Denali Foxx (aka Cordero Zuckerman) is known for charisma, on and off the stage. Growing up a professional ice skater, double gold medalist and more recently, a star contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 13, Denali shares experiencing moments where life has felt like a rollercoaster, both when it comes to career and mental health. We caught up with Denali this month to chat about the meaning of Pride, how perceptions of masculinity and femininity have changed over the years and the role Drag and ice skating have played in that evolution.
How did you get started in Drag?
At the time, I was working on cruise ships as a professional ice skater and was really losing my passion for what I was doing. When Season five of Drag Race came along,I was instantly hooked. Whenever I had the chance, I’d throw on a wig and get dressed up in drag for the crew’s party nights. From there it just grew and grew!
Growing up in Alaska, my upbringing played a huge influence in developing my aesthetic.I love finding ways to incorporate nature into a lot of what I do, and I love being able to embrace my Mexican roots and turn some traditional or even modern Latinx looks.
Drag Race has been known to launch Queens into a different world of fame and celebrity: what was your experience with that world and how did it affect you?
Yes! Although I was familiar with the platform Drag Race provided, I placed in the middle of my season and so I was very nervous about my reception. I worked hard when I got home to produce some really engaging content and the reception took me by surprise. It still shocks me when people recognize me when I’m out and about, even with a mask on. And in a world of hyper-curated role models and stars, I am glad people gravitate towards me for just being myself.
“I always knew I was somewhat destined for stardom in a way but never thought I’d have an impact on people the way I do.”
How are you prioritizing your mental health right now, especially with all that is currently going on in the world?
My mental health has always been a rollercoaster and difficult for me to balance. Currently, I’m prioritizing my mental health by focusing on the things that ground me. It’s Pride Month and I am going to be traveling and away from my home for longer thanI have in an entire year, so it helps me feel solid when I focus on the foundational aspects of my life: my boyfriend, my family, my home and my dog.
Beyond that, I’m also making sure I dive into a lot of the creative aspects of drag to keep me inspired and motivated.
COVID has contributed to my mental stress. For me, a big part of feeling mentally healthy is through community and performing, which I haven’t been able to experience in the same way as I typically would have over the past year. Now with things reopening, I’m beginning to feel more and more like myself again.I am able to perform and be with friends in a more connected way.
For others that have felt that stress over the past year, I’d say try organizing your time and do your best to spend quality time with quality people when and where you can.
What have Drag and figure skating taught you about yourself and how have they shaped your views on femininity and masculinity?
Skating taught me from an early age that I didn’t have to be like all the other boys; Drag taught me that I didn’t have to be anything at all.
I love being able to embrace my femininity in both, whereas now, I find I only embrace masculinity in my private moments. It’s been an interesting journey and I don’t find myself choosing either masculinity or femininity, but instead letting them come out naturally – as they may, when they may.
For so long, society has linked masculinity to power but power is a man made, human ideology. Femininity is also powerful, though it can be demure, it can be beautiful and abstract-it can really be everything and that’s why I find it so interesting. Masculinity to me is constantly being redefined.
With Drag Queens being such champions of the LGBTQ+ community, how does it feel to be a strong role model that so many queer people look up to? Who are some of your role models?
It’s incredible to be a role model. My role models come from my musical upbringing and my queer circle. My artistic influences sprouted early on from pop stars like Janet Jackson, Missy Elliott and Beyoncé, but now, they’ve evolved to include people within my community of friends and queens such as my drag mother Chamilla Foxx, Shea Couleé, Sasha Colby, Tenderoni and the many other incredible performers around me in life.
What does Pride mean to you? And how can others help to advance equity for the LGBTQ+ community?
Pride is always a reminder of those who came before us and how they have paved the way. Why do we have the Pride section at Target? Why can we walk around in booty shorts and do drag and do the things we can do to this day? It’s because of trailblazers like the Black Trans women that stood up for us from the beginning. Pride is always a reminder of that for me.
And as far as support, people need to remember to give back to the community that allowed them to be queer in this day and age. Keep continuing to listen, support, donate to and protect the Black/Brown Trans community – because their lives are still threatened to this day.