Kyle Meets… Haireola Grande, the Bold and Bearded

It was a Saturday afternoon when I received a shout on Growlr about a drag show that would be happening later that evening at a nearby bar named Albatross in Astoria, Queens. The show was to start at 8:00 p.m., and I decided that I would go see what it was all about. After all, the shout promised there would also be free pizza. 

The show was called Bear Minimum, hosted by an Albatross regular named Haireola Grande. Yes, Haireola Grande. Large, hairy, beat and bearded, she hit the stage with wit, sass, and a larger than life personality unlike any other queen I’ve seen in New York City. She dances, she cartwheels, she belches, and I loved every minute of it.

I was thoroughly entertained, so I decided that I wanted to have a chat with Haireola to discuss her work, and her experience as a drag queen in New York City.

KJ: Hi, Haireola!

HG: Hi Kyle! Thanks so much for the opportunity.

KJ: No, thank you! I really enjoyed your show the other night. The first thing I have to ask is how did you come up with the name “Haireola Grande”? I believe you explained it to the audience the other night, but I was already on my third Vodka Cranberry. So, can you please tell me again?

HG: A lot of people think my name is a direct Ariana Grande pun, however it’s actually a bit deeper than that. I started as just “Areola” – a one name queen. My younger brother is actually the one who thought “Haireola” was more suitable. Then, I gradually decided on “Grande” as a last name. After all, the Spanish word “grande” means “big”! And I am definitely large, bearded, very hairy, loud, fluent in sarcasm and sassy! Haireola Grande was born!

KJ: That’s amazing! I see that you also host a few other things at Albatross Bar. How did you end up working with them?

HG: Yes, I host Drag Bingo there every Sunday! It’s one of my favorite days of the week because of the loving and warm community. A queen named Diana Carfire, who has since moved away, passed the torch down to me. I participated as a guest a few times for Diana, and eventually I started guest hosting or filling in for her. When she left, Albatross selected me to continue the 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Drag Bingo. You can follow “Nips&Sips” on Facebook!

KJ: I also see that you do shows and events at other spaces around NYC, including the Rockbar. Where else can bar hoppers catch you performing around the city?

HG: I have a monthly one hour show at Rockbar titled “NIPPLE PLAY” every second Thursday from 9:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. Rockbar, by the way, is another incredible, warm and welcoming community. My alternative drag really shines there, if I do say so myself. Also, I BEYOND adore the staff!

I do work a full-time corporate job, so although I am quite picky with guest spots and philanthropic events, you can find me everywhere from Stonewall Inn and Pieces, to ICON or The West End Lounge. I also recently have been invited into the Urban Bear family, performing at both the Urban Bear Street Festival and their World Pride party. I look forward to future events with them!

KJ: I have to say, as an actor and theatre geek, I love your high camp performances. I also love how you mix dialogue from film and TV into your performance tracks. Were you always into film and theatre? Did you study theatre?

HG: I am actually one of the few drag queens I know that did not study theatre, dance, or music. I studied communications and psychology, but music has always been a passion of mine. I was in chorus throughout my childhood, and I did all the yearly musicals my schools had to offer. I love all things art and entertainment! 

I have sometimes compared myself to queens who have been on Broadway or toured with dance companies, but I quickly realized that it wouldn’t get me anywhere good. I do what I know, and that’s making people laugh!

KJ: The main thing that separates you from most queens is the fact that you are bearded and you clearly do not shave your body at all. Obviously, this is your chosen aesthetic. Your name says it all! How did you decide you wanted to be a bearded queen?  Has this ever made it hard for you to be booked by those who feel you’re not “girly” enough? Have you ever felt like you weren’t taken seriously by other queens who go for a more traditionally “feminine” illusion?

HG: I honestly didn’t ever think otherwise. My beard and fur – as my boy-self – as I got older, is what people have found attractive and there in allowed me to feel somewhat confident. I always knew that if I ever became a drag queen, I would be bearded. Periodt. I just love my beard! It’s my aesthetic, and it’s naturally red! 

Fun fact: This past November I did the opposite of “No Shave November” and declared it my own personal “Shavember”. My face was clean shaven for all of my November gigs and half of my tips that month went to the GMHC. It was a wonderful experiment to see what I looked like in drag without a beard! I learned how to paint my mug differently, AND I raised money for a charity doing it! Look out this November when I’ll do it again! 

To answer your other question about my beard making it hard to be booked – Yes AND no. I think there have been times when I haven’t been booked at certain events due to the fact that my aesthetic perhaps wouldn’t be understood or appreciated. But in that same respect, I have been booked plenty of places that I didn’t think I would be welcome. 

I think at this point in my drag career if you don’t want to book me, or if you don’t think I’m “girly” or female presenting enough for you or the venue, then I don’t really want to be there anyway. There are many different types of drag queens; Some are very high femme, some are bearded, some are drag kings, some are monsters, and some are cis women. It’s all drag, it’s entertainment, and it all slays! If I’m not taken serious by other queens, it’s not because of my beard. It’s because of how silly I am!

KJ: I personally think you look amazing. I love a beautiful, bearded, full figured queen who belches on stage. Pure, unadulterated sexiness right there! I appreciate that you fully embrace your bear side, while also staying true to your identity as a drag queen. I feel this is needed in bear spaces where toxic masculinity runs rampant, and the idea of masculinity definitely needs to be challenged. How do you feel about toxic masculinity in the bear community? Do you feel like the bear community is becoming a little bit more open-minded and accepting? Do you feel like you are a catalyst for that change?

HG: Thank you so much for that compliment! I love burping into the mic. It’s such a fun drinking game! 

I think toxic masculinity runs rampant throughout the entire gay community as a whole. It is one of the reasons I love being bearded so much. Just by being a drag queen, I am already challenging toxic masculinity. But then when you add being bearded on top of being a drag queen, it just takes it to another level! I have found that when I do get hit on by guys as Haireola, it tends to come from the hairier creatures. 

I don’t like to think of myself as being a catalyst for change, but I guess, in some respects, I am. I hope that when a child sees me in full drag on the subway, it means I am making a difference for our future! 

KJ: Now, because this interview is going to be seen worldwide, I have to ask – Are you single? And if so, should people slide in your DMs? I thought I would ask, since I heard you joke about how hard it is for a drag queen to date the other night.

HG: I currently am single, yes! 

It’s hard for any queer person to date, period. But in a huge city like New York – with the multitude of dating apps where people are constantly looking for “something better” – a gay man like me, who is a bit more femme, already has a hard time. AND THEN when I tell them I am a drag queen on top of that.… Well, let’s just say it’s hard to get a second date. 

Slide on in – I’m currently taking applications. (wink and smirk)

KJ: So, you are definitely active on social media? Where can people follow you?

HG: I am pretty active on all social media. I can be found on Instagram under @Haireolagrande, and on Facebook as Haireola Grande as well!

KJ: Lastly, is Bear Minimum on Saturdays at Albatross a monthly show, or was it just a one time thing?

HG: Bear Minimum is not yet a confirmed monthly party, but I’m hoping to have a September date soon!

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Kyle Jackson

Kyle Jackson (He/Him) is Senior Staff Writer at Gray Jones Media, and additionally works as a writer, editor and theatre artist/actor. A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, he studied at Dillard University, received a BA in Theatre from Morgan State University, an MS in Arts Administration from Drexel University, and completed the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer in Oxford Programme in 2017. Having lived in Baltimore, the Washington, DC area, Philadelphia and New York City, he now resides and works in London, United Kingdom.