Nina West is one of the more unique queens to sashay through the Drag Race workroom because of who she is and because of her uncompromised vision.
Nina’s drag is an homage to the old school of drag with an emphasis on performance and classic camp not often seen nowadays. She used her time on the show to spotlight issues important to her such as: staying politically informed and active, using your voice to combat bullying, standing up for trans rights and perhaps most importantly, the value of being kind. Nina shared who she was with the world, and we fell in love with her which is why she was named Miss Congeniality of Rupaul’s Drag Race season 11 by her fellow contestants.
Nina has not slowed down since her time on Drag Race. She is currently starring as Edna Turnblad in the national tour of Hairspray and continues her philanthropic work as founder of the Nina West Foundation which to date has raised more than $2 million dollars to support LGBTQ+ kids and families.
Most recently Nina celebrated her Ptown performance debut with her show Bear Trap which she performed during Bear Week. In the lead up to the performance we joined our colleagues at Bear World Magazine to not only discuss her show but to get her feelings on Pride, the current political climate and what it was like to work with Dolly Parton!
Can you tell us a bit about what to expect from you at PTown Bear Week?
Nina West: AH! I can’t believe I am getting the chance to head to PTOWN! Are you kidding me? This is my PTOWN debut and to have it be during BEAR WEEK? I am so excited. I think you can expect me to be all over the place, all week long, soaking up the fun, the community, and the beauty that is Provincetown! And the show will be fun too! Some songs! Some stories! And definite laughs. I really can’t tell you how excited I am to be coming to Town Hall and PTOWN.
What message do you want to give the LGBTQ community during the Pride months?
NW: Pride is more important than ever. I feel like that has been a mounting message these last few years, but it really is the case. We are in some scary times, and in these times, we need to make sure we are safe. And in that, we need to protect one another. THIS is what community is about – this is what we should be embracing!
We are a community that comes together because of our differences, we LGBTQIA+ and our threads of commonality provide a bond that we must fortify. And we cant just celebrate or protest or post or fly pride flags during Pride month. Our visibility must be omnipresent. We must be everywhere. Because we are. Don’t let them silence you.
Your fans look to you as a shining example of kindness and positivity. In light of recent events at the Supreme Court would you recommend we stay motivated, optimistic and kind? What can we do to not feel so helpless?
NW: Well, you have to get involved. If you are reading this, and think that anything happening in the world right now does not effect you or the life you are living, you are wrong. We are all in danger of losing fundamental rights due to the recent decision that came down from the Not-So-Supreme Court. And woah, people all over this country are experiencing severe trauma as a result. So, first things first – I just want to encourage people to feel whatever they are feeling and allow themselves some time to figure out what the hell they are thinking, experiencing, going through. But don’t live in that space, because we need you to dust yourself off and get motivated to move into action.
And kindness does not mean you bow down and just accept the world for what it is. Kindness is a powerful tool that I use everyday to learn how to protect myself in a world that does not want to see me succeed. What do I mean? Well, sure, it is kind of you to be respectful of others and their opinions. HOWEVER, it is also an act of kindness to stand in your truth and protect yourself. To stand up for yourself. Kindness must be rooted in your truth and your identity, who you are at the core…and if that is under attack, you can’t possibly give your best self TO YOURSELF let alone the world. So, start with YOU. Because we need you. ALL OF US. Together. And this is truth. Our movements are all linked. The fight for body autonomy, the fight for reproductive rights, the fight for civil rights, the fight for marriage equality, the fight for safe schools for our children — they are all linked. And we can’t get defeated.
You’ve worked with Dolly Parton…we love her!! Please tell us something, anything about how she is in real life and what that experience was like for you?
NW: Dolly is the real deal. I feel that I have actually been touched by a living, breathing angel that walks this Earth every day. And I am so grateful. I mean, I can’t believe it, and I pinch myself, but I am so eternally grateful for the love of that woman and the joy she gives to so many simply by leading a life rooted in kindness. Like, I think about this every day. What would Dolly do? How would Dolly respond? How would she treat others? And in these really difficult moments, it helps. I mean, sure, sometimes, I can be found scrolling through social media, really cursing up a storm at the headlines or tweets from “politicians”, but then I try to take that step back and really focus on what Dolly would do in that moment. This is a woman who doesn’t take any gruff from anyone, calls the shots, and lives a life fully.
And what is she like in real life? The best. She radiates love, life…joy. And she is also real. Just a person, who loves hard, and experiences all of these same things we all are as well. So, that makes it all the more humbling. She walks in a life led by a higher being, and that serves her, and allows her to be so good to the rest of us. And, while I am not a religious person, per se, I know that I could learn a thing or two about being present in this world and that I am just one of many millions of light that deserve to shine. And she teaches me that every time. And again, I can’t believe she and I have found each other, even if just briefly, in this world and life.
What advice would you give the 40+ queer community in terms of how to stay engaged with the queer culture and the younger generation?
NW: We, as a community, like our cis heterosexual counterparts, seem to put a lot of emphasis on youth. But honey, the 40+ crew is where it is at! We have lived experiences and knowledge to put to work, and we are just getting started. AND WE HAVE TO BE. Don’t sit back. Don’t think this isn’t your time or your moment or even your fight, because it is.
Queer culture is changing, rapidly, and we are being asked by our younger generations to listen to them, hear their truths, and respond – and equally, we are being asked to share our truths and our stories and our experiences. Is coming out the same today as it was when I did it? NO. Is it harder? Easier? I don’t know. I just know my own lived experience. I also know that our youth are growing up in a time when politicians are actively telling them they can’t express who they are in classrooms or communities around this country. We have got to step up and use our voices for them. We are all in this together, and we have the history in our community of stepping up. And sure, many of us have never “stepped down” from the calling to help LGBTQIA+ people find safe space, access, equity, etc. But, the time to rest is not now. We must keep on.
The Hairspray tour is keeping you plenty busy! How is life on the road and are there any additional projects you are working on that you’d like to promote?
NW: I don’t know if I have ever done anything more challenging AND rewarding in my career quite like Hairspray. This is an opportunity of a lifetime to play this role around the country, sharing this story, during this specific period of time. EDNA is teaching me so many things about myself that I was fully unaware of also while just reminding me every single night that I got this. I can do this, and I am pretty great just the way I am. This has been, perhaps, the greatest professional joy of my life…so far! I am hoping to have so more magic to share with you soon enough!
What I can share is that I am releasing my first children’s book, THE YOU KIND OF KIND, on October 25! This has been a massive undertaking that has taken 3 years to bring to the world, and I cannot wait for everyone to see it. And yes, the book is about kindness, and celebrating kindness…and allowing each of us to find kindness in the world that we love so much. It features gorgeous illustrations from Hayden Evans, and there are even a few Easter eggs hidden throughout the pages that will bring joy to Nina fans, Drag Race fans, and fans of children’s literature.
Are you open to returning to Drag Race for an All Stars season? Why or why not?
NW: OF COURSE I am! Drag Race changed my life and has opened me up to a world I could only ever dream of, so to go back and do an All Stars run would be incredible! The timing just has to be right. Right now, I am committed to Hairspray through July of 2023, touring all over and coming to a city near YOU. And so after that maybe? Maybe Mama Ru will call?