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BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two

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For Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor, it isn't just about making art, it's about making a family.

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two In the first part of our series on the drag sisters Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor, we learned the origin stories of two artists who are currently working at the top of their game in both their professions, not just their drag artistry. Still, these vintage-centric queens have big plans for the future - plans that include building their version of a modern-day studio system, creating opportunities for their hand-selected family, and staying as visible as possible.

This interview has been edited for space and content.

Ladies, you developed your drag persona, each of you, separately from one another... and then you meet, two drag Queens who both have names that are actual real names from vintage Hollywood history with just a letter or two letters added.

Maxie: It's fate.

Gloria: It is!

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two Maxie: We were meant to meet, and we needed to meet. We have done nothing but help each other grow. Over the past four years, we've both helped each other's dreams come true. We think in two worlds - we think in our everyday life of getting out of the subway, sweating, being gross, crying. And then we live in this world of make-believe or fantasy, where you see everything in a different way... and it's all happening at the same time. So we live in that world together every single day - it's like my life partner in this world that we can't let go of. We have to have glamour for our souls, to live, we can not get through this world without it... to sit there every single day and constantly throw references and ideas at someone and they give it right back - we're constantly designing looks and ideas, and it never ends. We need each other.

Gloria: Really. And we complement each other because I'm a very business savvy person, like my mom, and I'm very much like, "We gotta go, and we gotta do," and Maxie will hold my feet to the fire and be like, "Okay, but why are we doing this?" - Maxie will be the person who's like, "No, you can do that really weird thing that you think nobody's into - you just have to do it the best you could possibly do it and create the actual fantasy."

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two

When you're doing a gig do you prepare at home and then go to the job, or do you get ready there?

Gloria: I almost always paint at home. It depends on the gig though. It depends on space, honestly. If there's a theater that has a great dressing room, I will get ready there... it's just more stuff to lug around.

In the time before the last president of the United States, this country was seeing a lot of acceptance and a lot of love and growth in society... Then came the last presidency and we saw a return to this country of hate and bigotry. Did you find yourselves changing emotionally and psychologically based on the change in society; did you worry about whether or not you could leave home in your work outfits?

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two Maxie: I have extreme tunnel vision. If anything like that did happen, I'd just go more into my little hole of what my grandma showed me. I have to connect with the things I know, so it doesn't really affect my drag - it makes me go more into what it is already. And Gloria is so different, I think it completely morphs what you do at our shows. I have to stick with who I really am to get through it - that's my coping mechanism.

Gloria: My drag is very political, and I do get political a lot of time, but I feel the same way. I actually feel like, in the Obama years, I was actually being very complacent (Maxie nodding head and agreeing vocally) and in the last four years/five years I have thought more about when I was a child and I saw someone or something that clicked something inside of me that I was like, "Wow." So now, especially as a trans-non-binary person, I (and I don't think we have to be this way, this is something I choose to do because it gives me fulfillment) I choose to be visible and to be very visible because you just never know who's watching. And for every one person that's criticizing you, there may be some five-year-old kid in the corner of that restaurant who sees you and is like, "That's an option? I can be that?" When I first started doing drag in Memphis, Tennessee, I was like, "I don't want to do drag" because I thought drag was what I saw other people doing. I didn't know that I could create my own drag. That's another thing that I want to be: I want to be a drag artist that other people see and they're like, "Oh, I can really do whatever I want."

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two What is magical about drag is watching somebody truly transform into a fantasy that is an escape, a coping mechanism, a way to make change in the world. And though your goal, Maxie, is not to enact change, when you go deep into your 1963 hole, by doing it, it is a political act. It is rebellious. When we did that photoshoot and you were walking around the West Village in full to-the-T1960s drag, you could see people look at you in a way that they don't look at other drag artists. I think.

Maxie: It can be shocking to see.

Gloria: I think a lot of people, it's like, "Oh my god, it's my grandmother." Or "Oh my god, it's my great aunt." Or "Oh my god, it's my first-grade teacher." I've learned in the last five years, my drag allows me access to spaces where white people talk to other white people, where affluent people talk to other affluent people... it allows me access to spaces that other queens don't have access to. And because my drag is very ladylike and it looks like people's grandmas or their great-grandmas, or it looks like women they knew... I can do drag for people who are maybe not as accepting of drag. I can begin to plant seeds in those people, like "You may like this about my drag, but have you thought about why you think that way?" My goal is to be the person that plants the seed in that person who's never heard it before. Then, they're washing the dishes one day and they're like, "Gloria Swansong told me this thing..." and then it clicks for them. Or their grandchild comes out as non-binary, and they're like, "Oh, I understand this in a different way." The people where I grew up in Nashville, my family and all their friends, I am the only person they know like me. If you need to cut people off in your life, do it. But if I cut them off, I'm cutting off their only access to someone like me, and my only chance to change them. I think that is a privilege that I hold, to cut them off, and I am not doing that because it's uncomfortable for me. It's more important that I do this for them and help them be better.

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two

During your show the other night you started out of the gate by announcing it was a lip-sync show. Do either or both of you perform other acts that aren't exclusively lip-sync?

