By: Sarah Newton
She might be one of the most fabulous people you’ll ever meet, but Algonquin’s queen of dirty bingo is more than just an impeccably made-up face.
Zelda Marshall, 52, began her transformation into one of Ottawa’s most respected drag queens when she moved here from Vancouver, B.C. 26 years ago. She grew up in a blended, artistic family; her father was a jazz pianist and her mother was a dance teacher, though Marshall decided to study math and statistics in university.
And yes, she did enjoy dressing up in women’s clothing as a kid.
“I dabbled at [drag] back in Vancouver, but I decided that I was going to focus first on my school work,” Marshall said. “Get my school work behind me and then seriously explore transgenderism and female impersonation. So that happened after I moved to Ottawa, and started a career.”
Here in the nation’s capital, Marshall studied under drag mothers Dixie Landers and Ginette Bobo, eventually making her official debut in October, 2001. Since then she has become involved in various charities and events across the city, including fundraising with the Ottawa Knights, Ottawa’s leather and denim club, and charities for HIV/AIDS.
“It’s very much a raison dêtre for drag queens, in that they were often the main tools for fundraising,” Marshall said. “I mean, there was that simultaneous attitude of looking down on them, but yet you need them.”
There is a male life apart from the self-proclaimed “fitness fanatic” and high-heeled Zelda Marshall persona, one that Marshall is careful talking about. She declined to give her male name or day job in order to protect her daughter and her (female) partner of 13 years, who she said was fired because of her “association with the trans community.”
“It’s a question of who can afford the fancier lawyers,” Marshall said. “Justice goes to the people who can afford it.”
Despite this, the ripple effects of Marshall’s work are overwhelmingly positive. Second-year police foundations student Erin Saunders, 24, met Marshall at a drag show a couple of years ago and was impressed by how welcome Marshall made her feel.
“Whether it be for the community, charity work or at school, Zelda has played a huge role in the LGBTQ community,” Saunders said. “You can tell that she is very passionate about what she does.”
Krystal Caring, 35, is a fellow drag queen and Marshall’s partner-in-crime for dirty bingo, as well as an active fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society. She performed her first drag show with Marshall, and though they both agree that they have completely different styles—Marshall is more rock-Broadway-meets-Tina-Turner and Caring is more Vegas-style-show-queen—they both enjoy performing at Algonquin College.
“Actually Algonquin—in all honesty and not to brag because we do a lot of stuff here—I really love Algonquin because we’ve had such a positive experience,” Caring said. “I’ve really not had anything negative since we’ve been here.”
Though Caring said that she and Marshall have encountered their share of negativity from people throughout their careers, she aims to reach a “mainstream audience, to branch out and break the barriers down” while raising money and helping people.
“We make people smile,” Marshall said.