BOYSTOWN — It's not easy being a queen.
The drag queen scene in Chicago is competitive, with limited gigs for dozens of ladies in town. And for 20-somethings just breaking into the scene, finding a "drag mother," or more experienced queen to mentor them, is nearly impossible.
"It feels like being a freshman and going in and having all the seniors really look at me funny," said Shane Kalminski, who started performing as Shanté DéTroit in December. "Sometimes it can be intimidating. Not everyone is always friendly."
One group of amateur queens found a solution. They started mentoring each other — a sisterhood instead of a mother-to-queen relationship, calling themselves Chicago's "Drag Mafia."
"We saw that none of us were going to get help from people older than us," Kalminski said. "But if we relied on each other, we could start excelling."
Drag Mafia started off as just a private Facebook group name that the amateur queens used to chat. The eight or so queens had met through Boystown events, such as Spin's Monday night amateur competition called Dragzilla and Roscoe's Tuesday night Drag Race.
Once they started going out together — both in and out of drag— they'd drunkenly yell out "Drag Mafia" in Boystown bars, perpetuating the name.
Now it's more than an inside joke; they're making their existence known. After Shanté DéTroit won a drag photo competition, she snagged the ladies a regular gig at the Underground Wonder Bar as the Drag Mafia. And in the next round of Dragzilla semifinals, four Drag Mafia girls are competing.
"Someone said, it should be called 'Drag Mafia presents Drag Night at Spin'," said Nate Stoner, who performs as Specificity Jones and will be competing in Dragzilla finals later this year.
The primary purpose is to be friends, to support each other — and to try to avoid the "cattiness" of Chicago drag, said Mack Miller, who performs as Rockette Roullette. Miller said older queens are threatened by "the fight" they see in younger girls.
"We don’t want the negative crowd that comes with the drag community," Miller said.
Of course, as with all proper sororities and competitions, the Drag Mafia is not without its own inner drama. Even though the group formed just a few months ago, one queen already has flown the coop because of a frenemy situation.
Faheem Adams, aka Dior Amore, and Jeremy Sailes, aka Eve Devorié, met out on the drag scene before Drag Mafia formed, but an argument during a Rihanna-themed night at Spin led to Dior leaving the Mafia.
"It's typical drag queen drama," Adams said. "I hate to say it, but it’s a competition at the end of the day. As Bey said when she left Destiny’s Child, 'it was time'."
The relationship may always be a bit strained, they said separately, but Sailes recently posted on the Drag Mafia Facebook wall that "the beef has been squashed" and the two are on friends terms.
"I don't know if we'd be Coco and Alyssa," Sailes said, referring to the bitter rivals on drag legend RuPaul's LOGO show, "RuPaul's Drag Race." "But we're kind of a Rihanna and Beyonce type thing. We have a frenemy association."
Beyond that beef, the Mafia girls generally support each other even when competing against one another. Since contests are often judged by audience participation, competing girls will throw their support behind the queen who seemed to get the best audience reaction. That way, at least one of the Mafia girls will win, they said.
This tactic doesn't always sit well with outsiders, and some say they "rig the audience" by banding together, Miller said. But as far as Mafia girls are concerned, they're just a group of friends helping each other out.
"If I’m not going to win," Kalminski said, "you better win, bitch."
The Drag Mafia's second performance at the Underground Wonder Bar is Sunday — at 1:45 a.m.