My Love Letter To Nina West: The Pride of Columbus, Ohio

Here’s a little departure from my normal Woo, but not that unrelated, because this queen is nothing but good vibes.

If you have ever spoken to me for more than 5 minutes, you know I can work my love of drag into any conversation. Going to drag shows is more than a hobby, it’s a passion. The camp, the style, the humor, the unabashed no fucks given, love me or leave me confidence, the songs, the reveals, the activism. I live for it. I like to say I live in the drag capital of the world. The amount of talent that is in and has come from Columbus, Ohio is unbelievable. National pageant title holders (some I’ve had the honor of judging), perfectly choreographed stage events, charity fundraisers that bring in thousands of dollars; it’s truly amazing. If you don’t understand/like drag, you’ve never been to a show in Columbus. Among the best of the best in my city is Nina West. If that name sounds familiar it’s because she recently competed on season eleven of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and by recently I mean she was eliminated last night. My husband is a huge sports fan, and for years I’ve teased him when his teams have made championship playoffs: the pacing, the yelling, the getting mad at players you don’t even know, and the pure joy when they win a game. After this season of Drag Race I truly know how he feels when he watches his favorite team make it to playoffs, win, and then get eliminated. While watching Nina this season I found myself rooting against queens I don’t even know, holding my breath during critiques, cheering when she did well, and standing and pacing when it became clear her time on the show was almost up. And like some sort of football town, (I should know, thanks Buckeyes) I logged on to Facebook after her defeat to hundreds of upset Ohioans posting their disappointment.

I specifically remember the first time I saw Nina West. It was many years and a few syringes of Botox ago, my first night out with friends after a horrible breakup, and they took me to Union Cafe’s Showtunes Sunday (Nothing cheers me up like belting out some “Suddenly Seymour” and “Part of Your World”). She was rounding the corner during the Mary Tyler Moore theme, passing out napkins to toss when Mary tosses her hat. We made eye contact, honestly I still probably had swollen eyes from crying and the general look of defeat, she winked and smiled at me and moved on to the next table. I felt seen and I felt love. But my story isn’t special. Upon finding out she made this season, a client of mine shared with me the time, shortly after moving here without knowing anyone, she attended the Pride Festival, and in a moment of feeling totally alone in a sea of strangers in a new town, Nina gave her the same wink and smile and she thought “I can do this, Columbus is where I belong.” If you’re a part of the Facebook fan group you see countless stories just like this: Nina made them feel special.

Before it was even announced that she would be on RuPaul’s Drag Race, a local paper, The Columbus Dispatch, did an article on her amazing philanthropic work (raising over $2 million for charity) and seeing this article opened up a dialogue between some of my older clients and I, where I was able to help, along with the article, educate them and open a world of acceptance and understanding. Some of my 70 year old regulars even ask “How are the queens?” at their appointments every two weeks. Nina opened their world up.

Personally winning concert tickets in a Cher impersonation contest hosted by Nina was literally a highlight of my life. I don’t know what meant more, my weird party trick of being able to sing like Cher benefiting me, or the look of approval I got from Nina when she I announced I had won.

So while I’m bummed that she didn’t win the ultimate title of America’s Next Drag Superstar, I know she won America’s hearts, and the country got to see the incredible queen, and remarkable human being Columbus has known and loved for years.

Go big. Be kind. Go West.

Danielle DeWine