Crowning achievement: Miss Gay Arkansas competing for national title

Crowning achievement: Miss Gay Arkansas competing for national title
BECCA MARTIN-BROWN
bmartin@nwadg.com

If you follow Athena Sinclair on social media, you’ll already know a lot of what you need to know about Miss Gay Arkansas.

Athena, who uses initials, “M.D.” to refer to her male counterpart, is a busy, busy person. She’s a frequent performer in drag shows at C-4 Nightclub in Fayetteville, has been traveling to attend and help contestants at other states’ Miss Gay America preliminaries, and she has an internationally known hair business, making those amazing wigs that help define drag performance.

But M.D. Hunter, 26, who lives in Little Rock, is also very politically active, particularly in the arenas of civil rights, homelessness and its attendant issues like food insecurity. He was able to talk about those passions earlier this week in the interview portion of the Miss Gay America Pageant, which wraps up with the finals competition Jan. 20 at Robinson Performance Hall in Little Rock.

The Miss Gay America Pageant is celebrating 50 years in 2022, making it one of the oldest competitions for female impersonators. Hunter says the Miss Gay Arkansas event is the oldest of them all, and winning it is very prestigious. Although he had started doing drag when he was about 18 or 19, competing in the pageant wasn’t really on his radar. Then one of his dear friends, a female impersonator known as Eartha Quake, died. As a tribute to her, he jumped in. “She always wanted me to compete in this pageant system very badly,” he says. “She thought it suited me really well.” His goal was to win every category in the Miss Gay Arkansas competition — and Athena did, on her first try, in July of 2021.

The Miss Gay America pageant is structured very much like the other Miss America event. This week, 34 contestants competed in interview, evening gown and talent in two days of preliminary events on Jan. 17-18. On Jan. 19, a revue show let past winners “have their glory,” as Hunter describes it, before the top 10 compete in the final event Jan. 20, which includes evening gown, talent and an on-stage question. One notable difference is that the interview with judges, while not seen by spectators, must be done as a man. Hunter says it’s a chance for judges to “see who you are and what you care about” when you’re not in character.

“Athena and M.D. are two completely different people,” he says in a phone interview. “It’s even hard for me to channel Athena when I’m not in costume. M.D. is very professional — a goofball, but very professional and very down to earth. Athena is very glamorous. We even speak differently — although that’s not intentional!”

Hunter grew up in Florida and Arkansas, returning to Cabot when he was in his junior year of high school. He was surprised, he says, to find sexuality and gender were even topics of discussion when in Florida “nobody cared.”

“Being a little more mature, I was very interested in how people reacted,” he remembers. “I was also shocked. But my personality kind of changed people’s minds, and I ended up hanging out with a lot of the people who didn’t expect to hang out with a gay guy. We ended up being good friends, and some of them still come to my shows and support me.”

Hunter says the main thing he wants people to know about him is that he “truly cares for people,” and that’s why he’s politically active when he’s not on stage. As far as the pageant and female impersonation goes, he wants people to stop thinking of “drag queens” as “just cross-dressers.” “We aren’t cross-dressers,” he says, urging people to see female impersonators as “entertainers who spend thousands of dollars and devote hours of work to create this show to entertain you. It has nothing to do with gender or sexual orientation.”

According to missgayamerica.com, the Miss Gay America winner receives a prize package including cash, jewelry and other gifts, sponsorship packages and the chance for many engagements throughout the year of her reign, among them appearances at each of the preliminaries for the next pageant season. The newly crowned Miss Gay America can earn as much as $70,000 during her reign, along with the “prestige of holding such a respected title.”

FAQ

Miss Gay America

WHEN — Finals Jan. 20

WHERE — Robinson Performance Hall in Little Rock

TICKETS — ticketmaster.com

INFO — missgayamerica.com

Categories: Cover Story