Maxie: I'm not really a comedy girl. Comedy has always confused me, but for me to be very obvious about comedy, it's not something I want to do, but it's expected of us at times. Lip-syncing helps me go to another place. It does. When you study someone's voice and where they breathe in a song and who the person is - I need that part to get to the place. It's necessary. But I think that we will sing together soon.

You are funny whether you think you are or not.

Maxie: Thanks. I don't need that though. You know what I mean?

I do. What about you, Gloria?

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two Gloria: I do sing in drag, and I've been unpacking a lot of the voice teachers I had who were always like, "Your voice is so deep, you need to sing higher" and I've also been unpacking all of the early drag queens that I encountered who were like, "Don't sing, cause you sound like Lauren Bacall on a bad day" because my voice is so deep. Music was such a part of my life for so long, and it has largely left my life, so a big project for me in 2021 is bringing live music back, introducing it into my drag. When I started drag, Memphis was very much like, "You are going to be this kind of drag queen and that's the kind of drag queen you can be." I was allowed to be a host queen who sang live, so for the first four years I did drag in Memphis and in Pittsburgh, I only sang live and I only hosted.

When you're from Pittsburgh, you have to do something.

Maxie: Oh, my god!

(Everyone laughs)

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two

When did you finally get to do the drag that you wanted to do?

Gloria: When I came to New York.

Was it immediate?

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two Gloria: No. When I moved to New York, I worked in TV and film for three years as a PA. That was like 12 hours a day, six days a week. So I couldn't do drag cause I had no time to; then I quit TV and film to do drag. I missed it so much. When I did that, I came into the So You Think You Can Drag competition - I came into that like, "I know what I want and I know what I want to do in drag," Cause I've been doing this for a while and I know what I hated doing. (Laughing) I came into the New York scene, not apologetic and not trying to do what other people did, and that's what I've learned in New York: so many queens here try to do what other people do. And we just don't try to do that.

Maxie: We just do us.

Gloria: That's what you gotta do to create your own kind of audience.

Would you say that your drag aesthetic was instantaneous?

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two Maxie: No! Not at all. I come from Cleveland and it's very much like the old school pageant drag and I had rules that I had to follow! When I started, I was not allowed to sit at the bar, I had to go with nails, always; I had to shave my arms, always - all these rules... I couldn't sleep with people around the bar because it would tarnish my reputation. It was very strict.

But you're ladies. Maxie and Gloria are ladies.

Gloria: Completely.

Maxie: Mmm-hmm. But I came here and that's not the style here, so I was completely thrown off, I was confused, I was like, "Where am I? This is not what I thought drag was." And I tried to morph my drag into the New York style, and it really took me doing a number that I didn't feel good about - it was the Nicki Minaj number at Barracuda and it felt SO wrong. I tried to do mixes and that whole thing, and it just wasn't right. I was at a standstill in my drag - I hadn't met you, it was a year before I met you - and I had the biggest gift I could've ever asked for: I had a client at work who was like, "You need to meet my friend. She's an old-school drag queen. She's also from Ohio. I think you'd hit it off." So I meet with this person one day at a Baskin Robbins, and she ended up being a life coach... and a drag queen from Ohio. We sat down for three hours and she made me write all these things down in a book. She's like, "The first thing you're going to do is get a composition notebook and write down everything in it, all your dreams. Who do you like? What movies do you like? What are your main inspirations? What songs do you like? Write down makeup you like, names of people." I was writing all this stuff down and I kept doing it for a couple of months and that was me planting Maxie - I didn't have the same name I do now. I was sitting in the lunchroom of our salon and I was reading off names of... lipsticks, I think. And this punk rock guy who used to work at the Limelight with super long hair, very aloof, was like, "What about Maxie Factor? I think that'd be great." He helped me figure it out - the most obscure person you would ever think, he coined the name for me. I still always have my composition notebooks with me, and I write down our goals, our dreams, our setlists, everything. It changed my life. But it took at least three years living here to get to that point.

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two

Where would you like to see this duo and your performance trajectory of New York city go? Where would you like to see it go next?

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two Maxie: We will design big things together, outside of our drag. We are meant to design things together, shows, movies. My main goal in life is the Doris Day movie that has never been done, and she will design the clothes or... well, you know, rearrange them. (Both ladies laugh uproariously) We already have little seeds planted of upping the ante of our design partnership, but also just taking our drag to the place that's in our head. We want grand staircases. We want vintage cars. We want vanities. We were just speaking of doing a lady fight scene in an old dressing room, we love a lady fight scene in an old powder room. We're going to do Valley of the Dolls. The wig. Come on, now. I will rip that wig off your head and put it in the toilet.

So much of our drag goals together encompass our family. We have formed a group of six of us - we are all old Hollywood Queens and literally, in my mind, we are creating an MGM studio; each of our family members does something different and they all love a different era... as much as I will make all of them sixties. (Everyone laughing) So that's what it is, too, creating platforms for our whole family to spread what we do.

