Popularity is relative, and especially in the digital age. You could have hundreds of thousands of followers online, but be completely unknown in the streets — massively famous on Instagram, YouTube or Twitter, but lack any kind of real, authentic cool in person. For our new series, Coolest Person in the Room, New York-based photographer Megan Walschlager pinpoints all the people whose energy is contagious regardless of their following count or celebrity. Meet Ruby Fox, the New York based drag performer known as the Evel Knievel of Drag!
Tell me about your job.
Well, I consider myself a super star, obviously, but I am a performance and visual based artist here in New York City. Technically I'm a drag queen, but I like to spice it up a little bit, you know?
Right. How did you get into drag?
I was a little gay person who moved to the big city like everyone else. [laughs] I'm just a follower I guess. We all move here in hopes of doing big things and becoming the best creative we can all be. So I did that, and I ended up going out with a lot of people when I first moved here because I was friends with some people who were like nightlife club-goers. I was working in makeup at the time and started to get into looks and such, then I started getting into drag. It ended up that I was going out so much I started get paid to go out, then I started to get paid more to go out, and then I was making at my actual job, so that's when the transition happened.
Where did you move from?
I'm originally from Anchorage, Alaska. So scary and far away. What's Anchorage about? It's very cold.
I'm very curious what it's about. It's cold all the time?
Not all the time.
What's the warmest it gets?
Like 80-90 degrees in the summer.
Yeah, it gets hot. But there's only two months of that in the summer. Then the rest of the 10 months of the year are winter and there's no light. Literally.
It was really beautiful growing up in Alaska actually. I come from the biggest metropolitan city in Alaska — it's like 300,000 people, so it's not like a small town. But because it's so secluded everyone, like, knows each other. You grow up with a sense of community that you don't really get in newer cities or cities on the east coast. Especially when I moved to New York City, it was almost a culture shock that there were so many people, and I had to get reacclimated to the city and figure out how to act with certain people because I wasn't used to not being in a big city with small city values.
I feel like nightlife then becomes important because it can give you that community aspect.
Exactly. Because there's so many people working in it, but everyone knows everyone. You see the same bitches everyday and if you do something to that bitch everybody's gonna know about it.
Right. So, you were working as a makeup artist, so that was a natural transition into drag. But also your performances are very athletic and acrobatic, what is your background in that?
When I was growing up, my mom worked a lot, so instead of hiring different nannies she was like, "I'm going to put you in sports." So I grew up doing everything — from dance to gymnastics, football, soccer — all these things. I was playing all these different sports and training a lot. I was a ballet dancer for a long time. So I think when it came to becoming a drag queen, I had my whole dance background to fall on, my whole makeup artistry and creative background to fall on, and all of that melted together to help give me the trajectory that I've had. It's all seemed to happen pretty quick because I've been doing my own "versions" of drag since I was like 6!
I do have a lot of acrobatics I put into my drag performance. My performances are very captivating and high energy, which is important for the sector I am working in. I'm not just performing in bars all the time, I'm performing for huge audiences, so I have to do something that they will connect with. A lot of people connect with acrobatics and athleticism and just really being on beat and getting into the music, giving them almost a spiritual experience that they can see on stage.
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Right. Some of your iconic performances include diving off the second floor of Public, or when your boot caught on fire at The Deep End.
Yes. I jumped off of a ladder into a split and the floor was covered in cardboard and my whole back of my heel sparked up and caught on fire in the performance. It went out because I kept performing with it, but it was a really cool moment. It was kind of like when you see a welder welding — that was what the back of my heel gave.
Another iconic moment — this is probably going to be my merch, by the way — a sparking shoe, jumping off Public, and setting myself on fire for this competition I did. I was performing in this competition and I lit myself on fire during the climax of the song and put it out with a back handspring and people were gagging.
When you're getting ready for a gig or a night out, do you have any routines or rituals?
I mean, getting ready for me is pretty quick. I think because I spend my 9-5 in the day time putting everything together — doing the hair, putting the looks together, getting all the music mixes — by the time it's 8 or 9PM, it's just about me sitting down, playing some mix on SoundCloud that Mazurbate came up with and just painting. As soon as my face is beat and I put that hair on, I'm ready to go.
