A Gala Evening in Cel­e­bra­tion of Win­nipeg’s Grande Dame of Drag, Jen­ni­fur Coates

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - FRONT PAGE -

Satur­day, 9 p.m. Club 200 Cover $5 at door “She ac­tu­ally saved my life. She was there when I re­ally needed her. My mom and my Nana are the best women in my life.” In­deed, John’s mom came around; she even made two of Jen­ni­fur’s out­fits — in­clud­ing a back­less show-stop­per in which she won her first ti­tle. Cum­ming is a self-taught drag artist. There were queens he looked up to, but he had no men­tor. “Back then, we didn’t have drag moth­ers. We were just groups of friends. We were all young; we didn’t have any­one who had ex­tra money or ex­pe­ri­ence. Sure, we knew hair­dressers but we mostly did our own hair and makeup.” Jen­ni­fur is named after a girl he dated in high school. “She was very beau­ti­ful, and I knew I wanted a name that had that fem­i­nin­ity and glam­our.” (The ‘fur Coates’ part was meant to be a cheeky nod to the fact that John is nat­u­rally a hairy guy, but it also evokes lux­ury and glam­our.) Both the drag com­mu­nity and Win­nipeg’s LGBTQ scene have changed since Jen­ni­fur Coates en­tered in 1974; there are more peo­ple do­ing drag but fewer clubs to do it in. That hasn’t sapped Cum­ming’s in­ter­est in per­form­ing. “I sit here in awe that it’s been 40 years. It doesn’t feel like it’s been 40 years, be­cause it’s been a plea­sure. It’s al­ways been fun. I re­ally, re­ally en­joy it. It’s an av­enue to bring me into a dif­fer­ent per­son­al­ity, and it re­ally is an up­lift­ing feel­ing.” Cum­ming has worked tire­lessly as a fundraiser and vol­un­teer. He’s pres­i­dent of Gio’s Cares, a LGBTQ char­ity that raises funds to help peo­ple liv­ing with HIV/AIDS and other ill­nesses. He is also the pres­i­dent of Artemis Hous­ing Co-op, which pro­vides safe, af­ford­able hous­ing to those with chronic ill­nesses. He’s a be­hind-the-scenes worker-bee type. That a gala is be­ing thrown in his hon­our feels surreal to him. For Jen­ni­fur, how­ever… “Jen­ni­fur’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent,” he says. “She likes to put her face out there and be proud of what she’s done. That’s what I like about her; she’s very ballsy. Jen­ni­fur is elated and happy. From my point of view as John, I’m kind of wor­ried, only be­cause I don’t know what to ex­pect. But I know it’ll be spec­tac­u­lar.” He’s also deeply touched by the recog­ni­tion. “I’m shocked and elated that the com­mu­nity thinks I de­serve an hon­our of any sort,” he says, chok­ing up. “I’m start­ing to get a lit­tle verklempt. I just think if any­one sticks to what they like, they’ll get it done. My Nana al­ways said what goes around come around, so if you want to do good, do good.”

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