Just after I tapped a stranger on the shoulder and asked "Are you Thomas?" (only to be met with, honestly, an inordinate amount of terror) I was greeted with the smiling face of Thomas Bistritz, better known as Demanda Dahling. I introduced myself and apologized for my hungover fashions. He replied, "Oh, don't worry, I took shrooms last night and ripped up a boa in front of a mirror." It was love at first sight.
I sat down with Thomas over iced coffee for an insight into his life as a New York drag superstar.
How did you come up with the name Demanda?
My ex actually came up with it- he just said it one day and it stuck. Even though I'm so not demanding at all.
I love it. It's very original.
Whenever I go out I'll say it, and people are like Amanda? Samantha? I'm like, I didn't dress up like this to be named Amanda. When my ex came up with it, I was actually trying to do more natural drag at the time.
Which is what-- I mean, can you explain the difference?
There are female impersonators, and gender illusionists, and there are people who are characters. A drag queen is very campy. There are people who are trying to portray a real woman, whereas drag is an exaggeration of a woman. And then there are characters within that, too-- more club kid-y. I'm definitely influenced by drag, but I'm more of a character now than anything. I started trying to look like a woman, but it quickly went south. It's just not my thing. In terms of Demanda now, with the whiteface and the getup, it started about 4 years ago.
What is your performance like?
I always say I'm “giving face and doing shows.” Being a meticulous mess. I can do on-stage performance but I don' t prefer that. It's old school in a traditional, small-town way. New York is very different. It's more spontaneous. They call it hosting -- working a room, being part of the entertainment. You know, if I hear a song I like I'd rather get up on a table impromptu and start performing rather than [standing up onstage] saying, “look at me!” But that's fun too, and everything has its place. Just not for me.
So you're more about interacting with the people at the club, in the audience.
Absolutely. I think it's a lot more fun when you're at a club and you see this character, and it's intriguing. [I] can talk to someone for a couple minutes and make them feel special, make them have an experience. It's all part of the fantasy.
When did you begin to do drag as Demanda, with the whiteface makeup, and the whole getup?
I was always obsessed with the dressed up culture, dressing up in fun outfits to go to clubs-- it evolved from that. But the first time I put on heels, it was like “Okay. I like this. This is fun.”
What size shoe are you?
[laughs] In women's, 12.
Where do you find shoes that big?!
Payless, though, I tell you. They're $30. I destroy every pair of shoes, jumping off bars and other nonsense. I bought the cutest pair of studded 4 inch heels there the other day. Putting on my first pair of heels was really --I like this-- and it's fun. And at the end of the day, it's attention, which is a drug.
I've always wanted to know, what kind of makeup do drag queens use?
Ben Nye or Mehron. Both are theatrical makeup-- I use a clown white foundation with super white face powder over it. You can buy it at Halloween stores, or Ricky's carries it, strangely.What would you call your aesthetic, then?
A mix of a lot of things. I'm heavily influenced by flappers and geisha. Actually, if I were to describe my style, it would be very Madame of the Brothel. Sleazy but pulled together. A little dark, a little seedy-- which is the kind of New York I enjoy, too. That's why I gravitate toward clubs, because it has a kind of grittier feel. I used to host every Monday at the Cock on 2nd and 2nd, just one room, divey, half-naked go-go boys, people doing whatever in the corner, and then me just crawling across the table...
Do you have drag queen friends? [Note: This is a lapse in the interview where I am mostly asking for my own personal dream of hanging out with a coven of drag ladies.]
I have tons of drag queen friends. Most of my friends are involved in nightlife somehow, either by dressing up or going out. They run the whole gamut from gogo boys to club promoters, performers– we all get it. There's a certain schedule for nightlife that we all operate on, and it's easy to relate to each other because of that.
Tell me about your work with GaySocialites.com.
Yes, well I'm taking a little time off from GaySocialite. I was actually mugged back in December and had my jaw broken. So I've taken time off from writing after that.
