I only have 15 minutes on the phone with Brooke Lynn Hytes, because she’s somewhere “on the backroads” between Nebraska and Kansas, and just five minutes into our conversation, the line suddenly disconnects.
This happens just as Brooke is launching into an anecdote about her youth, so that I never hear whether she was 15 or 19 or 27 when she came out to her parents, during Toronto Pride, all those years ago (Later confirmed: she was 18).
Now, at 33 years old, Brooke Lynn Hytes — real name Brock Hayhoe — is a popular drag queen best known for being the first Canadian contestant to compete on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Since the show wrapped in May and Brooke took second place, she’s been perennially on the road — this week alone, she’s making tour stops in five states.
Watch: Brooke Lynn Hytes is the first Canadian contestant to compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Story continues below.
When we finally reconnect the following day, Brooke tells me she’s making her grand return this weekend for the Pride parade on Sunday.
She’s been gone for so long (she now lives in Nashville) that she can’t even remember when the last time was that she was here. “Five years, 10 years — it’s all the same,” she says, uncertain. “I’m a drag queen. I overexaggerate.”
Brooke will be performing on Lyft’s official float, to celebrate the rideshare’s new initiative: it is now the first rideshare app in Canada and the U.S. to offer a range of optional pronouns to include transgender and non-binary riders.
For our remaining, undisturbed, ten minutes together, Brooke talked to me about gender, finding success, coming home, and what Pride means to her.
Do you have any memories from your youth of going to Pride in Toronto?
Toronto Pride has always held a very special place in my heart, because that’s the time of year when I came out to my mom and my dad. I remember we were looking at the Pride edition of the Toronto Star. They had this big cover story about it; there were a couple of guys kissing in it, or something. My mom and I got to talking, while looking at the paper, and she asked me, “Are you gay?” and I said, “Yeah, I am.” That sort of prompted me to come out to her. So Pride has always been a special time of year for me, because of that.
Toronto Pride has always held a very special place in my heart, because that’s the time of year when I came out to my mom and my dad.
What does Pride mean to you today, after all these years?
Pride means so many things to me — it means a celebration of who I am, of my community and who we are; a celebration of all of the different, beautiful people that are represented under the rainbow. It’s a reminder that we are fighters, and still have so much to fight and stand up for. It’s a reminder of how important it is to come together as a community and stand united against homophobia and intolerance.
Pride is definitely something that comes out of protest, and I think drag, itself, is a form of protest. It’s a form of activism — the idea of putting on this other garb and protesting the gender binary, and things like that. So, I think it’s so important to remember how Pride started — to remember the history — which was with a trans woman of colour who threw the first brick at Stonewall and started this whole movement that we benefit from now.
Has your conception of gender changed at all since you started doing drag?
I think over the last little while, in our culture, I’ve seen a shift in how people think about gender and how people define it. That’s important to me, as well, because I grew up thinking about it as: there are boys and there are girls. But now, I’ve learned from the younger generations that have brought up so many issues that, no, you can be a boy, you can be a girl, you can be neither, you can be both … I think it’s great. Why should we have to stick to these binaries, when we can be whoever we want to be?
You travel quite a bit, obviously. Is settling down somewhere or finding a new home base anywhere in your near future?
I would like to move cities, but I don’t know where I want to go. Everyone is telling me to move to L.A. There are definitely more opportunities for TV and film out there, but I can’t decide if I want to live there. I love Chicago. That’s a city I would consider moving to — it reminds me so much of Toronto, and also New York, which is another one of my favourite cities, so that’s a possibility. I’m thinking if I do move somewhere, it’ll probably be in the next year, and it would probably be either Chicago or L.A.
Do you have any advice you might give to performers who still work in Toronto who are trying to find success for themselves?
I don’t regret having left Toronto. I think the name of the game is that you’re trying to get to the States and get a work visa. You just have to get your name out there as much as possible — you need your name in the press, you need your name in print, you need your name in programs. You basically need to prove that you’re an alien of extraordinary ability, and that you can do the job better than any other American can do it.
Do you miss anything about Toronto?
There are lots of things I miss about Toronto! I miss Swiss Chalet … don’t even get me started about Swiss Chalet. I miss the Gay Village. I miss my friends. I miss my family. I miss the food. I miss the diversity of the city — Chinatown, Koreatown, Little India. I love food, and I love food from different cultures. We don’t get a lot that in Tennessee, that’s for sure.