Their name is Dakota Fann’ee, and they are not your friend.
This is the new catchphrase Sydney-based drag queen Dakota is testing audiences with at their resident venue, The Imperial Hotel in Erskineville.
“I haven’t had any bad reactions yet. My drag comes from comedy and my double entendre name. I do connotations to pull the joke and let them [audience] complete it. I’m always trialling stuff,” says Fann’ee.
30-year-old Dakota has been performing as a drag queen since 2008, starting in their hometown, Melbourne and moving to Sydney in September 2019. While many think their drag name is after child-star American actress Dakota Fanning, it is a double entendre.
“So, Dakota Fann’ee – break it up, my fanny smells like dick is the first one. And then, my dick smells like fanny is the second one. So, you can read it in both ways. I come from comedy; I come from a scene where drag names were a laugh.”
Trapped in an elevator
For Mardi Gras 2021, The Imperial collaborated with the Broken Heel Festival, a group of drag queens who do Priscilla’s movie-based shows in Broken Hill.
The Imperial Hotel resident queens created a 2 hour, 11-queen performance with a strict runtime. The shows ran four times over two days. Forty-five minutes before the opening show, Dakota Fann’ee got stuck in the elevator. After 30 minutes of the manager’s attempts, a group of firemen came and saved them. They escaped with three minutes left until showtime.
Fann’ee ran down the stairs, did not stop for water, stripped backstage and changed quickly, repeating “I’m fine!” before running out onto the stage only one minute late.
It was unbelievable and on-brand for Fann’ee to be the centre of attention and a credit to their work ethic that they did not stop to sit down until after the show’s first act.
A Mothers’ Love
Out of drag, Phe (he/him) identifies as a gay man and struggled to tell his parents he was a drag queen more than he did coming out as gay. Phe was born in Melbourne into a strict Greek Orthodox household.
“They have such an old view where you need to settle down and have a wife and kids or keep it a secret. So, my first barrier was to cut through that, especially being as loud and eccentric as I am.”
He described himself as a shy teenager who wanted to “branch out.” He was on a gay pub crawl and saw a “fantastic performer, and I thought, I can do that, but better!” So Phe contacted the performer on Myspace, asking how he could do what they did. The queen replied to shave everything and come to their house and start.
Phe’s mother says, “growing up [Phe] was a child that loved the attention, who thrived on being on stage, a child that was not afraid to express himself.”
He says his mum also struggled to understand being a drag queen didn’t mean that he was transgender.
Over the last 12 years, he worked to change his mother’s homophobic views to become, in Fann’ee’s words, “(…) probably one of the biggest allies.”
“I am quite glad they got to learn first-hand, especially about the queer community and understand that for me, drag is my performance art,” he explained.
His mother added, “finding out was hard as I did not understand what drag queen meant. I was hurt, confused and wondered where I failed as a mother. Now I understand the meaning of the term drag.”
“I am so proud of my son and what he has accomplished in the gay scene. And I stand by his every decision.”
Phe always had a day job as part of a long-haul cabin crew for 12 years, flying international and national. It allowed them flexibility and the opportunity to travel the world performing and watching drag. He has performed in underground drag shows from New York City to the Middle East.
“Sometimes that [travelling] incorporated having Dakota in one of my suitcases and learning how to paint my face with four products. So, I’ve become a bit of a MacGyver.”
This is why during the COVID-19 lockdown period, Fann’ee took the opportunity to rebrand and reflect despite losing up to $7000 in gigs.
“I’ve done a good solid decade of drag. What’s next? What can I do? So, one of the things I had to address was what can I fine-tune. I wanted to work on my impersonation stuff cause all I ever did was Marilyn and Joan Crawford.”
Fann’ee is well known for their impersonations; Marilyn is a staple to their drag. They have struggled with body image and says one of their iconic spots is a performance that begins with them as Marilyn and ends in them stripping off entirely, only covering their privates.
It is one of their favourites and pushed them out of their comfort zone.
Following the COVID-19 lockdown and return to trading, Dakota started performing as many gigs they could pick up, describing themselves as a workaholic. Along with the Imperial, they also appeared regularly at Universal Bar in Darlinghurst and independent gigs.
A shifting scene
Drag queen Riot says she had known of Dakota since they started drag in April 2016 but only officially met in 2020. Her favourite memory is, “whenever we get to paint together before a show, this is sacred time.”
Fann’ee, alongside Riot, Etcetera Etcetera, Dammit Janet, Kalin Klein and Peach Fuzz, performed in Rood Food at The Imperial in late 2020. Fann’ee says the two-month production was a “whole new experience.”
“I didn’t do production shows of that calibre (…) I always look back and think, oh my god, I can’t believe we did that. I felt alive, and I certainly felt I found my home.”
Currently, there is a rift forming in the Australian and New Zealand drag space. Popular reality TV Show RuPaul’s Drag Race is currently airing its first Australian and New Zealand based season.
Etcetera Etcetera, one of the contestants and an Imperial resident queen, is a close friend to Fann’ee. Fann’ee says they were part of “old drag life, before RuPaul drag chasers.”
They say queens will need to adapt and reflect what is on the show and prepare for audiences to come and only see the queens on the show. It is a big responsibility to capture crowds and keep them as regulars.
Riot says the show’s popularity will “push more people than ever before to be drag artists.”
But growing mainstream interest isn’t the only change in the scene. Fann’ee says the tide of performers is changing, with the inclusion of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and Person of Colour), AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) and drag kings. They are especially an advocate for BIPOC performers, to get the same respect and pay rate as white queens and performers, “that’s a constant goal.”
For Dakota’s future, they want to explore stand-up comedy, of course in drag, and continue seeing how they can waive their comedy between being politically correct and garish.
And remember, their name is Dakota Fann’ee, and they are, in their words, still not your friend.