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What happened to Katya?

It’s been a popular question ever since the über-popular RuPaul’s Drag Race season seven alumna announced a year-long hiatus to focus on her mental health in January. Though Katya did return earlier than expected, it has been primarily as her out-of-drag persona, Brian McCook. McCook has a new podcast and a new beard, and opted to speak at this year’s RuPaul’s DragCon as himself, not as Katya.

His session was one of the first of the weekend — a TED Talk-styled lecture called a DEB Talk (Drag Entertainment Business) — and doubled as both entertaining, free-wheeling chat, and as an explanation for what did happen to Katya.

“My most nagging quality, the thing that led me to this whole psychotic crack-up, is people pleasing,” McCook explained. The meet and greets that are part and parcel of being a RuPaul’s Drag Race alumnus were proving particularly overwhelming for McCook, as his openness to other people’s feelings turned into carrying others’ burdens.

“I was feeling your energy too much,” McCook explained. “What I did over the last three years was take everybody’s anxiety and store it in my body.”

In effect, McCook wasn’t properly setting boundaries — and as Katya, he was setting a bad example, too.“I feel complicit in perpetrating the dissolution of boundaries within the Drag Race multiverse,” he said.

This focus on boundaries was a popular one all weekend at DragCon. During the Miss Congeniality panel on Sunday, Season 6 MC winner BenDeLaCreme emphasized the difference between being kind and letting everyone take up emotional room. It’s important to remember here that the Miss Congenialities of each season are fan favorites — the fans literally vote on the prize. Katya herself was a Miss Congeniality (though McCook did not sit on the Sunday panel). There’s positivity in fans lifting a particular queen up, but it also gets them invested, and it can be difficult to set boundaries.

Though he looks different than he usually does as his Russian hooker alter ego, McCook remains Katya at his core. During the rest of his DEB Talk, he spoke of trying to fuck a ghost, and insisted repeatedly that he’s “not a huge fan of capitalism.” The spirit of Katya was very much in the room.

But the most interesting aspect was the accountability he feels for the lack of boundaries he now needs, and how that’s motivating him now. If McCook can change the dynamics of the Drag Race fandom with a beard, some new tattoos, and his DEB Talks, he’ll achieve something truly special.


Kevin O'Keeffe
Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer and 'RuPaul's Drag Race' herstorian. He covers film and TV for INTO, and writes the movie review column "But How Gay Is It?" every Friday.