Cheyenne Sia Desoto, Las Vegas

I moved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas at the tail end of 2012. I ended up partnering up with a Disney Gallery and their ventures in the progressive rebuilding of downtown Las Vegas. My gallery, “Loveless Collective” (AKA: Loveless in Las Vegas), was in a metal shipping unit out in the Container Park off of Fremont Street. I worked 7 days a week, and at the end of each day I’d drive back to my lonely little apartment out in Henderson only to repeat the cycle over and over again.

I didn’t have many friends,,… actually.. I only really hung out with one person when I lived there. I worked so much that I never got to really go out and meet people. I mean… it wasn’t Las Vegas’s fault… it was mine. In order to REALLY understand this city, you have to make the effort… and well.. I wasn’t used to that.

I ended up moving to Chicago around the end of 2013. I remember my last day there, which was around 4 in the morning. I drove through the neon strip one last time to say my goodbye. My memory faded of Las Vegas much like it did in my rear view mirror as I drove in the soft darkness of the desert and out towards the sunrise in the mountains.

Now in the beginning of living in Chicago, I gave Las Vegas a bad rep, and I think thats because I was bitter about how it all ended. Slowly, but surely I came back to do Disney guest spots at the various new locations that “Magical Memories Gallery” would in inhabit, and EACH time I went, much like the darkest sparkle to the biggest light… my love for the city grew and grew.

I fell in love with a city post breakup which is such a strange way to love something.

Three years later at the end of 2016 I ended up on my 10th trip back out there.. to which I was JUST starting the Drag Landscapes series. Initially just focusing on Athens, GA and Chicago, IL… I decided to expand the project across the globe.. and used whatever time I had traveling to locate queens and interview them. While out there I networked via friends online and was suggested that I talk to a queen named “Cheyenne”. I ended up watching her perform later on in the week and was completely enamored. We scheduled an interview and the next day she showed up to talk with me out in my room at the Cosmopolitan.

This is her story:

Cheyenne Desoto grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming (which is how she acquired her first name). She was raised in a mixed liberal/conservative family, which was an interesting concoction of both love and ‘different’ times. Flamboyant, artistic, and known as ‘the happiest goth on earth’, Cheyenne stuck out like a rainbow thumb amongst her peers, but ultimately she found solace, camaraderie, and safety with all the girls in her youth.

Emerging from school, navigating through life was a different road for her because of where she lived. When we were talking about where she was in relation to drag, Cheyenne said, “At first I always thought of drag as kind of…well… I really didn’t like it, because growing up in Wyoming and not really having a gay scene to be around, all I knew was MASC 4 MASC and NO FEMS. All I wanted was to be fabulous, flamboyant.. and I just kind of grew up with this identity that it wasn’t ok to be me”.

Things for her changed when she witnessed drag in Colorado (via her partner), and was blown away from the performances that she witnessed there. “I was enamored with drag queens when I first saw them.. I thought to myself ‘Oh my God they are so BEAUTIFUL! I want to be them! I want to do that!”

It was here that she realized that drag was her calling. “My first time I was in drag was for a contest night called ’Next Drag Superstar’. I was performing Avril Lavigne’s ‘What the Hell’.. and I could barely walk in heels…. but as soon as I hit the stage…. everything clicked and felt natural. I absolutely loved it, and I strived to do better each time.”

From here she moved around through Colorado and then eventually to Las Vegas. “My boyfriend and I came to Las Vegas on vacation and realized that the cost of living was much cheaper than Denver” Cheyenne says, “but beyond that, drag was kind of a thing, it was happening here in and off of the strip. We ended up staying here longer than we anticipated and realized this is where we wanted to be”

It was here where Cheyenne really found her voice, and Las Vegas became her home. The drag culture however, came with a lot of new elements that she had to navigate through. Especially when it came to ‘family culture’. Out in Vegas, the system of drag mothers, daughters, and sisters is a massively prevalent thing. While there are great elements of support and teamwork involved with this culture, it also breeds a cliquish side to the community that can further separate gay/drag people from each other when the families are at odds. Despite some of the heartache and yet great support from these social structures, Cheyenne managed to persevere through the muddy waters of family politics. Much like “Sia”, her idol and middle name, she’s become a symbol of strength.. She’s become titanium. She’s bulletproof and has nothing to lose.

“Make up has power”, Cheyenne says, “ I see this progression of myself that I’ve never known, and the power of drag is that force. I see myself progressing as a human and also in my drag… but really being Cheyenne is what helps me become who I’ve always wanted to be”.

Cheyenne is a jack of all trades. She’s an entertainer, but thats just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her talent in costume design and make up. Her performances, while she self labels herself as “rhythmless nation”, are nothing short of being brilliantly beautiful. In all her performances and ‘celebrity impersonations’ (which are a staple of Las Vegas), she exudes the perfect amount of exactness, charisma, soul, and professionalism.

At the end of the interview I felt both heartache and happiness about Cheyenne. I was heartbroken about her struggles, as I too knew what it was like to grow up as a flamboyant firecracker in the deep darkness of a heteronormative small town. On the flip side I was happy to see her persevere through it all to where she is now.

While I was looking out of my hotel window at the strip and thinking about her story I kind of had this evident and yet VERY cliche parallel about Las Vegas and drag queens.

Hear me out.

In a broad spectrum of comparison, it could be said that people view drag queens much like tourists view Las Vegas. The strip is filled to brim with glitz and glamour… and while that district serves to entertain us, beyond Las Vegas Blvd lies a dozen more districts to be seen. There is far more dimension, beauty, and  depth beyond the strip… as well as a history that makes it what it is today. Much like entertainers of the stage and screen (drag or not), while they showcase their talent, beauty, and creativity… they are so much more than that. They too are made up of far more dimension, beauty, and depth than the stage provides. They are more than entertainers or fodder for reality television.

They are people..

They are people that have a history.

And I hope that my interviews and paintings of them showcase that.

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