drag mothers and daughters: merrie cherry and hannah lou
In celebration of Mother’s Day, we’ve profiled three New York City-based drag mother-daughter duos. In our second installment: Brooklyn mama Merrie Cherry discusses the importance of chosen families as daughter Hannah Lou salutes her commitment to...
In the late aughts, many New York City artists and performers began moving out of Manhattan, resettling across the East River in north Brooklyn, where they incubated new kinds of queer creative communities rooted in forward-thinking, nontraditional forms of expressivity. One of the borough's most beloved nightlife mavens — Bushwick-based Merrie Cherry — didn't cross the bridge to get to BK; she crossed the country. The Berkeley-born queen first began performing drag in San Francisco, but it wasn't until moving to New York in 2010 that her true artistry, and fierce sense of community emerged.
In the seven years since, Cherry has been a driving force in the evolution of Brooklyn drag. She got her start as the coat check girl at Metropolitan, one of Williamsburg's OG gay bars that set up shop off the L Train stop of the same name back in 2002. Cherry had such a blast meeting new people and forming networks at Metro, she eventually asked her manager if she could host a drag party of her own. He gave her one chance, and she took it.
Cherry has since hosted the monthly drag competition DragNET (which celebrates its fifth anniversary next week), and is a firm fixture at performance art space and dynamic drag festival Bushwig. Before This n' That closed its doors last April, Cherry hosted both monthly and weekly events at the Williamsburg bar. And last month, Cherry starred in a music video for Brooklyn band Beach Fossils's newest single.
"Merrie Cherry is loud, rambunctious, and full of life," says Cherry's drag daughter, Hannah Lou. With Cherry as her mother, it's no wonder Lou, a DJ, has a pretty packed calendar herself. She's often spinning alongside Horrorchata at parties and venues across the borough (like the weekly Cakes affair at Metro on Wednesdays, or new night Bitch Nasty on Fridays). She's gunning for the Best DJ prize at this year's Brooklyn Nightlife Awards, a celebration of all the unique nocturnal artists and performers who keep BK thriving. It's a wildly eclectic annual affair that — of course — Cherry founded. "People say that she is the mother of Brooklyn," says Lou.
There are many queer people who belong to loving and encouraging biological families. Miz Cracker — a Harlem-based drag commedienne and writer who appeared in this series with her drag mother, Bob The Drag Queen — says her family's assurance has taught her how to better support her friends in turn. There are many others, though, whose families are not as fortifying. Cherry says she was reminded of this recently, when she left the city for three weeks, and ended her trip back in Berkeley. It was a challenging experience. "Coming home [to New York] after that, and having everyone be like, 'Oh my god, we missed you!' or, 'You're home! Let's meet up for lunch' — having a ton of dates with friends, and I was only away for three weeks — there's this comfort and love that I feel that I don't really get from my family."
In Cherry's drag family, showing up, stepping up, and having each other's backs are guiding values. "If you're not working, you should be at your sister's party supporting them. It's your sister's party!" Cherry says that if one of her sisters is acting some type of way, she's standing by them. "Even if my friend has done something they shouldn't have done, in public, I'm gonna be like, 'I don't know what you're talking about, she's fine.' In private, though, we may have some words like, 'Girl, you're acting crazy!' Support is just the number one thing [for me]. There's a real lack of it nowadays and the more you can get, the better."
Cherry's commitment to fostering artistic community has made her a vital figure in Brooklyn's drag scene. But it's also her experimental, pliable approach to performance and expressivity that makes her drag so exciting. As she once described her style: "I go from scary clown, to beautiful betty, to bitch slut, to glitter-face flower, to a monster with multiple eyes." Sometimes Merrie has a wig so red it matches her last name; other nights, she wears no wig at all. It's about trying fresh ideas — on stage, or backstage — and always absorbing and testing new approaches. "The future of drag is whatever we want it to be," she explains. "There's no rules to drag, and there's no limits to what drag can really be. And regardless of whether you have a drag family or not, do you, stay strong, and destiny will lead you in the right way."
Text Emily Manning
Photography and film Barbara Anastacio