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Why Shuga Cain Gave Up A Six Figure Job to Do Drag Full Time

Shuga Cain

The ‘Drag Race’ competitor said she found going back to the corporate environment soul crushing.

Drag has certainly changed! Through a lot of varying factors -- a large component of which is no doubt RuPaul's Drag Race -- drag has turned into big business, with some queens etching out quite comfortable lives through their work. But when Shuga Cain from Drag Race season 11 announced that she had left a high-paying job to do drag full time, the news was still a shock. But, if that aubergine gown that RuPaul said was her "favorite dress to ever walk down the runway," was any indication, clearly it's working out!

Though Shuga was already voted off the show, ahead of this week's "Return of the Queens" episode, she explains what exactly she was doing to make all that money, and why she decided to throw it all away to pursue this queer art form.

Before drag, I was a director of media for education companies like Scholastic, and a bunch of tech start-ups. Basically I was just doing intervention products for math and language arts, so kids who are struggling in school. It was definitely not my plan for my life originally.

I've always been a performer. I used to do musical theater, I used to work for Disney -- I did their cruise line. I'm a singer, and then I used to do musical theater in the Bay Area but at one point I basically started running out of money.

I was applying to everything I could find to make some money. I think I literally was wasted this one night and I was sending a bunch of applications, and the next day this lady called me. I didn't even remember what job it was, I literally was like, "who is this woman?" I went in for an interview and she was amazing. She hired me and the job was sort of like office admin work.

To this day, she has been one of my best mentors I've ever had. We are still close, we still talk every once in a while. As I was doing the job, she was like "You are so much more than an admin for us. I would love to groom you to be this technical product manager." I was all about it; I was in California, I was making money, I was kind of performing. I couldn't afford to do full-time musicals in the Bay Area. It just doesn't happen there.

She eventually got promoted and was moving to New York and left me in California to finish up this product. She was like "Hey, do you want to move to New York? We'll pay for everything." The only thing I kept thinking was "Yes, I can finally audition for Broadway." Even though I was doing these jobs and kept getting promoted, I wasn't sold on it; it was always just temporary.

Soon after moving to New York I was poached by a tech startup to come run their media. So I moved on from Scholastic. So this job that I had taken just to pay my bills ended up being a full-blown career. New York doesn't play. I didn't audition for Broadway but I started doing drag for Pride and this talent show. After that someone asked me to compete in a competition -- Jiggly Caliente was also in it -- and I won!

I did a few other competitions like "Look Queen" and met Dusty Ray Bottoms and then I started booking gigs and it all started growing into this little monster but I was working full time at the same time. At this point I'm butting heads with my boss. We just were not getting along. I'm like, 39 at the time, I was literally like finding myself, loving drag, and loving this new artistic stuff that I had no idea that I would ever do. I was doing well because I started booking a shit ton of gigs in New York City, like gigs that girls had been trying to get for years.

I was like, "look, you're doing well at this, but if you really want to do this you have to commit." I had been spending money over the years, and I was like, the only way I can really see if this is gonna work for me is if I quit this fucking job.

I was so naive. I had no idea. I knew that drag was expensive, but I was like "Oh, I can make some money," and at the time I was starting to make close to six figures. I don't know what delusion I was sipping out of, but I just did it. I'm in New York City, my fiance was super supportive so I quit.

All the cards kind of fell into place with all this weekly gigs and a job on Fire Island and then all of the little side-gigs I was doing. I was doing a project with MAC Cosmetics. I just went balls to the walls for like a year and I was doing well. I had auditioned, sent in my first tape to Drag Race. It was a terrible ass tape. Then toward the end of that year, season eleven of Drag Race was coming up and I wanted to audition for that, which would be my second time. I was panicking because I was spending more than I'm making -- I have shit tons of student loans, so like, I gotta pay this off. And so I panicked and was like "maybe I can go back into the corporate world for a little bit and supplement some money." So I hit up a friend, this woman that I had worked for before, a couple of companies ago, and she hired me. I was working there for I think a month and a half, and I felt like I had sold myself to the devil.

It had gotten so bad before I took the job that I was sewing shit, I was doing an online bakery -- anything really. But it was so soul crushing when I went back that I was considering quitting again. Right when I was trying to decide, I got my first call from Drag Race. It wasn't me being cast yet but they just told me they were looking at me. I was like "Oh I have to quit." So I quit and was on leap of faith and fucking Drag Race cast me and I was like "I made the right decision."

If I had not made it on Drag Race, I would have still been a full-time drag queen. I think that's really something that's only really possible in a place like New York City. I think New York is one of the very few cities where you can actually make a full-time living being a drag queen. Like L.A. or whatever, right? Would I be making six figures? Absolutely not, but I would have made a living. But now Drag Race has really shot me me into another realm.

I'm getting a lot of people who are saying I'm privileged, that I'm this and that. My answer to that is: I work super fucking hard to make sure that I can have a lifestyle that I wanted to live. That I can pay my bills. I've worked my entire life to make sure that I can be comfortable what I have.

With my parents, we didn't have any money growing up. They worked so hard. They were working laborious jobs to give us kids the things that we had when we were little. I learned from them to work hard and that nothing you want is going to be handed to you. While other people who are comfortable behind a computer say, "Oh, you're just privileged, you have a six-figure job." No, bitch, I have worked my ass off for it. I recognize what it is that I'm giving up because I worked for it. For me to give that up is a huge deal. At the end of the day, it's my life and I'm gonna do what I want, but I hope to inspire other people with my choices.

*This as told to was condensed and edited by Mikelle Street.

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