Talented and hot? More likely than you might think!
RuPaul's Drag Race has spurred multiple micro economies in its ascent. Between the tours, the YouTube channels, and the new generation of influencers who are having their audiences swell after appearing on the show. And now, as the coin roils in queens have the means to outsource their drag. For designers, they are tapping names like Diego Montoya, Florence Di Lee, Rey Ortiz, and one Joshuan Aponte.
Scrolling through his multiple Instagram accounts it becomes immediately clear that Aponte is one of those all-around talents. He does drag himself as the performer Sheeza Woman, he does makeup for other queens, red carpets, and weddings, he has his rapidly growing design business, and he's generally just a hot guy around Instagram and Chicago, posing as a model in and out of drag for various photographers — he's quite happily married though so.
For someone who's dressed Adriana Lima, Jameela Jamil, Rose McGowan, and Patrick Starrr — this comes in addition to Drag Race stunners like Monet X Change, Jaida Essence Hall, Akeria C Davenport, Shea Coulee, Kameron Michaels, Alyssa Edwards, and more — you might be lured into believing he's most comfortable behind the camera. But this year, Aponte is representing Puerto Rico in the Mr. Gay World 2021 competition, stepping in front of the cameras.
Here, we email with Aponte about his designs, how he became so talented, and why he's competing for the Mr Gay World title against nine others.
You’re pretty well known for your design talents, having worked with many drag stars and other celebrities. Can you tell me how all that started?
For as long as I have memories, I remember being attracted to everything art-related, whether it be painting, drawing, dancing, basically anything where you would express through creating with your hands or with your body. From a very young age I was always drawing on my school notebooks and cutting up curtains to make costumes for the school dance team, I was in every theater class, and extracurricular activities. From there, it just kept building; as soon as I graduated from high school and I got into the LGBTQIA+ community and I saw how much diversity and how much talent there is, it was just a perfect fit. I started with drag queens and from there I started doing local celebrities. My first celebrity I ever worked with and one of my favorites of all time is the mother of Reggaeton herself, Ivy Queen. After getting a degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of New York City, the dream kept growing.
Working with girls from Drag Race must be insane. Can you break down a moment of making a look for someone that was insane or maybe your favorite look you’ve done for one of the girls?
Every single time I get the phone call from a contestant that’s going to be filming a new season of Drag Race, I take a deep breath because I know the next two weeks are gonna be hell! For those who don’t know: that’s how much time queens get once they get the final “yes” call and the list of looks they need to bring, two weeks. Most of the time, we start with a Zoom or FaceTime meeting to take their measurements and deciding looks, and 10 to 12 days later, some come to pick it up but sometimes I have to mail it to them directly. No fittings!!! I just pray to the Gay Gods that it fits!!!
A funny memory I have is working for Jaida Essence Hall during the pandemic when everything was closed! I only had one vendor, who’s store remained closed but the owner would let me go in through the back entrance to make my purchases and keep the girls looking glamorous, even through a pandemic!
Even though you’ve made this huge reputation as a designer you’re clearly an all-around creative. Have you always been this way and where did it come from?
Like I said, I’ve always loved anything that’s art-related and I believe it comes from my genes: in Puerto Rico, we use uniforms to go to school, so my grandmother was a very well known uniform maker, watching her make so many different outfits with the same fabric was just so genius to me. My grandfather, her husband, was a builder/construction worker, so from him I learned everything about the power tools that I used today when I work with props and wood and metal. My late aunt was a bridal designer, so whenever I went to her house it was like magic, to see all those voluminous gowns all over her studio was like living in a fairytale. My late stepdad was an electrician, so anything that you see that involves lights and electricity in my garments comes from his knowledge. I also believe in reincarnation cuz GAY DUH, so I probably have a little bit of Da Vinci in me!!!
Tell me about why you got involved in the Mr Gay World pageant.
I’ve competed myself four times in drag competitions in which I’ve been the winner of all four titles, but I’ve always dreamt of representing my country internationally. For the past four years I’ve been the national costume designer for the Miss Universe Puerto Rico organization, and every single time they get on that stage and they yell out “Puerto Rico!” I can’t help but tear up with emotion and pride.
To be completely honest, it wasn’t in my plans to compete for Mr. gay world 2021 but I am a firm believer in destiny and when an opportunity presents itself you must be aware of the messages the universe is sending you, so when this opportunity came about I did not hesitate to take the leap. Since the Mr. Gay World competition had been postponed several times, the international organization sent out a letter to all of the branches letting them know that they could appoint a representative to go directly to the pageant. Since I have a wonderful relationship with the promoter for Miss and Mr Gay Puerto Rico, Jesus Hernandez, he extended the invitation. For two seconds my heart stopped because I will not lie that I got really nervous, but right after it just made sense. It has been a very short and intense period of preparation, but here we are!!! All the videos have been submitted since it’s going to be an online version. Now we’re just waiting for the final nights on October 23 and 30th which I invite all of you to watch on the Mr. Gay World YouTube channel.
How important is your heritage and representing Puerto Rico?
First of all, I want to show the world the beauty and the rich culture that my country has, but It’s of immense importance that I stay true to my roots because visibility is KEY! Visibility as a Latin-American POC man, proud of my Puerto Rican heritage. I want to show that minorities are as intelligent and talented as everyone else.. sometimes more because of our struggles.
Also, visibility as a drag queen: Puerto Rico has some of the most talented drag artist in the world, but in the gay community (mostly cis male) we talk about acceptance, we talk about being free, about being the real you, but there’s so much toxic masculinity. We still see drag queens as less than when it comes to the romantic side. For many years I stopped doing the art of drag, even though I loved it so much, just because I was afraid of not being able to have a relationship.
Another type of visibility that I want to bring and the most important, is visibility to the HIV+ community, I am a proud HIV+ Undetectable man, first diagnosed in 2012, healthier than ever, and I want to use my platform to bring the knowledge to the masses that this is not a death sentence and that with proper care and treatment you can live a wonderful life.
If you could tell people only one thing about you, what would it be?
People always ask me “how can you do so much?” And to that I say… “Stop looking for the big opportunity and just do!" Do what you love, do what inspires you, do what scares you, do what you never thought you would be able to do. When you fall you will learn how to get up, when you get up you will be stronger, when you get stronger you’ll be able to push further, and one day you’ll look back over your shoulder and will be amazed at the mountain of work that you have put out! Enjoy life!!!! ….. and don’t forget to vote for me.