Drag queen math teacher rises up from loss and shame

Kyne Santos (BMath '21) reflects on being eliminated from Canada's Drag Race and what her late father taught her about life

kyne santosPeople often ask me, “Kyne, what’s your secret?” to which I respond, “several layers of full-coverage foundation and a warm-toned ring light.”

And then they clarify, “No, not the secret to your beyond-this-planet beauty, but to your confidence?” Indeed, confidence is part of the job description when you become a drag queen.

When I think about confidence and resilience, I’m reminded of a young Kyne who loved singing karaoke, lifting his leg up in photos and dancing in public like no one was watching. I loved making people laugh and being the centre of attention.

As I grew up, the sparkle started to fade.

My dad told me to stop wearing bright colours, and other things that might draw too much attention from bullies. But it just made me feel like I couldn’t be myself at school or at home. I felt alienated for being gay before I even knew what the word meant.

One day I asked my mom how she would feel if I was gay. “Are you?” she asked. “Of course not!” I replied, to which she responded that she would love me no matter what, but that she would rather not have a gay son.

I remembered every single instance where it felt like I was steered away from being gay.

I remembered every single instance where it felt like I was steered away from being gay. I felt like I was holding a sick, perverted secret. I promised myself I’d take the secret to the grave. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents or teachers who all said I had a bright future.

Being flamboyant and professional

I used to dream about being a scientist. But I thought, how could I become a well-respected, successful adult if I was flouncy and flamboyant?

So I held my secret until I was about 14 years old when my parents just asked. By pushing me out of the proverbial closet they freed me of my solitude and shame. That’s when I began to slowly experiment with makeup and costumes.

My parents said: “We’re okay with you being gay, but do you have to be that gay?”

I responded, “Yes.”

Some of the best years of my life were in high school. After coming out, I started expressing myself freely by wearing makeup and shopping in the girls’ section. I never really ran into bullies.

One of my most memorable high school classes was world religions, where I learned about Eastern religions and the Buddhist practice of making intricate mandalas out of sand only to destroy them afterwards, as a symbol for the impermanence of material life. That really shaped the way I viewed the world.

It also helped me deal with the loss of my father to cancer a year later.

He too taught me to abandon materialism. When I would dress up like a Lady Gaga backup dancer to go to the mall, he would stop me and tell me that nothing in life matters more than how you treat other people.

Black suit for prom and father’s funeral

I regret that he died before I could tell him that I won one of Canada’s most prestigious scholarships to study mathematics at the University of Waterloo, because he didn’t want us to struggle with money after he left. I wept at his death bed and then my mom and I went shopping for a black suit that I would wear to both the funeral and to my prom.

Months later, I started university. While I was working my way toward a Bachelor of Mathematics, I developed a love for drag. I worked hard on my assignments and came home to plan performances and sew costumes.

I was getting really good at juggling both passions.

When I heard about Canada’s Drag Race, I felt it was my chance to showcase my drag on an international stage and impress the world. And then I sashayed away.

They didn’t like my outfits. They didn’t laugh at my jokes. I felt humiliated for thinking I might have been good enough to win. As my dreams were being crushed before me, I looked up at the stage lights behind the judging panel and thought about how lucky I was to have a family that loved me.

Then I went home to that loving family and picked a new dream—one that would take all the love I can give, every day of my life for as long as I live.

That’s right, my new dream was to be Julie Andrews. Just kidding.

In blending my two passions together, I can be the flouncy, flamboyant professional that younger Kyne needed to see.

A message for LGBTQ+ youth

I did set out to climb every mountain, and now I’m making educational math content in drag, something I never thought I could do.

In blending my two passions together, I can be the flouncy, flamboyant professional that younger Kyne needed to see.

If he’s reading this, I want him to know that life is wonderful, unfair, but above all impermanent.

Don’t take it too seriously. 

(Banner Photo credit: Crave. Season 1 of Canada's Drag Race is now streaming on Crave)

Editor's note: Kyne Santos uses the pronouns he/him and she/her.