You've told me before that sometimes when you're really busy you'll do your makeup earlier in the day and sleep like a vampire.
Yeah, sometimes because I do so many things in the daytime — I may have to go fabric shopping and only have an hour to do that and then go help a friend with something and then have a gig — sometimes I will get up at 8 or 9AM and do my makeup, so I can sneak in a nap later in the day. I think of it like Cleopatra because I kind of cross my arms as if I'm in a tomb. You gotta keep the face on. No one has time to redo the face three or four times a day.
And when you're in front of a mirror doing your makeup that long, you start to hate doing drag. So for my beats, I don't like to spend more than an hour or 45 minutes on it. If you sit there forever, you're going to start hating it. It's boring.
What is your go to drink?
I'm so basic — it's definitely a tequila ginger. I like sweet drinks. Anywhere I go, I know that's what I'm gonna get. It's never different. It's never shady. Or I will get a spicy margarita because we love some spice.
What is your favorite song to perform?
My all-time favorite song that I love to perform and have performed everywhere and probably need to retire is "Yala" by MIA. That song is done. New Year's last year, I literally had to be like, "This is the last time you'll ever see me perform this song," because I was getting really attached.
What is your favorite song to hear out?
My favorite song to hear at the club is "151 Rum." I heard it on Euphoria. I love rappers. When I'm at home, I listen to a lot of rap music. I love "Fast" by Sueco the Child. I love really weird rap songs. I love Tyler the Creator and the whole Igor album right now.
I also heard a rumor that you have a rocket science degree.
[laughs] Okay, I'm not going to check off the true or false on that because it's kind of a mix. I was telling a friend that actually before I moved to New York, I went to college and studied biochemical engineering. It sounds way more happy and crazy and like I'm actually smarter than it actually is. I just basically wanted to create cosmetics. My whole vision was to be in cosmetic manufacturing and work for a huge company like L'Oreal or Estee Lauder, and that's kind of the only way to do it. So, when I was in class it would be weird because everyone wanted to cure cancer and I just wanted to make eyelashes and mascara and shit. But we love. And that's what propelled me to move here and get into the beauty industry.
When I graduated I was like, "Okay, I'm leaving this and I'm going to go work in hair and makeup for awhile." Because I feel like in the future when I do bounce back into my degree I have all of that to fall back on. I will have had my hands dirty in the industry, I will know better — from my experience on both sides — what is going on.
Do you remember your first party in New York?
The first party I ever went to was Ladyfag's Holy Mountain.
RIP. At Slake?
Yes! That's so scary that that was my first party.
It was mine too.
Really?! I went with my roommate at the time Jeffrey Scott — he's in nightlife too. He took me there. He wanted to be in nightlife for awhile and now he's thriving in it. And I was like, "Okay maybe I want to do it." And it's so funny to me because I am now one of the resident hosts of Holy Mountain.
My little gay ass did not ever think I would be working a party — and especially not my first party coming in. My first gig was actually a party that I helped start at a venue that shall not be named. The party was called Oops. It was like a Wednesday night performance party.
What do you think are some of the coolest places in New York? What are your hidden gems?
There are three types of places that can be a hidden gem. 1) A place you can go and just kiki and go crazy and party. 2) A place where you can be mellow with your girls and have a great time. 3) A place where you can go by yourself and have a great time.
Let's start with kiki-ing. A hidden gem is definitely China Chalet. I say it's hidden because the thing is you're only going there once a month for Heaven on Earth and you're never going another time. You have a dance floor, a whole lounge area restaurant and then a bar area. It doesn't matter who you are, you're going to be able to sit in one room and enjoy yourself. You can be a tweaker, you can be a boring bitch or you can just be wanting to get some food and you'll have somewhere to sit.
A place you can go and hang out with your friends? I definitely think The Deep End is a hidden gem. I like that it's not as popular because we've all had nights here when we're just black out crazy. It's just good vibes to chill and have a good time.
