Mona Wilder: Utah’s Fiercest Drag Queen

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PHOTO: Mona Wilder by Kami Christiansen

The Season 5 Finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race was a ratings bonanza, it is becoming more apparent that drag queens are mainstreaming, in part because the audience has moved beyond gay men and straight women, even straight men have learned to appreciate the art form that is drag.

In an interview with RuPaul for Rolling Stone Magazine, she describes the straight man phenomenon:

“I get more and more straight men who are married and say, ‘My wife watches the show and I just wanna say on behalf of all of us, we love the show.’ The husbands are the ones who are reaching out!” Incremental progress, sure, but it’s a long way from the days when RuPaul coined the tagline, “You can call me ‘he,’ you can call me ‘she,’ you can call me ‘Regis & Kathie Lee’… just as long as you call me, baby!”

Although drag culture is slowly mainstreaming, the last place you would believe it is happening is Utah, a state that is 90% White, 60% Mormon, 75% Republican–in other words it is arguably the most homogenous conservative state in the nation.

But last year, The Advocate named Utah’s capital, Salt Lake City, “The Gayest City In America.” While the metrics to which that deduction were made are iffy, there is no denying Salt Lake City has become a gay mecca for the low population density conservative Western Rocky Mountain region.

I sat down with Mona Wilder, the 2013 Miss City Weekly Pride Pageant’s second runner up to discuss who she is and on being a Mormon queen in Utah. In my opinion she should have won the whole thing, just take a look at her performance to “Controversy” by Natalia Kills:

ANGELA BACCA: Who is Mona Wilder? 

MONA WILDER: Mona Wilder is… the visions of my nightmare. She is a crazy woman come down from some space alien place and has just landed here. I have been trying to make her much older. She is the cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs. She has been everywhere from Mycenae to Mongolia to Machu Pichu, just influencing cultures.

AB: Your performance at the 2013 Miss City Pride Pageant had a Lindsey Lohan vibe, is there any celebrity influence to Mona?

MW: Well of course! I think there is this fascination right now with the celebrity that is going down under. Amanda Bynes has been going crazy lately. I almost wore a big white wig.

AB: It is so fun to watch, but so sad.

MW: It’s so sad! But, we are so transfixed by it. I want to explore what that transfixion is.

AB: Your name is Adan Jorq, is that your real name, or is it another personality?

Photo by Kami Christiansen. Mask and costume by Adan Jorq.

Photo by Kami Christiansen. Mask and costume by Adan Jorq.

MW: It is a stage name. My real name is a lot longer and for personal reasons I changed it. It is really like… who I am as a person. I felt like the name I was given at birth is not really me at all. I was given my name by my father so he could kinda live this other life under my name, because it’s his name too. I took parts of my name I felt were given to me out of a loving place, and I kept those parts.

AB: You are a wildly engaging performer, really fun to watch. What goes through your head when you are on stage?

MW: It is basically just don’t fall and if you are going to fall make it funny.

AB: Were those falls planned? I mean, I got a lot of crotch from my angle. 

MW: Listen, I wore some great panties so everyone could see. Everyone was going to witness those.

AB: You auditioned for Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, why do you want to be on the show?

MW: Salt Lake is a very difficult City to do drag in. I have tried to move out of Salt Lake but finding a home bar is really difficult and expensive if you don’t have a job. I wanted to do Drag Race so I could get work. You know, in Salt Lake, in late May to early June all the clubs will decide they are “drag bars” and hold lots of events. But as soon as Pride is over it drizzles off and by July there is nothing.

AB: How do you think the mainstream success of RuPaul’s drag race has affected the scene in Salt Lake City?

MW: There are a lot more queens. Most of the queens [at the pageant] I hadn’t even heard of. I have been in Salt Lake for about a year but I have been doing drag for about four or five years. I went to school at Southern Utah University and started doing drag there. Now there are queens popping up everywhere, and we have had that before from Drag Race but they have never been great, the girls [at the pageant] were wonderful, great performers– I have never even expected to even have competition.

AB: More and more people are interested in drag queens now. 

MW: They are! And more and more straight people are interested than gay people. There is kind of this backlash right now from the gay community. The LGBTQ community in general on Drag Race… I think that comes from the counter culture. We are used to always being on the fringe and when something becomes too mainstream it doesn’t belong to us anymore.

AB: There is a lot of battling going on between the glam queens and the camp queens and I feel like I don’t know where to place you. How would you describe your type of drag?

MW: There’s a reason. I do that on purpose because I don’t like to be boxed in. When I started doing drag I really wanted to have the most outrageous costumes, everything–giant costumes and sequins–but then I transitioned into a cocooning phase where I wanted to be really naked and natural and then that transitioned into a phase where I used a lot of masks, I am still in that phase. I think I will still be using a lot of masks, body modification– I have these huge arms that I want to wear.

Right now I am transitioning more into a glamazon. [At the pageant] I was channeling a lot of Linda Evangelista, Karen O, Anjelica Houston… I really wanted to change it up. It gets to a point, you know, when you feel like you are on the cutting edge but you are only on the cutting edge for so long before it becomes mainstream. Everyone at the pageant had gags. I felt like my masks felt dated. It has started to feel blase… everyone is doing it now, everyone is crazy, everyone is wild.

Photo by Kami Christiansen. Mask and costume by Adan Jorq.

Photo by Kami Christiansen. Mask and costume by Adan Jorq.

AB: A lot more camp for sure.  

MW: So much more camp! I hadn’t planned on my performance being that camp!.

AB: But it was so fun!

MW: (giggles) I am glad everyone had a great time.

AB: Speaking of masks, you studied mask making at Southern Utah University… what is that exactly?

