Tickled by Fancy

Poison Waters
Poison Waters. Photo by Joni Kabana

Portland’s Poison Waters is a drag queen icon

written by Joni Kabana

After becoming starstruck while watching black drag queens perform in an all-ages show at The City Nightclub in Portland in the late ’80s, Kevin Cook said to himself: that could be me. Drag is for me! Fast forward to thirty-four years later, drag has definitely played an important focus for Cook via the sharp-tongued and glam gorgeous drag identity, Poison Waters.

Poison’s award list over the years includes titles such as Rosebud 13 (Underage Drag Pageant), La Femme Magnifique (both Oregon and International), Imperial Princess 25, Rose Empress 44 and Queen of Queens. Accolades and awards aside, what is most important to this queen is kindness and humor. Known for her intelligent quick wit and sassy communication style, Poison can also be found volunteering at numerous nonprofits (she grew up poor and benefitted from charities) and hosting fundraising events for causes that are important to her.

While it once took Cook two hours to transform into Poison, after years of honing her practice it now takes twenty minutes. Sparkly sequined gowns, flashy spiked heels, lavish floaty feather boas and over-sized look-at-me jewels (lots of them) are kept at the ready in a “drag room” at home as well as in a large space at Darcelle XV Showplace (the longest running drag show in the world) where she performs every week. Dresses and shoes large enough to fit are obtained through online shopping and social media accounts that cater specifically to drag queens. Poison won’t disclose how much she spends on makeup, but she did note that she replenishes her supply quarterly.

Poison Waters, right, with Darcelle XV.
Photo by Tom Cook

All of the glamor and glitz pale in comparison to the real reason Cook has dedicated over three decades to drag performance. “People who think all drag queens want to be women baffle me. For me, drag is for entertainment purposes only. I find humor in all that I see and do. People don’t come to a drag show to dwell on their troubles; they want to forget about them. Making people laugh is therapeutic for both myself and the audience. And when women tell me all the time: ‘I wish I could wear all those sequins and sparkly outfits,’ I say just do it! Why save the sparkles for the holiday party? Wear them all year long. If it makes you happy, that’s all that matters.”

Photo by Joni Kabana

Poison fully accepts that drag shows are not everyone’s cup of sugared tea, even though these shows are no longer deemed taboo and have to be held secretly underground. “Drag Queens are fun, but I realize drag may not be everyone’s thing and that’s ok. We’re here for all!”

Poison’s calendar is chock-full of events, including a yearly appearance as Mother Ginger in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Nutcracker. Find performances here: www.poisonwaters.com/calendar

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