My favorite thing to do by myself is to go to the city to St. Patrick's Cathedral. I'm not religious or anything, but I think it's a great place to sit and just clear your head. Nightlife is a lot. You're in front of a lot of people all the time and so to be able to go to a quiet place in New York City is something I hold really sacred.
What is next for you?
Right now I am working and finishing up my album that will be out before the end of the year. It's titled Excedrin like the headache medication. I picked that name because it's a synth pop album that's just a headache in itself. It's a headache. I'm a headache. And I feel like it's also a cure for the headache in itself. It's very full circle. And the title track is called "Cancelled Everyday, Renewed Every Night" and the acronym for that is CEDREN. It's a whole thing, like, I'm tired of being cancelled everyday and renewed every night. I just want to be myself. So we're x'ing that.
You said it's a synth-pop album?
Yeah, a lot of hard bass beats, a lot of instrumentals, a lot of glitch hop.
Are you doing all the writing and producing yourself or how does that work?
I'm writing a lot of it myself. I have some amazing producers I've been working with, but I'm helping co-produce some tracks, which I've never done before because I never took music. That's the one thing I didn't do my whole life — even in sixth grade when you play the recorder and then go into high school and play an instrument — I opted out of that shit. I was like, "I'm not wasting my time blowing on this thing. I'll have better things to blow on when I'm older." But it's been really interesting to pursue my musical endeavors.
You also make all of your own looks, right?
Yeah, I also sew all my own looks. I think it's important because I treat drag like the old school drag. A lot of my drag is based off my own point of view — what I think and how I see the world. And I have very strong opinions on things, which has been beneficial for me in a lot of things, but it's also been crazy because not a lot of people always agree with you. But I think having a strong opinion and being true to yourself and your vision is what makes a really strong queen.
So, yeah. I sew all my own looks, do all my own hair, I make all my own mixes — I do everything myself because I really want my drag aesthetic, my drag persona to be a full manifestation of my vision and how I interpret the world.
I really admire that you never seem to be too put off by not knowing how to do something. It's an admirable quality.
I think that a lot of us put limitations on ourselves, and being that I am a drag performer — and that I grew up in the 90s — my female superstars were like Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider and girls in House of the Flying Daggers. All these hard, take no shit women. I think that inspired me to never put any limits on anything I've ever done. And because I grew up doing so many things. I was just like, "Oh, this? If they can do it, I can do it." Like if Britney Spears can be a superstar in the world? I know I got more talent than that bitch, I can do it. No shade to Britney or anything, we love our goddess Britney. But when you look at other people you can just tell, "I have it. I can do it too."
People always say don't meet your idols, but I love meeting my idols because it makes everything seem more attainable.
That's exactly what it is.
Where does the name Ruby Fox come from?
Growing up, my grandfather did a lot of martial arts, so I grew up with him being super into everything Eastern and Eastern Culture and watching films like House of the Flying Daggers; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. And in that film there was a villainess named Jade Fox and I just loved how acrobatic she was and how she was just this hardcore queen and kicked everyone's ass. I thought she was major. At the time I was also obsessed with Megan Fox — invented being gorgeous. This was also during season 7 of Drag Race when Pearl was on there, and I was like,"I want a name that can be a gem. People can just call me Ruby and then I want a sickening last name." So all of that came together and made Ruby Fox.
Lots of inspiration.
It was a lot of different inspiration. That's how everything I do works. Lots of layers. I'm an onion.
Any final words?
I have a lot of things coming up — especially for Halloween. I'm going to be one of the headliners for Frankie Sharp's VooDoo Party. I have like 10 backup dancers. It's gonna be a huge production. There's gonna be some familiar faces in there.
OMG. Are you leading rehearsals?
Yeah, this is gonna be a thing. Very Dance Moms. I'm a hardcore dancer, so when people are like, "Ooh, I can dance for you!" I'm always like, "I don't think you understand how hardcore this is. We're having auditions. You will be kicked out of the number if you're not good enough." It's gonna be really good. Get your tickets girls! But yeah, catch me anywhere you see Ty Sunderland. He keeps me booked.
Photography by Megan Walschlager