I'm so sorry! That's terrifying.
I was dressed up, too, so I think they thought they were robbing an old lady. So I turn around and there's this whiteface-- probably just freaked him. So I just haven't been writing a lot after that, but I still am editor-in-chief of Gay Socialite.
How did that come to be?
I became good friends with Charles Winters, who runs it-- we just really connected when we met. When he decided to step down as editor he trusted me to continue his vision but bring something fresh to it. I took that on as a challenge.
It's tough being freelance!
Oh, absolutely. The day Whitney Houston died- I was half done-up as Demanda, ready to go out, and bitch went and died on us. So, I have to write the story, and then I had to call all the writers, like, can you do a retrospective on her life, and then I finally made it out at 3 am.
That's a trooper.
I was already done up. Had to go.
What are your thoughts on RuPaul's Drag Race? It's so popular!
It is very popular! Its production quality as gotten better over the years. [laughs] I think in a way that it's buffoonery... However, I really enjoy it. It's entertaining.
A lot of them are not in on the joke.
Absolutely. I believe that. I just don't really want to see drag queens jumping in dumpsters, you know, diving for clothes. But at the end of the day, what it does for the culture is really really awesome. And I get really into the queens, of course, Sharon Needles--
She is. The ones who really shine through are great. Jinkx is my favorite. I'm in love with Jinkx now.
I saw her performing last week. She was performing in the middle of this runway at Westgay. And she started off with something very very operatic, and everyone just stopped and stared at her. And at the end, people just erupted in applause. I've never seen Westgay clap for anybody. Most people are just like, oh... blah blah, someone's on the bar, who cares. She captivated everyone. I just kept thinking, what a great pinnacle in someone's career. You're at the coolest party in New York City, this self-proclaimed showtune queen, you know, a dorky kid, and people are sitting there saying, “We love you for it.”
What was your first experience with drag?
I went to my first drag show when I was in Orlando for college. It was very traditional: get up on stage, do a Britney Spears song...
Did you think you would ever try it at that time?
No, not at all. I had never thought– even if 7 years ago you would have said I would be doing this, I would have been incredulous. I have a lot of friends from high school, college, random people from my past on my Facebook. They go through my pictures and say, “I never thought you would be doing this.”
Going through high school I was very very overweight, so [drag performance] is [still] a very different experience. So you know, walking around with this tight thing around my ass and have people come up to me and say, “Oh you look good, girl,” that feels nice! It feels really nice. When I was on my way here this woman asked me about my jeans, and she was like “Your ass is poppin'.” That's nice!
I have never gotten that compliment without it coming from a dubious source.
Well, I think she was stoned.
did you come to New York for originally?
I moved here after college to be an actor. In college I studied theater and sociology. And I moved here, and started doing the auditioning thing, realized this isn't my sort of thing-- I can't handle the rejection. I started writing a lot, which is when I did Don't Piss in My Martini, Please!
And now I'm doing exactly what I studied in college- theater and performance, because when I go out, it's actually a performance and group dynamics-- how people function in a party, and in a social atmosphere.
And you're also doing gender performance, that cross-section of sociology.
Exactly. That struck me not too long ago that I'm really using what I studied in a roundabout way.
And what do your parents think?
My mom loves it. She thinks I'm a hoot and a half. She's so completely opposite of me, so she can really let loose and have fun. I don't think she fully understands it, but she loves it. My parents are divorced; my dad and I aren't really close, and I was showing him pictures and he was like, “I get it, I get it! You're really funny, you do this well.”
I've always been the opposite of my parents: very outgoing, energetic,. As I said to my mom too, everything nuts she really likes it because of the creativity, and this, and I always say it's a a testament to her, because that's how she raised me- to be myself.
And you can't be more yourself than facing the world in heels and whiteface.
Heels and whiteface. Actually, I was telling my friend that I'm not a drag queen-- I'm just a drug addict with an overactive imagination. I get stoned and play dress-up.