Cynthia Lee Fontaine, a Puerto Rican drag queen best known for her performance on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” joined the Bowdoin community in Morrell Lounge on Wednesday night for an interview and a musical performance. Student organizers hoped the event would bring greater intersectionality to Latinx Month programming, which runs from September 15 to October 15.
Her visit touched on themes of family, health and getting out of one’s comfort zone.
Fontaine’s visit was organized by the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) President Louis Mendez ’19. Mendez was excited about the potential of this event to open up discussions around queerness in Latino communities.
“I focus on popular topics [for Latinx Month events], but also on topics that are important to speak about. Bringing in a drag queen is our first step to try and make things better. A lot of people see the Latino community and don’t often think that we intersect with other identities. The biggest part that I want to have people get out of this is the idea that the Latino community is growing,” says Mendez.
Bowdoin has only hosted two drag queen events in the past: one in 2012 and one in 2015. Student organizers see drag as a topic that will open up discussions about complex issues involving identity and self-acceptance.
“In a lot of ways, drag is misunderstood. Drag is gender-bending. It’s a queer artform. Beyond that it’s a lot of things—it’s entertainment, it’s playing a character. It’s just having fun with gender,” said Archer Thomas ’21.
In a question and answer session, Fontaine acknowledged the effect of the pressure of masculinity in the Latino community on her role as an entertainer.
“It’s quite a challenge. In my case, what I do is I get to know people. Instead of being self-defensive, I try to create a bridge of communication between me and people who are part of the Hispanic community, the Latino community,” said Fontaine. “Be friendly. That’s the best way that we can show the others what we have.”
Her challenges most notably included her relationship with her family. When her mom accidentally discovered her involvement in the LGBTQ community, she refused to talk to Fontaine for a long time. It was only after Fontaine was diagnosed with liver cancer that her mom came back into her life.
“She got the opportunity to see the entire show. She called me crying and she said ‘I love you. I’m so sorry. You are such an inspiration and you’re going to be such an inspiration for so many people—even for myself—to comfort and to fight for what you love,’” said Fontaine.
While filming season eight of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Fontaine was diagnosed with stage one liver cancer. She also recently recovered from pneumonia in an ICU. Despite her illness, Fontaine still uses her positivity to influence others in her drag career.
“Drag doesn’t have any comfort zone. You can do whatever, and with that ‘whatever’ you can conquer hearts. That’s the main part for myself, too—to entertain, make people smile, make people laugh, have good faith and bring a message,” said Fontaine.
Always passionate about health issues, Fontaine also uses her platform to promote HIV and AIDS prevention for the LGBTQ and Latinx communities and to educate others about sexuality.
“I take advantage of my character as an entertainer to advocate and to educate. I love it. I did not have this opportunity because I had to learn everything by myself,” Fontaine said.