VIZIN, pronounced ‘vision,’ is a Native American drag queen from the Arikara Tribe who told Indian Country Today that she used to see copies of the newspaper at the Fort Berthold gas station and now was thrilled to be doing an interview as a successful dance music vocalist.
VIZIN currently lives in Los Angeles and just this year, her song, a remix of the 1978 gay anthem “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” reached the No. 24 slot on the Dance Club charts.
Though she is now in the limelight and doing well as a drag queen without having appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race, things haven't always been peaches and cream, VIZIN once weighed just over 700 pounds and went on a miraculous road to weight loss to achieve her success today.
In a personal and candid interview with Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling, VIZIN, the Arikara drag queen, tells how a once as a shy teen, she overcame struggle and maintained consistency to achieve success.
Schilling: A lot of drag queen entertainers lip-sync, some sing themselves, but with your own voice, you have charted on Billboard as one of the top 40 in dance music. You even charted above Taylor Swift how does all of this feel?
VIZIN: It has been very exciting. This has really been unexplainable. It is beyond my wildest dreams.
Schilling: Since you are fairly new to Hollywood, do people look at you like, 'who is this person?'
VIZIN: Yes, I think they do. It's like, 'where did she come from?' (laughs)
Schilling: Do you think you prefer dance music because the tempo is similar to the beat of a Native drum?
VIZIN: Yes exactly. I love dance music, but truth be told I love all types of music. And I don't just listen to one type either. I have made mixes for myself in the past which contained opera, Benni Benassi (dance) and a lot of others. I definitely connect with the beat of the drum in dance music.
Schilling: How does it feel to be a Native American drag queen in California?
VIZIN: It's definite culture shock. I grew up on a reservation in North Dakota. Coming out to Hollywood and Los Angeles was definitely a culture shock. I grew up knowing my culture and my heritage, but I always reached out toward white popular culture as well. It is funny now that I've come out here, I am immersed in this white culture, I now find myself clinging to what I know in terms of tradition. And now that I'm here I find myself wanting to explore more into my heritage now than ever before.
Schilling: What do you mean by clinging to what you know?
VIZIN: I guess I wouldn't consider myself a culturally traditional Native person. I am not saying I don't embrace my heritage, I grew up and didn't do a lot of traditional things. I mean obviously I'm gay, but I never really grew up wearing beadwork or expressing myself in a way that says definitively I was Native American.
Now that I'm living out here in Los Angeles, everyone just assumes I am Hispanic. I find myself having to tell people more that I am Native American, I am Arikara from Fort Berthold, and now I find myself trying to teach or inform people in how to respect the culture that I grew up in. It feels really strange here.
Schilling: I guess it's safe to say sometimes you never feel more Native than when you are in a place where there are no Native people.
Schilling: So you say you come from a place of traditional humility but now you are this flamboyant figure in Los Angeles as well as a correspondent for the fashion world.
VIZIN: Well you know, in a way fashion is drag. Drag queens like to embrace this sense of fashion. The essence of drag is dressing up in your best, the word drag itself means 'dress as a girl.'
Schilling: There is one amazing aspect of your life story. You once weighed 700 pounds?
VIZIN: I was 500 pounds in high school. I was very tall. I was always artistic and always had a bit of femininity in my voice. Everyone knew I was different. I wasn't really in a bad place, but I always felt I was looking for some sort of change. However, there was always an excuse since I was that large.
When I came out is when I essentially cut loose in my life. I was able to allow people to see the person I was behind sadness. Once I came out as gay, everyone told me, 'Well, DUH.'
Schilling: How old were you when you came out?
VIZIN: I was actually 19 years old. That is considered late nowadays.
Schilling: So in your story, you have talked about getting gastric bypass surgery. Which would account for losing the first 200 pounds, then the body tends to plateau. How did you manage to lose the additional approximate 300 pounds? It's no mystery that many Native people do get caught in cycles of destruction.
VIZIN: To lose that much weight is definitely a struggle. My mother was a recovering alcoholic, she sobered up before I was born. My mother always held a 'One Day at a Time,' mentality. Losing weight is about consistency, the finish line may appear far, but you will still get there when you get there. That is how I've taken my weight loss, I lost the first 200 pounds in six months, I was stagnant for a while but then I realized it had to do something. I started walking, walking turned into running, running turned into the gym and now I'm here. My biggest fear was dying on the surgery table. But my mother's fear was having me die on the couch because I couldn't breathe. I had sleep apnea and was tired all the time.
Schilling: So you self-identify as Two-Spirit. How is this received in the LGBT community in Los Angeles?
VIZIN: For the most part, it is generally accepted for exactly as it is. I think the Two-Spirit community finds refuge in the gay community. It is nice that we can connect in the sort of way in which we connect our identity today to gender. Even within the trans community, we connect in this way because Two-Spirit can go both ways in terms of gender. I do a lot of personal soul-searching as to what my actual intent on earth is, and acknowledging the Two-Spirit inside of me gives me a better perception of the world.
Schilling: What kind of experiences have you had?VIZIN: As a Two-Spirit I am blessed to see two sides of the spectrum, the sacred feminine and masculine. I am usually the one that my friends come to. They have an ear that listens to them, I am able to help put things in perspective for people. Schilling: What would you say to Native youth who might be struggling with their own gender?VIZIN: For the Native youth, things are not very safe for them right now. Especially with issues like DAPL and the trafficking of Native women. One of my friends from back home has been missing for a while now. The issue touches home for very many people. For the Two-Spirit Native youth, it is about being strong and you are not going to know you are right now. But you are strong enough to know that you are just a little bit different. To find strength in that is a place you can find and pull from. Be yourself. Take every day at a time, because it's going to get better. Nothing bad ever stays bad for too long.Schilling: Here is one thought, how annoying is it that everyone probably asks you about appearing on RuPaul's Drag Race?VIZIN: All I can say is gag to all the questions. The truth is I have never auditioned. To be honest I really don't want to at this point, and it is a great platform for so many drag queens and the trans community. But considering everything that is happening for me, I really don't need it at this point right now. Schilling: What is something interesting and funny about you?VIZIN: I have been called the Mariah Carey of drag because I am always late. (laughs) My mom always talked about running on Indian time, so that is one thing I am trying to do is be on time more. (laughs)Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor and senior correspondent, Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on TwitterFollow @VinceSchilling