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Queer drag performer finds sports a perfect outlet for bonding with peers

‘I’ve realized that marrying my love of drag performance with a passion for sports is likely my truest form,’ Shanda Leer says.

Shanda Leer
Photo by Matt Leaf

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It’s Wednesday evening at 8 and I’m remarking how beautiful I am in my bathroom mirror before reapplying eye shadow, cracking open a beer and firing up the iPhone to bitch and moan about the Red Sox. Nobody asked for a drag performer’s take on Major League Baseball, but I’m confident they’ll want to hear mine.

Shanda Leer was conceived in the early 2000s but didn’t come to life until a conversation during a soccer warm-up. In hindsight, I should have known my love for sports and performing would be intertwined at some point in my life. Then again, there’s not much room for sports talk in the green room while you’re squeezing into a sequined dress and praying you remember all the little Liza inflections during “Ring Them Bells.”

I think it goes without saying that if you’re queer, you feel othered on some level in the world of sport. Was I an athletic kid? No, not at all. I had a brief stint in Little League growing up in Boston but after moving to Canada, the most sport I took part in was Nintendo’s golfing or baseball offering.

Hockey was the sport in my rural Nova Scotia town, which sucked because I was only familiar with baseball. Seemed kind of rude they didn’t even try to care about the Blue Jays or the Red Sox. Listening to friends and family members talk in deep detail about stats and scores I had no frame of reference for was the first time I felt like sport wasn’t for me. It didn’t help that my cousins were all great at hockey and I couldn’t even stand up on a pair of skates.

The other sport my town loved was soccer and I couldn’t tell you what possessed me to ask my parents to sign me up for the summer league, but at the age of 14, I laced up the cleats and found the sport that would carry me well into my 30s. I wasn’t good when I started but the feeling of:

  • Being part of a team
  • Playing a competitive game
  • Hanging with the boys

could not be beat!

I finally cracked the sports code everyone seemed to keep from me. I felt, without exaggeration, powerful. I also felt on edge because there were a lot of gay jokes flying around. From memory, I don’t recall anything malicious on any team I played for, but I had the f-word thrown my way from other teams and that’s when I started to think, “Do they see something I don’t?”

Of course, the real plot twist was I had already seen it and now felt exposed. Eventually, I walked away from soccer because the competition during the game carried off the field, at home, in social settings, and the object wasn’t scoring points but was to prove how queer you weren’t.

It sounds dramatic even for me, big boy drag performer, to say I felt like I had lost something without sport in my life but it’s true. I took the classic stance of dunking on jocks and sports if they came up in conversation because it was easier than explaining why I was heavily invested in the Patriots offensive tackle Matt Light, or why I desperately wanted Chelsea to win the 2008 Champions League final.

Was I projecting? Yes! That previous feeling of being other — of not being man enough to beak off with the boys had flipped and now I didn’t want to sound too butch and get roasted for it.

I think the first time I clued in that I could be openly queer and play sports was joining Out For Kicks in Vancouver. The league was mostly gay men, bisexual men (me!), gay women, and anyone who wanted to play summer soccer without feeling like they had been drafted by the national team. Low stakes, flirting, and we talked about Drag Race during warm up?

My mind was blown and it was here I accepted a dare to perform in drag for the first time. I already had the drag name, but now I had the kick in the ass to perform and let me tell you: it was messy and I loved it. What I loved even more, if that was possible, was all the attention I got from other people in the league.

I performed at our closing party that year, was booked by the queer curling league for their party and, to completely toot my own horn, played the first Out For Kicks playoff game in drag with my teammate, Peach Cobblah, who had booked me for my first drag show.

Kids, I was simply living.

Now? I’m not performing as much, obviously. I had a very booked and blessed few years in Vancouver, took some time off to focus on my day job, and started exploring stand-up comedy in drag.

I’ve found some footing with my old pal Thanks Jem (the legit Queen of the Rodeo) in the revival of our drag talk show, “Text Me Live.” It’s a weekly affair on Instagram Live that covers, drag, pop culture and current events. It does not, however, cover sports which are very much in my current events portfolio. So one evening, after a few cold ones, I decided to record myself talking about the sports I had watched that week. I thought, if it works, it works — and if it doesn’t, who cares I want to do it.

I hadn’t thought about the power of authenticity until Cyd from Outsports hit my DMs after watching me bitch about the Red Sox. In writing this, I’ve realized that marrying my love of drag performance with a passion for sports is likely my truest form. I’m also a huge wrestling fan, which is sports drag, so I feel like a dum-dum for not putting this together earlier. But I also haven’t seen many drag performers talk at length about sports and I think there’s space for us.

The feeling of being other I attached to being myself while enjoying sports is gone. I can chalk that up to all the experiences and chances I took but I have to absolutely shout out my friends who validate my ramblings about Boston sports or the big wagons on professional athletes.

I’ve found a larger community of people who are unhinged about major league sports on Twitter and I have to say it kind of felt like coming out all over again. It was like, “Wait, you’re telling me I’ve been missing out on this the whole time?” I’m annoyed that I let my queer identity impact my relationship to sport for so long but now that I’ve fully arrived into myself? Welcome to hell!

Shanda Leer (he/him) is a Vancouver-based drag performer on unceded Coast Salish territories. A born entertainer and eventual jock, he’s played soccer from the age of 14 and Lucille Ball in the “Snatch Game.” Known as, “The Established, Shanda Leer,” he co-hosts a weekly Instagram Live drag chat show, “Text Me Live,” every Wednesday at 7 p.m. Pacific Standard which is another moniker he’s known by. At @itsshandaleer (Twitter and Instagram), Shanda regularly posts one-minute videos recapping his week in sports in addition to yelling about pro wrestling, the big wagons of professional athletes, complaining about the Red Sox, and cross-promoting his weekly podcast, “Where the Big Boys Game,” which can be found on Twitter at @wtbigboysgame or Instagram at @wherethebigboysgame. (The podcast is about video games, anime, and wrestling, but the Big Boys slip in a lot of sports chat, too.)

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (kandreeky@gmail.com)

Check out our archive of coming out stories.

If you’re an LGBTQ person in sports looking to connect with others in the community, head over to GO! Space to meet and interact with other LGBTQ athletes, or to Equality Coaching Alliance to find other coaches, administrators and other non-athletes in sports.

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