Brett Young leads a double life.
By day, he is a businessman, co-owning and managing a bar. By night. he is a she. Rather, he is a female impersonation artist, more commonly known as drag queen.
Six nights a week, Young takes on the persona of Kitty Bob Aimes. On this Wednesday night, Young is greeted by fellow performer Roxie Hart.
“Oh, God, are you finally learning it?”
The question is a reference to the song “Firework,” the opening song for the Wednesday night show at the drag bar The Boom in northwest Oklahoma City.
Young is hosting the Wednesday variety show for the evening and has not memorized the lyrics she is supposed to lip sync. To calm his preshow nerves, he lights a cigarette and paces the small dressing room.
Young works double-duty managing the club and 12 performers, as well as doing his own performances.
His workday typically starts before noon, when the club opens. He takes care of the money and all deposits, pays all the bills and books all the shows. Young said he can spend more than six hours on the phone booking shows for an average week.
While he takes care of the behind-the-scenes aspects of owning a club, he also has to prepare for the shows he hosts. It is not uncommon for him to spend seven hours a week working on the popular Sunday Brunch show he hosts with Norma Jean Goldenstein.
“By Tuesday if I haven't started writing the show for that Sunday I'm starting to freak a little bit,” he said.
Young grew up in Alva and Guthrie in a family he describes as “extremely butch.”
“One of my brothers is a bull rider and was in the Air Force,” he said. “My other brother is a construction worker.”
His family owned a construction company, which helped his parents afford to send him and his siblings to college. Young graduated from Oklahoma City University as a musical theater major and performed for 15 years. The experience he had from the construction company also helped him when The Boom was built.
“When we built this club we did a lot of the work ourselves,” he said. “I'm pretty good with a hammer and nails.”
Young has been openly gay for 20 years, after a fellow chorus member outed him to his family. His relatives weren't supportive at first, but they have since come to support him and his career. His parents often attend his shows, including the 2010 gay pride festival.
“My dad just about made everybody cry because he got up and hugged me at the end of the show,” Young said.
Young's resume of performance experience is extensive. He has done it all, from backup singer and dancer to artistic director for the Cabaret Old Town theater in Wichita, Kan. He's worked with the Osmonds, as well as performing in regional theater. He was in the first European tour of “Oklahoma!”
His start with female impersonations began with an acting part in “Pageant” as Miss Texas. After his performance, he was asked if he had ever considered doing shows in clubs, which lead to him entering and winning the Miss Gay Kansas America pageant. From there he went to Washington, D.C. for the national pageant and placed 13 out of 72 contestants.
The chance to entertain, be his own director and not have to work for others was what drew Young to drag. He was hooked.
After moving back to Oklahoma and being named first runner-up for the national level in yet another pageant, Young decided he wanted to own his own club.
Performing and owning a drag bar is the last thing Young expected to end up doing.
“I used to say, ‘I would never want to do Cats because of the make up. I don't want to sit in a make up chair for an hour before every show.' And look at me now. This is what I do.”
Though the course his life has taken was unexpected, Young enjoys what he does. The people he meets and the experiences he has had make the difficult times worthwhile, he said.
One thing people don't realize is that drag queens have day jobs, Young said. The other queens that work at The Boom all have jobs in areas they excel in that extend beyond the nighttime drag shows.
“Most of the people I know, and not just the ones who work here, they're busy, they're productive and smart,” he said.
To Young there are many misconceptions about drag queens and what they do. When he started drag 10 years ago, he loved the glitz and glamour. But he said he does not always enjoy the process; it can be uncomfortable.
“For people who do this, it's the love of being on stage,” Young said. “Everyone's reaction to drag is different.”