Pissi Myles had been up for almost 24 hours straight, and somehow she still had the energy for another interview.
The New Jersey-based drag performer was an unexpected presence during Wednesday’s impeachment hearings. The event marked the first day of testimony regarding reports that President Donald Trump engaged in a months-long pressure campaign to coerce Ukrainian President Vlodymir Zelensky into digging up dirt on political opponent Joe Biden. The end result will determine whether Trump should be ousted for his alleged actions, which would make him the first sitting president to be removed from office.
But if some critics complained the proceedings lacked "pizzazz," clearly they weren’t paying attention. Myles, who was reporting on the hearings for the news startup Happs, showed up in a fire hydrant red mini dress — with a blonde wig as high as the heavens. She instantly became a viral sensation, profiled by NBC News and The Hollywood Reporter.
Myles had barely slept when we spoke over the phone on Wednesday evening, but she was in good spirits. While the drag performer — whose moniker was, indeed, inspired by the beloved character actress of similar name — acknowledged that her face was perhaps the last many people expected to see, she believes that she got to play an important role in the functioning of America’s democracy. During one of the darkest times in modern political history, she reminded people to smile and to laugh.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Out: For those who aren't familiar with your drag persona, what’s she like? Who is Pissi Myles?
PM: She's fat, funny, and fabulous. That's how I describe her. She's just a lighthearted idiot. She loves to laugh and wants everyone around her to be laughing as well. As a performer, I'm always reminding everybody that everything’s not so serious all the time, which is actually pretty much exactly what happened today.
Tell me about that. If your mission in life is to remind people that everything's not so serious, finding yourself in perhaps the most serious event of the entire year is... pretty interesting.
It really is such a strange situation. I was approached by a news startup called Happs. It's a brand new app that allows people who have an interest in journalism to partake in it by sharing the stories that are happening around them. I was invited by Happs to be a reporter at the impeachment hearings, and it all happened very quickly. I was asked on Sunday by the political director of Happs, Jack Bury. He came to my show and he said he really liked my act. He asked me if I'd come down and be a reporter. That's how I ended up being there, and it all snowballed from there.
What made you interested in that opportunity? For most people, I imagine, one of the places they picture a drag queen in their mind is not in the middle of an impeachment hearing.
I think Congress is an unusual place for a drag queen — at least while the lights are still on. I happen to be a very politically motivated person. I listen to NPR all the time. I think it's important that we as young people stay aware and involved because that's how we make change in the world. So when I had the opportunity to go down as an entertainer and a reporter to educate people in a funny way, I was like, "What could be more perfect?"
What was the actual experience like?
It was surreal. There was no way for me to anticipate what I was walking into. By the time I got inside and realized that I was literally steps away from the hall where they were holding the impeachment hearings, it hits you like a wave — you're standing in something that's going to be part of American history. Not only that, but I'm making a social commentary by being there in drag and being a voice for queer and other marginalized people. It was really overwhelming.
What do you think it means to occupy that space in drag — and to be so visible in that space?
I was just explaining this to someone else. It takes your breath away because you're walking into this with a target on your back. Anyone who walks into the room and says, "Oh, the liberal media, the liberal media," I'm the walking epitome of everything that they don't like about what's happening in the country right now. So it does feel like walking in a with a target on your back, but it's also a bit like walking in with body armor because drag makes you feel a bit invincible. As a queer person, it feels like a protector for me. I feel like a leader, and I feel like I'm supposed to be there for people who need a voice when they don't have the opportunity to use their own.
Something a lot of drag queens who get involved in politics say is that you end up a de facto ambassador of the community, so you might as well use that platform for something good.
That's something that I try to instill in a lot of young drag queens now because now you're seeing a huge change in drag culture, which is that before drag queens were a part of the community and now being a drag queen is an occupation in a lot of ways. I try to instill in young queens to be socially responsible. We have to be responsible for the people around us — not just for queer people but for people of color, for women, and for other marginalized groups. You have to be there to stand up and say, "Hey, I'm going to be the one to grab the sword and run out in front of everybody and protect the people who need the protection."
How did other people react to you being there at the hearing?
You know, it was surprisingly positive. I really didn't experience a lot of rudeness. Most often people came up to me looking to compliment me on the way I looked or to ask me what I was doing there. They really just were intrigued by it. I got a lot of photo requests. I did a lot of media interviews and really got to promote a lot of important issues. It was such an unanticipated, wonderful experience.
Of the interactions that you had with folks at the hearing, which were the most meaningful to you?
I was telling my husband earlier that probably the most important interactions I had were students who were there because of what's going on in the Supreme Court right now. A lot of students who were there were DACA recipients, and getting to meet them was a very emotional experience. It was really important to me. It struck me how they were just kids. You just want to protect them the way you would protect any other kids. It was really meaningful because they were there under such scary circumstances, and it was nice to be able to give them a moment of levity, to make them laugh, and take pictures with them. That made me feel really wonderful.
I'm going to ask you to put your reporter hat on for a second. So from the impeachment proceedings, what stuck out to you? As somebody who was there, what did you learn?
Unfortunately, I was not able to get into the room. I was outside for most of the day, but we had a livestream of the entire hearing, and something that really struck me was less about the content of the hearings because like I said, I'm a pretty well-versed person when it comes to what's going on in politics. I mean, there was obviously a lot of new information and new details, but the thing that really struck me was the tone in the room. It was so crazy and aggressive. It really struck me how little we are listening to each other and how scary it is to be living in a time when everything is so turbulent and tumultuous. It was scary to listen to because these are adults talking to each other.
It's like you had a front-row seat to the dividedness of our country.
Exactly. And it's no longer an intangible thing. It's standing there right in front of you, performing for you. It's not cut up into five-minute segments like a YouTube clip. You're listening to it all day.
For all those folks who were paying attention to the impeachment hearings, who saw you, or who maybe learned a little bit about your story, what do you hope they took away?
I really hope that for a moment they thought, "My God, what is happening? And then they thought, "Wow, this is unusual," and I hope they laughed. I really hope that people laughed at the idea that I was there because it is a funny thing. It's unusual to see a drag queen in Congress, and that's the thing that's going to save us, if we can start to see that things are not as serious as we think they are. There are so many important things, but they can be dealt with if we take a deep breath, step back, and say, "This is something we have every means of fixing and addressing. We don't have to be so hateful."
Yeah, everything just feels so apocalyptic all the time.
It's exhausting. It causes anxiety and stress and people are overwhelmed and they're tired and they're angry and they feel like they don't have answers. So to have a little bit of relief from that gives people an opportunity to step back and reassess what's going on. I hope that I was able to do that in a lot of ways. On a more serious note, I do hope that seeing me reminds people that queer people are not statistics — we're actually out there and among them. We can even get into Congress.