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two
Maxie and her drag mother Sonshine La Ray

Gloria: We're really creating a queer community where we can take old Hollywood and not explain it, but actually show people why these women in old Hollywood are a great example of why queer people should thrive. It was a studio system that was designed to exploit women to the brink of exhaustion and suicide, yet these women complete ... No one really talks about the men! (Laughing) These women found strength in femininity. And I think that is a great message for queer people. We have to have some concrete goals - we really want to do a museum exhibit together - Maxie has created a contact with a man who has a very extensive old Hollywood costume collection; he's never been satisfied with a hair person or with the way they've been displayed with hair because so many of them have hats, so that's a goal that we have, to connect with that person and to get his collection displayed at a major museum.

The Conversations that we have together in our drag family of six people...

Maxie: Crazy.

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two
Gloria with her drag sister Savannah Van Cartier

Gloria: I'm a documentarian, I like to document things and I want to find a way to create an online interactive experience where you can experience our collaboration process, where we can film our fittings as if they're wardrobe tests, where we can create little vignettes of us learning lip-syncs... things that invite you into (our world) because 90% of what we do is before we get on stage. I think that people find that interesting, and it is performative in its own way.

Maxie: So that's a big goal.

OK! Let's have some fun... each one of you gets an answer.

Gloria: Okay.

Maxie: Okay.

Best diva.

Maxie: Doris Day.

Gloria: I would say Judy Garland, but she's a legend.

Your shining stars.

Gloria: Judy Garland.

Best film from your era.

Maxie: Ooh. From my era. Okay. Let me think. You go first!

Gloria: It's hard. It's so hard.

I know it is, But it's a game, so have fun.

Gloria: Okay. A movie I can watch over and over and over that I love the fashion in: Auntie Mame.

Maxie: My film is a little before my era, but it's era adjacent. (Gloria laughing) It's 1955. It's Love Me Or Leave Me - Doris Day. Have you seen, it?

Have I seen it? My Mother introduced it to me when I was a kid.

Maxie: It has everything I ever want. But adjacent to that, my favorite actual era movie is called The Thrill of It All - Doris Day. Okay, go.

Gloria: Aesthetically, my favorite movie is Meet Me In St. Louis.

Your favorite number to perform?

Maxie: My favorite number is Try a Little Tenderness, but it's the Glee version by Amber Riley. She's my favorite vocalist to perform to... second is Doris.

Gloria: So another major inspiration to me is Lypsinka. And I do Laura Brannigan's Gloria as a sort of Lypsinka homage with moments of monologue in it, and there are 14 versions of it. I change it depending on what's happening in the world, so there are versions with Cardi B, versions with AOC, versions with Julia Sugarbaker, versions with Mommie Dearest... So that's my favorite number that I do.

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two

Most glamorous movie star.

Maxie: Doris Day. How dare you? Tunnel vision. I told you.

Gloria: Your answer is really Doris Day?

Maxie: What do you mean?

Gloria: My answer is Grace Kelly.

Favorite vocalist to listen to.

Everyone: Doris Day! (Laughter all around)

Maxie: Do you want to go first? I think I have more varied answers than you do

Gloria: Mine is Ella Fitzgerald.

The singer you haven't attempted yet but want to.

Maxie: I'm ready.

It's not Doris Day.

(Laughter from all.)

Rock Hudson!

Maxie: We were planning something where I will be lip-syncing to a gentleman's voice, which is something very unknown, but I think it would be fun. So her name is Maria Felix, and she was the most famous Mexican actress. Cecil B. DeMille wanted her to come to Hollywood and she wouldn't. She said, "I want to do movies in my own country." I am half Mexican and I wasn't given the gift of being taught about my own culture. I am so estranged from it because my father was deported when I was in first grade. When I saw her I thought, "That's how I'm going to connect with my culture." It's very overwhelming because it's a foreign language, but it's also how I'm going to get out of the Sixties, 'cause she was most popular in the 1940s. So that is taking me out of the tunnel.

Gloria: I don't know if I'll lip-sync her, but I want to try to do her music: Blossom Dearie. I'd like to sing and play some music by Blossom Dearie.

I have one last question before we stop. No thinking, and whoever wants to start, just start. What's your favorite thing about your sister?

Maxie: Her intelligence. She's always amazing me. It's her intelligence and her surprise factor. It makes me want to constantly be better and learn - the fact that she's a teacher, she teaches me and everyone around her so much about every little thing: clothes, the world - you constantly teach others.

Gloria: My whole thing about Maxie is your truly unblinking honesty and your ability to be present in every situation, which is a really hard thing to do. You're really present as a performer, but also we'll be talking about something and I'll kind of bullshit an answer, and you're like, "That's a bullshit answer...:" but in a way that I need to hear.

Well, ladies, everything you've said today is something that I needed to hear. Thank you for spending this hour with me, and for sharing your stories with our readers.

Maxie: Thank YOU!


Gloria: Thank you for including us in your Pride series.

Visit the Gloria Swansong Instagram page HERE and the Maxie Factor Instagram page HERE.

Maxie Factor has a YouTube channel HERE.

Gloria Swansong is currently debuting a series of Judy Garland-themed music videos on her YouTube channel HERE.

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two

BWW Interview: Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor - Two Sisters Making Each Other's Dreams Come True, Part Two

Photos provided by Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor


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