Trixie and Katya Take Clusterfest Back to School

Some kind of businesswomen’s special: Acclaimed drag queens (and real-life pals) bring Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion back to the Bay Area.

When the opportunity for Trixie Mattel to attend her 10-year high school reunion arrived, she wasn’t able to make an appearance. It isn’t that Mattel (born Brian Firkus) was entirely opposed to the idea — she was simply far too busy. At the time, Mattel was filming her popular YouTube series, The Trixie and Katya Show, and fulfilling her duties as a contestant on the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars.

Even though Mattel couldn’t make her reunion, she allowed herself to imagine how her return to a rural Wisconsin high school with a graduating class of 32 people might have gone. Naturally, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion came to mind.

“I wanted to helicopter in or take a limo,” Mattel explains. “I wanted to show up in drag and be like, ‘Hey, you used to call me gay! Number one: you were right. Number two: I found a way to capitalize on it.’ ”

Since finishing fifth on her inaugural Drag Race run in 2013, Mattel has built a drag empire that’s arguably rivaled only by RuPaul herself. In addition to winning All-Stars, Mattel has also released two albums of original pop folk songs, launched her own cosmetics lines, and toured relentlessly. Her YouTube series — co-hosted by fellow Season 7 queen Katya Zamolodchikova — has rewarded both stars with a massive fanbase that extends beyond the world of drag.

“I’m a gateway drag queen,” Mattel jokes. “I figured out early on to visually base my thing on the world’s most famous 11-and-a-half-inch fashion doll. You may not know about drag, but you do recognize the color palette and the proportions. At their core, I think people just want to feel like kids. That’s why nostalgia is always worth capitalizing on. I’ve built a career by capitalizing on people’s warm fuzzies for one of their favorite toys.”

A worthy successor to the Barbie atheistic, Mattel bonded with Katya during Drag Race and have worked together numerous times since. In addition to their YouTube series, both drag queens have also previously inhabited the roles of Romy White and Michele Weinberger. Their inaugural turn as the titular characters occurred back in 2017 when local drag queen Peaches Christ asked the pair to star in a stage version of the film at San Francisco’s iconic Castro Theatre.

Now, nearly two years later, they’ll return with Christ for a live-read of the script at Clusterfest on Sunday, June 23. Less than a week later, Mattel will return to the Castro for the San Francisco premiere of her documentary, Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts. Part of the film focuses on the mental health struggles Katya endured early last year. Mattel says it was important to include that footage in the finished product.

“When it comes to the uncomfortable parts of the difficult time Katya and I had last year,” she says, “not showing things by editing them out or not having these conversations is part of the fucking problem, Denise. We live in a world where queer people have issues like this but they’re not allowed to talk to anyone about it. I think it’s helpful to have things like this on-screen.”

In an email to SF Weekly, Katya compares her relationship with Mattel to the snake-oil trade.

“We are like an old timey carnival act duo where one pretends to be a sacred healer and the other is an audience plant who miraculously walks after a lifetime of being crippled,” Katya says. “We don’t see each other all that much, so I like to think of us as an old gay couple who finally patched things up and became friends after a brutal breakup only to remember that we were never lovers in the first place.”

Despite the challenges their friendship has faced, Mattel says that her relationship with Katya has never been stronger.

“Spoiler alert but this movie doesn’t end with anybody angry or confused,” she explains. “It ends with a friendship that actually comes out more intact than it was in the beginning. Our friendship broth has thickened.”

While both Mattel and Katya missed their own ten-year high school reunions, it feels fitting that the pair are getting another chance to experience the occasion in all of its awkward glory. Mattel confirms that she intends to make the absolute most of her opportunity to inhabit the world of Romy and Michele once more.

“This movie is fucking timeless,” Mattel says. “I feel like a sleeper agent. I could probably say it from memory today even though I did that show a year and a half ago.”

Meanwhile Katya opts to use the moment as a chance to offer some wisdom to those currently navigating the labyrinth of high school.

“Have sex with a teacher and then send them to jail!”

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion with Trixie and Katya, Sunday, June 23, 3:45 p.m., at Clusterfest in Civic Center Plaza. $119-$279.50, clusterfest.com.

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