Rebecca Havemeyer, the namesake of this painting, is one of the main drag personas of Paul Soileau [pronounced, Swallow]. “Rebecca is your favorite Grandma….that character, to me, is a vessel for bringing lots of fun, lots of joy, and lots of home and family to people.“ Paul has always struggled with the male role he was assigned at birth. “I believe that these characters I do are the little voices in me screaming, ‘I’ll help you!’ Not to save me or anything, but to really allow me to explore, and to meet other people who can mentor me or inspire me.”

Paul grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and he says that he’s, “never been satisfied with the uniform of the male gender.” He always played the female character in childhood games, and manipulated the boys he grew up with. “I was good at it; I knew how to do it; it was fun, and it's how I always was.” While he’s always considered himself more feminine, his gender is not binary, it’s, “something in between.”

Doing drag has made Paul face some of his own gender hang ups. “I struggle with this shit at 38. Where kids today don't even give a fuck.” He sees this revelation as a continuing cycle. “I worked in bars in New York, and the older queens working the bar were like, 'Ya'll didn't have it the way we did!'” And now he finds himself marveling at the ease of the younger generation. “It's beautiful. They don't care. And there's this really excited freedom in exploring gender, and even the fact that the boys are putting on makeup and painting their nails. Little things, that when I was younger, ooh, you got your ass kicked for that big time.” It makes him take stock in the baggage he holds on to. “I have hang-ups that are no longer relevant. They are in my environment, in my life, in my family circles and my social circles somewhat, but, 'girl take it off your back.'”

Performing is a way for Paul to let these issues play out on stage. “It's very nice when I can throw on a wig, and let those characters take over me. They are me. They're not different people. They are very much a part of my psyche, and what the hell’s going on inside of me. So I welcome it, and I give them full reign. Let that demon in. Let it talk for itself. I'm like the ventriloquist's dummy.”

Hearing that his work has helped others is what turns his performance into something more. “Because if that's inspiring you, then it's not just putting a wig on for me anymore.” It makes him realize that he can walk the walk, and talk the talk. But it doesn't have to all come at once. “If talking the talk inspires the walk, let it. Just give it some time. That's what I grapple with, getting my walking on. I walk better in heels. My flats are slow.”

At festivals and rallies, when audiences show up dressed in flamboyant outfits, he tells them, “Don't make this your Halloween. This is how you like to dress. Don't go home, and go back to the bank, and put the khakis on.” He tries to make them realize that they need to start incorporating their true selves into their own life. “There's a time when you take it off, and you can't just become the other person any more.” It’s a lesson that he tries to turn back on himself at the end of the day. “When you're Paul, you have to be the Paul you want to be, not the Paul that's who you were raised to be.”

CHRISTEENE, his other main drag persona, is vastly different from Rebecca. CHRISTEENE is, “more dangerous. It's a lot more shamanic.” As the character has evolved, she’s taken on a life of her own, and, “has kind of become, not very human any more, more of a mythological gollumesque creature. Which I love. More of a spirit than a person.”

The character CHRISTEENE has created some controversy, and gotten a lot of backlash, some from the transgender community. Paul takes those moments to have conversations with people, if they will let him. “You start to understand how different your life is from their life, and where you meet in the middle. So you're forced to look at your work, which is good.”

But he doesn't let the critique touch his characters, because he sees it as an art form that flows from himself. “If it offends you, sorry. But I'm glad. If you leave the show and go home because you can not stand it, you're going to have to wake up the next morning and question yourself, why you left….There's something inside of you that really doesn't like this, why? And it's probably something you don't want to deal with, nine times out of ten. So great, [I] did a good job on somebody.”

No matter how much change his work can catalyze, in himself or others, the truth is “all these characters I've ever done, were only because I'm a fucking born gay clown, and that's my gift. I love a microphone, I love keeping a room busy and I love keeping a ship afloat for as long as I can. I love it. First and foremost, before anything else, that is my favorite thing in the world to do, is to entertain.”

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