The evolution of a queen
By Leah Sankey
News & Features Editor
Be My Lover by La Bouche blares, and Karma Sutara Monroe struts out from behind the curtains wearing a leopard print leotard, a faux fur coat, latex boots and a devilish grin.
The lighting illuminates her perfectly contoured face, while the sparkles from the disco ball give her an ethereal glow. She works the crowd, eliciting squeals from the audience. A line of men is formed in front of the stage, each waiting for their turn to give Karma cash with hopes that she dances with them.
Karma’s real name is Tyler.
Tyler isn’t stringent about which pronouns people use with him but says that people should generally refer to others by whichever gender they are dressed as. If Tyler is working at Hertz as a man, he expects people to call him a “he.”
Tyler also stressed that it’s always okay to ask which pronoun they prefer.
Tyler says that the majority of his coworkers are aware of his drag career and have been supportive.
“Things are definitely not how they used to be,” Tyler says.
If Tyler is out and about as Karma, she is generally referred to with a female pronoun. I shadowed Tyler while he was Karma, so I will be referring to her as Karma or with a female pronoun throughout this piece.
Karma refers to herself as being “a little over a year old,” although Tyler is 28. This is because she started doing drag in February of 2018. She says that the Karma we see today is an entirely different queen than the one who existed when she first came to be, enthusiastically adding that she looks far better now.
Karma had just gone through a breakup and was battling depression when she began doing drag. She had been drinking in excess to numb the pain and says that she had suicidal thoughts.
“Drag saved me from myself,” Karma says. “I felt empowered and praised for being me. It brought me out of that intense negativity and into a whole new world of creativity, love and acceptance.”
She became a prominent drag queen in the Southwest Florida community after she won Drag Search 2018, a drag race that Rascals holds every year. Rascals is Fort Myers’ only gay bar.
Israel Pena, a Florida Gulf Coast University student and a regular at Rascals, saw Karma’s glow up firsthand. “Her look has definitely evolved over the last year,” Pena says. “During drag search, she took every criticism so gracefully and I think she really took them each to heart and learned from them.”
She gives her drag mother all of the credit for showing her the ropes. Karma met her drag mother, Kiki Monroe, at a gay bar and was captivated by her beauty and creativity. They became close and Kiki convinced Karma to do drag.
Karma has an entire drag family consisting of a mother, grandmother, sisters, and even nieces. None of them are actually related, but they rely on one another for support and advice. Each member of the family has helped another family member become the fabulous queen that they are today. In Karma’s family, they all share the same drag last name: Monroe.
“We all respect each other and will help each other, family member or not. We have a really good community here,” Karma says.
Asia Monroe, one of Karma’s drag sisters, was also taken under Kiki Monroe’s wing at the beginning of her drag career. Asia and Karma have known each other for about two years. “Karma was unsure about performing initially,” Asia says. “I saw her perform for the first time, and I couldn’t believe she had any doubts. She’s a natural.”
In addition to her drag family, Karma has a supportive biological family. Her mom often brings her friends and comes to see her perform. Karma describes her immediate family as being very liberal and accepting of her drag identity.
Karma says it can be difficult juggling a drag life and a love life — she says a lot of gay men are put off by the thought of dating a queen, and have the misconception that it’s like being with a woman. She also stressed that this craft takes a lot of time to perfect. If you’re serious about performing, the schedule can be jam packed, leaving little time for dating. Karma says she initially struggled with dating while also being a drag queen, but now has a man who loves and accepts all aspects of Karma and Tyler.
“When I first started doing drag, it took me a really long time to get ready, without fail” Karma says. “Now I’d say that the quickest I can do… is about an hour and a half.” Karma says that although she can trim it down to an hour and a half, she prefers to give herself at least two and a half hours to get ready.
She starts what drag queens refer to as “painting” by making her face a clean slate. For many, a clean slate means removing all existing makeup. For drag queens, this means covering up the eyebrows with glue and plastering their face with powder and foundation.
“It’s kind of like erasing your face,” Karma says.
She firmly believes in the more the merrier when it comes to painting her face. She contours, highlights, bronzes, sparkles, and will generally wear about 3–4 pairs of fake lashes. Then, comes the padding, the tucking, and the tights. She pads her chest, her legs, and her booty. She wears at least three pairs of tights and a shimmery pair on top.
She describes her style as being a bit over the top. She is a modern queen. She doesn’t want to be like many queens, who she says often try to present themselves as pageant girls. Her drag wardrobe includes a lot of colorful wigs and bodysuits galore. Blending in is not her style.
Drag is how she expresses herself. She was a fine arts major in college, and this has become her art. She loves that it gives her the chance to be creative and a little bit wacky.
She’s excited about the growth of the LGBTQ+ community in Southwest Florida and is optimistic that it will continue growing. SWFL Pride used to be the only pride event that this area had — we now have Naples Pride, Fort Myers Pride and Cape Coral Pride.
“We’ve always been here… we just haven’t always been recognized,” Karma says.
*Tyler did not want to include his real last name in the piece for privacy reasons.