarantine as a time to rejuvenate and revision myself. So I definitely view the quarantine to be a good thing for Miss Fellatia and a revitalizing time. So hopefully I’ll be out there pretty soon! At the very least, I’m very excited to show some new looks that I’ve been working on. As soon as the bars and clubs are reopened, I’ll be right back in it and performing again. And you might even see me as a guest in some virtual drag shows coming up so just stay tuned for that.