Miami’s drag scene has exploded in the best way. New Times has been there to capture much of it through the lens of photographer Karli Evans. During the past year, Evans and filmmaking partner Cassandra Keith have chronicled the evolution of the scene in a documentary that creates a dialogue with six local performers and brings their fantasies to life.
The film, Emergence, pairs interviews with the performers with behind-the-scenes looks at them preparing for gigs and then
New Times: Where did your name come from?
Jupiter Velvet: The name "Jupiter Velvet" actually came from me searching the internet and finding a band called Jupiter in Velvet. I snatched the name, took out the “in,” and now, bitch, I’m here. It felt powerful, regal, and out of this world.
How does the name tie into the story of who you are as a drag performer?
Jupiter Velvet is a character I created, and the story goes like this: Jupiter is a 16-year-old girl who was kicked out by their parents, shunned by her planet, and then crash-lands on Earth on a stolen spaceship, specifically in Miami, Florida. She has infiltrated the Miami queer scene and is collecting all
But in reality, this character is a way for me to live out the female teen adolescence I wasn’t allowed to. I can be the archetype of a young girl as an older trans girl. I can live out what I was denied being able to experience since I had such a machismo-style upbringing as a Caribbean/South American kid. Now, as a trans woman, I want to experience all the things I wasn’t able to then. When I’m Jupiter in drag, I’m a little more stupid, klutzy, fun, and a version of myself if I was myself five years ago.
What are your inspirations for her and for your performances?
The quickest answer I could give you is: Patrick Nagel meets Memphis Design Group meets Riot Grrrl meets Lizzie McGuire meets Secret Life of an American Teenager [laughs]. That last one is a new addition. It’s back when Shailene Woodley was a baby; now she’s body-positive and superinvolved in protests and activism.
I actually had an Instagram from Chicago recently repost me and after thanking me for posting the trans hotline. They [wrote], “Jupiter is a
How did you start doing drag?
I got into doing drag just because of my whole life. I was always doing theater and performing and stuff and kind of fell into drag. When I was 16 or 17, I was on Tinder talking to a friend who’s in the scene now, LaDonna Sucia, and I was watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’d only run into drag at RuPaul’s Battle of the Seasons tour or when Drag Race girls would go to Wilton Manors because that was my idea of queer nightlife. You had to drive all the way up there to see shows. But LaDonna introduced me to Counter Corner, and I kept seeing that it looked supergritty and gross and fun. I finally went on the one-year anniversary.
I didn’t do drag then, but Joanne the Scanner was there and she performed, back when I think she was still [performing under the name] Ms. Prada. It was so fun. Miss Toto was there, Queef Latina was there, I think Lisa Limbaugh was there, and Juleisy and Karla were hosting and making it all one big kiki. Three months later, I started coming in looks to get their attention. Queef, Toto, and Lisa all pushed for me to get booked, and I finally ended up performing.
Queef became my drag mother, but I don’t remember exactly how — I wish I did because that feels important. I would always go over to Queef’s place before going to Corner because my parents didn’t know I was doing drag. I’d pack up all my drag, all my makeup; I’d carry out like three suitcases and tell them I was staying over a friend’s house for two days — but I brought what seemed like three weeks of bags. They never questioned it, but I think they knew I was up to something. Then Queef ushered me into this drag world by being my drag mom, and I learned to play and experiment with gender and makeup and identity, leaning into my gender identity little by little.
What is your fantasy segment of the film about?
When Karli approached me for this film, she told me we were going to be creating our own little fantasy world in this short, kind of experimental film where we could come up with whatever we wanted. I immediately thought I wanted Gami involved. She’s my other trans sister in the scene, and I wanted to make sure I had her eye. So the idea became me summing up my drag character, or at least one face of it, through a Lizzie McGuire-style parody as presented by executives at Disney Channel in the early 2000s.
I wanted to create this weird, twisted fantasy of what my Lizzie McGuire show would look like had I actually starred in one. I thought it was a fun way to incorporate everyone in the scene representing these characters. The jock played by Andro Gin, the best friend played by King Femme, and the beautiful bully played by Miss Toto, who was so funny as this popular pretty blond girl who also has the body of a personal trainer and bodybuilder.
How was it watching yourself onscreen in this?
I remember I got a Vimeo link to see the rough cut, and I didn’t click it because I wanted to watch it at the gallery opening for "SeaChange" [Karli Evans’ photography exhibit, which debuted in June] with everyone there. The first scene was Queef’s, and I immediately started crying. I cried [laughs]. Mine was second, and then the crying intensified. Seeing myself represented was so weird because I’ve been searching for representation from people like me on film my whole life, but no one has ever been a hairy trans femme queer artist like me on film. So it was really beautiful for me to see it and for them to think that of me.
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I remember Karli filming me in the bathroom and putting on my makeup, and she was getting all these angles. We’d worked together on her film Float, so I knew she could do amazing work, but I never saw myself as being an amazing subject, and I thought it was going to look so stupid. Then seeing it on film — the close-ups of me and the powder flying — I got really overwhelmed with emotion and saw myself as a beautiful artist. It was like, Holy shit, do other people see me like this? That’s so cool! It was a really nice moment, and then Kunst’s scene came up and I cried all the way through that as well.
Where can we find you regularly in the scene?
For more information about Emergence, visit igg.me/at/emergencemiami.