As Pride approaches, Vegas drag performer Salem Night speaks out on the importance of being your true self

Salem Night
Photo: Miranda Alam / Special to the Weekly

Salem Night got into drag before she was even able to perform legally. Six weeks shy of her 21st birthday, Night auditioned at Hamburger Mary’s, a legendary gay-themed restaurant that was preparing to reopen after a 12-year hiatus.

“I didn’t disclose I was underage until the night before,” Night says. She was hired anyway. (Hamburger Mary’s is only 21 and over in the evenings.) After her birthday, Night began working at local gay bars like Freezone, Badlands and Charlie’s, before landing a gig at the biggest gay nightclub in Vegas, Piranha. “Immediately, [the manager] made me the host of Friday and Saturday,” even though she had never hosted a show before. “I was like, me? All I do is twirl,” she laughs. “I was gagged.”

These days, Night is a resident queen at Piranha and a self-proclaimed vogue diva who recently performed at New York City’s DragCon in September. The Weekly recently caught up with her to talk about gender identity, representation and the importance of self-expression.

On the importance of expressing yourself: “It’s been kind of a recurring topic of mine [when I] talk with other people. I do identify [as] genderqueer. I identify [as] gender nonconforming, trans-femme. I feel like Vegas is just having a hard time swallowing this pill, and I don’t get why. We have all kinds of freaks of nature on and off the Strip and on Fremont—people expressing themselves in all different kinds of ways. I think it’s ever so more important in this town for us to find people who are expressing themselves as vividly as possible.”

On the gender binary: “For as long as we can trace back, to ancient civilizations, people have been expressing themselves outside the gender binary. I don’t know why it happened, but somewhere down the line we started to exclusively say, ‘This is male,’ or, ‘This is female,’ and really it’s not that way. I was riding the bus here, and a lot of the people were looking at me crazy, but it’s just because they don’t see it often. They’re questioning, ‘What is going on? Is this a girl, is this a boy?’ And whether that’s important or not, the more that people see it, the less of a problem it will be. Once more people are seen being themselves, the less people are going to care.

On being gender-nonconforming: “A nonconforming person says, ‘I don’t care what you tell me I have to be. I don’t care what the rules are. I’m going to be me. I’m going to live my best life.’ And I think that’s what the beauty in it is. I don’t get why people don’t see that. We want you to look past what’s between our legs, or how long our hair is or how full our lips are. We’re artists. We can cook. We can sing. We can dance. There’s so many other things to us. … Social media is more popular than it’s ever been, and we’re all yearning for those special connections. It’s like, okay, now I have to post on Instagram how pretty I am, or how feminine I am or how masculine I am—and now I want someone to look past that. It’s like, ‘Hey, there’s a human here, and this human has feelings.’”

On supporting LGBT spaces: “It’s important to make sure we are not erased. We can create our own spaces and fund our own stuff. There once was a Black Wall Street, and it burnt to the f*cking ground because somebody lit it on fire. It’s important to invest in your own. My money is only going to go to queer people and black people and people who are marginalized. If I see a pride flag hanging on one of these buildings, I’m going to go there first before I go to any others. Representation and visibility is super-important. You have to be visible, it’s the only way we’re going to make change.”

On not living in fear: “I’m afraid of a lot of things. I’m afraid of walking down the street dressed the way that I’m dressed. I have a taser. With that being said, I’m a firm believer in manifestation. If that’s the case, I can, to a level, control this. If I walk into everything with fear, I have a thought that something is going to happen to me. If I live like that and my actions are tailored to that fear, I probably wouldn’t be doing anything. I’d be stuck in my house all day, every day. I’m going to walk down the street with my nose held high, and I’m going to tell myself everything’s going to be OK, I’m beautiful and I’m fabulous. And I’m here safely. We all have to include each other and accept each other.

On what she’s thinking when she’s performing: “Usually when I’m onstage, it’s, Oh, sh*t, I just forgot that lyric. Oh, my God, I hope I don’t fall—You got this, bitch, turn it.’”

On the future of LGBT spaces in Vegas: “For some reason, everything queer here always involves drinking, and I kind of want to get out of that. It would be awesome to have more Pride events Downtown. The show I performed at in New York during DragCon was called Black Girl Magic, and [my friend and I] really want to do something like that. The black gay community here is very small, so we wanted an event for people of color. I just want a space where people are accepted and can express themselves and their art. I really want to host a brunch [Downtown]. I just want to put my queerness everywhere.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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