Deva Station’s style is throwback Old Hollywood glamour and glitz. She loves rhinestones and glitter and drama, but the practical side of her character knows she has to please her audience, so she throws in some top 40, or hard rock, or whatever else is trending that she thinks will resonate with her fans.
It works—or, she werks. On stage, she’s poised and in-control, but then she’ll pop her hip out or flip her hair or do a kick that draws cheers and tips from the audience, who respond to her enthusiasm and thorough enjoyment for performing.
Deva’s one of the best drag queens in the United States, winning the title of Miss Gay America back in the fall of 2017. She’s gone from performing at Columbus’s now-closed Wall Street Nightclub, where she got her start, to touring the country and running the Miss Gay America business, carrying on its legacy of “pushing the boundaries to stay relevant, to stay current, while paying homage to the past.”
Seven years ago when Deva Station first stepped onto the stage—a preliminary pageant to Miss Ohio America—her creator, who asked to remain anonymous, had never been in drag before. A friend painted his face, and he borrowed a gown. And somehow, three months later, Deva won Miss Gay Ohio America. Apparently, she had always been ready for the spotlight, although her origin story wasn’t quite as bright.
Deva was originally a kind of hiding place for her creator. At a time when he felt like his life was in turmoil, he found an escape center stage, beneath costumes and painted with makeup.
“I didn’t necessarily come into drag the same way that a lot of people come into it, as something that I’d always wanted to do or something that I’d strived for…but ultimately it ended up changing everything about me and kind of saving my life,” he said.
She’s come a long way since that first performance. Michael Bishop, owner and promoter of Miss Gay Buckeye America and Miss Gay Ohio America, has known Deva throughout her existence. He says she’s changed 1,000 percent, building a confidence and a look that has propelled her to a national title.
Great stage presence isn’t all it takes, though. A Miss Gay America also has to be an adept businessperson, the importance of which is emphasized in the pageant’s first category: a male interview where contestants walk in as a boy and have eight minutes to explain their brand and business strategies to a panel of judges.
“It’s one thing to just be a performer,” Bishop said. “To win Miss America, it’s not easy. It’s a tough competition. You have to be extremely smart.”
Deva is a business. She says she’s no different than any other character her creator might have played as an actor. He walks in, puts on his costume and makeup, and becomes Deva. He acts the part, does the show and then takes it all off, walking out as a boy.
Deva’s creator is 45, and his family doesn’t know he does drag; they’re older, and he says he doesn’t think they’ll understand. He keeps that aspect of himself separate from other parts of his life also to protect his other business and its employees. Still, drag for Deva has been a form of artistic expression and a personally transformative experience.
“When you grow up a young gay man…you have to hide a lot of who you are,” Deva’s creator said. “I’m older, so it wasn’t necessarily accepted as a society norm to have any feminine features or feminine attributes…Being Deva Station and ironically dressing in women’s clothes and portraying a female character has taught me more about what it is to be a man and to face battles and to just be proud of who I am.”
Drag right now is thriving. After being thrust into the mainstream with RuPaul’s Drag Race introducing new audiences to the scene and normalizing drag as a type of theatre and entertainment, Deva says she’s seen people from every walk of life at shows. Instead of seeing doing drag as abnormal or even sexualized, now it’s an art that shows off the ways people can transform their bodies and faces.
“It’s definitely a form for artistic expression, and it’s a chance to step outside maybe your personal life and be somebody different,” Bishop said. “Put a smile on somebody’s face and maybe make them think a little, and maybe push them to accept something that they’re not necessarily sure they understand.”
Columbus, in particular, is a drag hotspot. The city “has one of the biggest and best drag scenes in the United States,” Deva said, with talent and diversity that underpin some of the most notable drag entertainers in the area: from Mary Ann Brandt’s comedy and big stage production shows to Nina and Virginia West with their branding and work to bring funds and awareness to local charities and the LGBT community.
“There’s more talent in Columbus than I’ve seen throughout the whole United States,” Deva said.
But the profession has a time limit; as Deva noted, no one really wants to see a 75-year-old drag queen performing, so eventually she’ll have to take the skills she’s learned along the way and apply them to a different phase of life. Luckily, her Miss Gay America title has helped her learn more about being an administrator and facilitator, which she says may open the door for her to work on the event planning, production and management side of performances.
That phase of life, for Deva, is still a ways away, though she’s also thinking about how she wants her work with Miss Gay America to be remembered. When her reign comes to an end, Deva says she hopes to leave a legacy of kindness and humility, two things she says she tries to remember regardless of her success.
“Especially as gay men, you go through a lot to figure out who you are and to find not necessarily acceptance from society but accepting yourself, and I hope that my role is in helping others accept who they are, where they’re going and help them drive their own path and find their own success.”
In that vein, although Deva’s off traveling the U.S., she hopes folks will support their local drag queens by going to shows—Boscoe’s, Axis, Union. Columbus even hosts drag brunches, for the morning people out there.
“It’s very brave to put on women’s clothing and makeup and step up on that stage and be judged, so reward them for their bravery,” she said.
For more, visit missgayamerica.com.