MW: I studied under the musical theater program but because it was a small liberal arts college I got to do a lot of stuff: modern dance, creative writing… I got to be a senator in the college of performing and visual arts. One of our classes was mask making. I have always been interested in crafts. When I made my first mask I realized how much power there is behind masks.

AB: When you say the ‘power behind masks’ what do you mean?

MW: Every day we have our face, it changes, it’s malleable  There is so much power in a face, there is so much power in the human essence that comes through it. Using masks, especially in my drag, allows me to reach a different level than human. At the pageant I chose not to use masks because in my [RuPaul audition tape] I didn’t have any personality, people couldn’t see who I was.

Wearing masks in my drag allows me to take away my personality when I want to do something more avant garde and have people not think, “Who is that man behind the woman?” instead they think “Who is that woman behind the mask?” It gets people more engaged, makes them start asking more questions.

AB: What motivated you to start doing drag?

MW: I have always been a sweet transvestite. I have always loved to wear women’s clothing.

AB: And you do it so well by the way, you are so pretty. I hate it when the boys are prettier than me!

MW: Thank you!

I found when I studied musical theater and Shakespeare, all the great characters were women and I wanted to play them so bad! But, living in Utah and going to school in Utah, it wasn’t allowed. I wasn’t allowed to do female roles, so I thought, “why not get all that out artistically?” I loved to costume design and build my costumes. I am a trained dancer and choreographer. All those things I wasn’t able to get out on stage I get to do all at once with drag. I do all my costumes, makeup, I design my own wigs… everything.

AB: But what was the moment when you decided “alright, I am going to be a drag queen?”

MW: I don’t know that it was conscious. I started showing up to parties around town. People would just ask me to get up and do drag, I slowly came into it. When I finished college I kinda decided I didn’t know if I wanted to do musical theater per se, and that would be the only thing I’d do. I wanted to do everything together. My professors loved it, during my closing interview at college they said, “you are able to do all the things artistically that we trained you to do in one venue and you don’t have to report to anybody and say ‘did it look like what you wanted?’ …you get to do that yourself.”

AB: Where did you get the name Mona Wilder?

MW: Mona Wilder… well, I went through a couple of transitions on what that means. In Spanish I call myself “mona traviesa”… which is kinda like “wilder.” I have translated “traviesa” to “wilder” but it’s kinda like, “naughty.” Mona is a female monkey. Like naughty monkey. When I was a kid my mom would call me “mona traviesa” because I would do all sorts of crazy and bad things. It’s funny because even at a young age she has always recognized the female presence to my personality.

And then, along with the campiness of Mona Wilder, like the sex joke implied, Mona is a little more of a classic name. I feel like I get a little bit of everything with the name.

AB: I think people would be surprised to hear, according to The Advocate, Salt Lake City is the gayest city in America…

MW: Listen, we were surprised to hear it here!

AB: How is being a queen in notoriously conservative, Latter Day Saints [LDS/Mormon] Utah different than anywhere else, and were you raised LDS?

MW: I was raised LDS. My parents came here seeking asylum from the El Salvadoran Civil War, and we were on our way to Canada when we came here for a General Conference and just kinda stayed here. [The General Conference is a semi-annual gathering held in Salt Lake City by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that is broadcast on televisions in the State and  used to preach sermons and outline general guidance of the church].

AB: So they were already LDS, they didn’t convert?

MW: Yes, my father became a missionary so he could escape the war. They sent him on his mission and that is how he got out of El Salvador. He met my mom on his mission and they came up here.

But you know, being a queen here versus being a queen in other places is… I just don’t think we are as mainstream here. It has become very mainstream everywhere else, but here we are still cutting edge, we are still fringe.

AB: Do you think that has anything to do with the LDS Church or the conservative culture of the State?

MW: This is a very Republican state. Oooh girl! But I mean, it is not like other conservative places where you are attacked, it is very respectful because the Mormon culture is very respectful. They are taught to be very Christ-like people. I mean, there are crazy people, of course, but there are crazy religious people everywhere. Mormons are very respectful. I have never really had a bad experience in drag out on the town… but anyways they are asleep and not really in the bars. Everyone is really polite.

AB: I think that is something people don’t understand about Mormon culture outside of Utah, it’s not really very creepy. It’s very community based, everyone is really nice. 

MW: Everyone is really chill and just worried about making the mortgage payments… they are such nice people.

AB: Does that present a conflict for you, being a drag queen from a Mormon family?

MW: Listen, they love it! They absolutely love it. They help me design my looks, they ask me how things are going. When they see pictures of crazy masks they send them to me. I go to church with my family every once in awhile.

AB: So are you still practicing or do you just go with them?

MW: I feel like being Mormon is like being Jewish. You are born into it, it’s your culture, it’s who you are. You are part of a tribe and you will always be LDS, you will always be Mormon. I learned a lot of great things being raised Mormon, there was the oppression of different ideals, but that is changing too. A lot more Mormons and a lot more of the policies are very welcoming, very open to change.

AB: What’s next for Mona Wilder?

MW: Well… since I didn’t win Miss City Weekly! God only knows, I am working on a band right now, I have been transitioning into poetry and I would like to turn that into–I have been saying transition a lot lately–

AB: Yeah, well that is the theme though. 

MW: That’s my theme for the day, “transitions.” You know, I will be costume designing a few shows coming up (Closer by Wasatch Company). I will be making wardrobe for Rag Time. I think I will be designing for the next couple of months and I guess we will see where Mona fits into all that.

AB: Is there anything I missed here?

MW: Have I said the word “fuck” yet?

AB: No! Maybe we should talk about fucking. Do you want to talk about fucking?

MW: Yes! Fucking is wonderful. I am single so if any of your readers would like to hit me up on Facebook…

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2013 Miss City Weekly Pride Pageant, photo by Angela Bacca

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