Dev Doee Is the Star We’ve Been Waiting For

Dev Doee never set out to be a drag queen. All she knew was the world of dance. Trained in ballet, hip hop, and modern at an early age, Dev devoted her life to strengthening her body, honing her flexibility and owning her musicality. While the dance world made her a razor-sharp performer, it also provided a safe space for her to play with presentation and explore gender. “When I lived in DC, I was on a dance team where I got into makeup and wigs, but I didn’t call it drag,” she tells me over the phone. “I was just into makeup, wigs and dancing. Then when I moved to New York. At first, I was really anti-drag. Being someone who’s trans, I was like, I don’t want people to confuse the two.”

At the dawn of the 2020 pandemic, Dev’s mindset took a radical shift. She began talking to different queens of the Bushwick scene. They encouraged her to perform. For her drag debut, she entered a competition and went home a winner. Four years later, one of New York City’s most-sought after talents, she’s the 2023 Glam Awards Breakthrough Artist of the Year and she just performed her one-woman show, Bare With Me. She’s also one of my oldest friends in this city.

I first met Dev in 2018. I had just moved to New York from Missouri and was immediately thrown into the world of media and queer nightlife. I met so many magnamic people, but after a while, I realized I could only call a few of them a true friend. Dev stood out to me not because of her talent but her heart. I saw something genuine in her, and I firmly believe that is the key to her success. Over the years, our friendship has blossomed into a sisterhood from our time in acting classes together to our messy nights out on the town. I’m lucky to know her, and the world is lucky to witness her as a fierce and forthright artist.

In Dev’s solo showcase Bare With Me, she pulls back the curtain. She takes the audience on a journey through all that she is. From the electrifying, show-stopping lip syncs she’s known for to original poetry and rare archival footage, Dev bares it all.

Eva: What was it that made your mindset change? Was it the fun of performing? Was it the praise you received

Dev: During the pandemic, I was like, “Girl, we could all die tomorrow. You need to either do it or don’t.” I thought to myself, Why am I depriving myself of something that feels so in alignment with what I do? I grew up as a dancer. I was a makeup influencer. I was so into performance and acting. It was just something I was scared to do because of how other people would see me.

Eva: What was that first competition you entered?

Dev: The first competition I did was Are You the Next Diva? hosted by one of the NYC drag legends and daughter of Kandy Muse, JanelleNo.5. I entered with my sister Mo’riah, and we completely stole the show. There was no competition. Those bitches were sick of us. It was one of those things where you’re like, I’m at the right place at the right time doing what I’m supposed to do. We walked in, everybody was looking at us and we walked out with a trophy. It was seamless.

Eva: Since 2020, how has your drag persona evolved?

Dev: It’s really interesting. People always talk about drag personas. I do think a lot of people have those, but I don’t have one. I’m just myself. The person you’re talking to right now is the same person you’d hear on the mic, which I think is what people resonate with. Aesthetically I’ve changed. The more time you have to practice, you get better at makeup. I look back at earlier photos and cringe sometimes. But I think the biggest change for me is my confidence in working a room. Drag has made me just a more confident, powerful person in any space. Whether there’s a wig on my head or not, it’s giving me. When I first started, I would just flip and flop across the stage (which I still do). I really do love to connect with people, make fun of them and uplift them. Really seeing people is a fundamental part of my drag.

Eva: You’ve been doing drag for four years now. In that time, you’ve made a name for yourself. You are so authentically you, and people hype you up every time you go onstage. What does it feel like to know you’re that girl?

Dev: This might sound cocky, but I’ve gotten to a place where I know I’m good. What really matters to me now is talking to other baby Black queens knowing that I’ve created my own lane and paved a path in this city that didn’t really exist before. There’s always been trans performers, but I think my style of performance and the way I dress and just, it’s a little less draggy and stuff. I’ve heard the way that I’ve inspired others, especially other Black queens and more up and coming queens. That means more to me than, “Oh, that flip!” and “That split!” and “That fit is pretty fit.” I know I’m all that, but being able to pay it forward inspiring people in the way that I was inspired by a Naomi Smalls, for example, really means a lot to me.

Eva: Wow. So wholesome. We’ve got America’s Drag Sweetheart over here y’all.

Dev: Was that wholesome?

Eva: I think so! I mean, you easily could have been like, “Well, I’m that bitch and it takes a lot of energy to be that bitch and fuck these other bitches.”

Dev: [laughs] Okay, you right.

Dev looks toward the camera with one arm in the air and the other on her heart.

Photo of Dev Doee by Raymond Fernandez

Eva: So what inspired you to create Bare With Me?

Dev: This Thanksgiving, for the first time in two years, I went home. When I looked through my childhood bedroom, I found an old journal I had written in high school which was probably the most depressed I’ve ever been in my entire life.I was reading the journal and I was like, “Who is this person?” I think I blocked things out. I almost forgot how much I was going through it at that time. Honestly I didn’t have anyone to talk to but this composition notebook. It was really dark and it was really intense. I felt like I was finding this ten years later for a reason.

I wrote poetry and things that people will never see or hear. So I wanted to put that into the show and center it around that. As time went on, it started to feel too cheesy. So the journal itself kind of got removed from the work, but some of the themes, feelings and overall messaging is there.

The show spawned from being back in an environment that used to trigger me – my childhood bedroom. This journal explicitly stated my deepest, darkest feelings at some of the lowest points in my life. It really inspired me to see how far I’ve come. Now I’m a breakthrough drag artist who’s killing it in the city. Little Devin could not imagine the life I’m living now. So I looked down at my journal and realized that I needed to create something out of this.

Eva: Wow.

Dev: [laughs] Your one-word response.

Eva: Well it’s just because I can relate. I’m writing some projects now loosely based off of different chapters in my life. I’m working on a few screenplays and a novel. Every time I work on these things, I’m brought back to these grueling moments in life. When I first began these projects, they were very dark and dreary. After a while, I realized that I needed to make something uplifting too. I want people to walk away from what I create and feel a sense of hope for the future.

So if those poems from high school aren’t in your show, what are the themes you pulled from them?

Dev: The show is actually an hour-long video with interludes which are live performances by me. The video is a compilation of self-tapes from acting classes we both attended. I also include my audition tapes for RuPaul’s Drag Race from the first one I ever did to the one I just did a few months ago. You get to see the evolution of my confidence in speaking to a camera, in acting, my opinion on drag and my opinion of myself.

Along with footage of myself, I include clips and archival footage of the queer icons who have shaped me: RuPaul, Marsha P. Johnson, Laverne Cox, and Ali Forney. I’m really into interviews. I’ll be up until 4 a.m. finding the most random shit. I’ve noticed that a lot of what I say in my own tapes or interviews align with what RuPaul used to say in the 90s or what Marsha said in her apartment while talking in her fur coat. In this show, I want to draw a connection from myself to the people I look up to. I want to show a different side of myself.

Dev Doee on-stage looks up toward the lights

Photo of Dev Doee by Raymond Fernandez

Eva: What is the driving force behind your desire to perform?

Dev: If I don’t perform for four days, I start to get sad. I won’t even realize why. There’s something about that energy exchange. I think Beyoncé feels the same way. She’s doing 75 shows on her tours. She’s got the same thing I do. It’s like a weird addiction.

I’ve talked to some other performers who feel like it’s very much a job for them. For me, drag is like a hobby that pays like a job. Even when I’m tired, as soon as I get on that stage, my whole vibe changes. I can be so over it not wanting to put makeup on or to leave the house. Once I get to the venue and get on that stage, everything changes.

My intent is the love of the craft. It’s the first thing in my life that I was like, “Oh, this feels right.” When I tried to just be a dancer, yes, I had wins, but it always felt like a fight. It always felt like friction. “Why am I so feminine when they want this? I don’t want to be masculine. I don’t want to do the hip hop dance this way. I want to do it like this.” Even in acting, it’s like I always would get in my head about memorizing the lines. When I do drag, there’s not a doubt in my head.

I’ve been chasing this thing trying to find where I fit in this world for so long. I’ve finally found it.

Follow Dev Doee on Instagram.

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Eva Reign

Eva Reign is a Peabody and GLAAD Award winning Brooklyn-based actress, writer and artist from St. Louis, Missouri. She is the star of Billy Porter’s directorial debut Anything’s Possible from Amazon Studios and MGM’s Orion Pictures. Her writing has appeared in Vogue, Vice, Them, The Cut, Byrdie, PAPER, and Highsnobiety.

Eva has written 2 articles for us.

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