• Catherine White

ExPats: Being Bianca

Updated: Jun 27

20 years of Drag Fabulous, Born in the Southern Tier


Ronnie Gallant was born in Maine. His father was in the armed forces so he grew up traveling the country, from base to base, throughout his childhood. He came to Elmira in 1999 to attend Elmira College. He also came out of the closet that year, and found a new community and life at Angles Dance Club in Elmira, and several other area gay bars in the region. He also discovered the Southern Tier’s drag community and, from the moment that Ronnie encountered the bold, brash, performative art, he knew that he’d found his perfect form of self expression.


The first drag queen that Ronnie encountered, personally, was Alyssa Starr, who became one of the inspirations that helped him realize his ambition to perform.


“I ran into Alyssa (Starr) coming out of the dressing room at Chances in Binghamton … Then later, I saw them performing and lip synching and dancing to songs on stage and, all of a sudden everything started to click into place,” he said, explaining how memories of being a kid dancing and performing to his mom’s soft 80’s mixtapes, were awoken as he watched the Queens owning the stage.


“I was like ‘Oh my God, I used to twirl around as a kid, lip synching to songs! You mean, I can actually do this in real life?!’”


This spark eventually gave birth to the flame that is Bianca, Ronnie's drag persona, inspired by pop diva Mariah Carey, and local drag performers Alyssa Starr, Liquor Galore, Sister Sasha, and underground drag icons like Lady Bunny and Rupaul.


Photos provided. Bianca was born in Elmira in the Southern Tier's underground gay club scene and has continued to shine as the art of drag performance has gained popularity. L to r, Bianca being crowned Miss Gay Scranton, P.A. by local legend DeDe Kupps; a current glamour shot of Bianca.


“I’d always been aware of drag,” Ronnie says. “The very first time I went on a date with a girl, I took her to see ‘To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar’,” he laughed.


Mariah Carey was Ronnie’s introduction into pop culture, and it was through the pop diva that he learned about Whitney Houston, Madonna, and Janet Jackson.


“There’s been an awareness about the performance aspect of drag that I had when I was around the age of 9, 10, 11, 12 – Here I was, this little kid twirling around and performing, and then I see these divas doing it on TV!”


Something clicked within him when he connected with the glamour and drama served by 1990s biggest female pop stars.


“Whether it was just playing around, being a kid … You know, I think there was an element of … thinking I was a big star,” Ronnie says.


The drag persona he created, Bianca, was inspired by Mariah Carey’s alter ego in her 1999 “Heartbreaker” video. When asked who his version of Bianca is, Ronnie’s answer has changed over time, evolving, along with his own sense of self.


“It’s interesting, when I’ve answered this question in the past, the answers were centered around ‘It’s a form of expression;’ ‘It’s artistic,’” he said.


“Now that Bianca is older and has been around … I have realized that therapy is very important,” Ronnie says, chuckling. “Now when I get asked this question, I realize that Bianca was born out of a series of insecurities and it was a way for me to hide.”


“The makeup is a mask. The costume is a mask. So, the insecurities I would feel as Ronnie – not feeling confident enough or not feeling attractive enough … I was able to just paint it with make-up and then I could actually be all of those things that I should have been able to be as Ronnie. Bianca is an extension of myself that has the courage to be authentic,” he explained. “I didn’t have the verbiage for it when I was younger.”


“The very first time I performed was for the Miss Southern Tier competition … The first song I ever did was Mariah Carey’s song ‘Vision of Love.’ It was Mariah Carey’s first single. It was her first number one. So, for me – It was my first time performing. It’s the first time people were going to see me in drag. I made that connection in my head. And, I was also performing as Bianca, which was a character of her’s.” He continued, “My fast song was Diana Ross’ ‘I’m Coming Out’. So, for me, it was all very intentional. I wanted to say multiple messages without having to come right out and say it.”


Though Bianca didn’t win the crown that first competition, her performance was memorable.


“The way I started made a big enough impression that I was remembered,” Ronnie says, smiling at the memory.


When she competed for the title again in 2002, Bianca won and Ronnie’s life got very busy, very fast. He began performing at, promoting and hosting weekly drag-themed shows throughout the region and Bianca became well-known in local media as the LGBTQ+ community gained visibility.

Photos provided. Bianca, who's won several drag competitions and pageants, representing the drag and LGBTQ+ community at public events and in local media. Local drag queens in top middle picture include Dominique Goodhead, Harley Davidson and Lexi.


She claimed her second crown in 2003, winning Miss Gay Southern New York State, and spent the next few years traveling across the whole state working hard to promote her crown and title, the competition, and drag, generally.


“The year I was MIss Gay Southern New York State, I was the first person to win it and I wanted it to become a popular pageant so that it maintained itself,” Ronnie explained.


“So, in order for that to happen I, literally, traveled all over – I probably performed in every gay bar in New York State in 2004!,” he laughed. “And this was all BEFORE iPhones and GPS! Phones couldn’t take photo or video yet!”


Ronnie’s friend, Helen, traveled with him on these journeys criss-crossing the state, recording all of Bianca’s performances, as well as those of the other performers’ who asked them to.


“I was performing Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday – Pretty much every week for about two-and-a-half years. I think back at that time and I don’t even recognize that person!,” he says.


“So much happened from the time that I came out of the closet and started going out in Elmira, until I moved away. That was only 3-½ years but when I look back on it, I packed so much activity in, that it feels like 20 years!”


In 2004 Ronnie moved, first to Florida and then to New York City. He lived in Manhattan for 11 years and just recently moved with his partner and their fur kids to Brooklyn, NY.


Ronnie says he’s excited to see how the performance art of drag will continue to grow.


“It’s been an art form that’s been around forever, constantly evolving and becoming more popular,” he says.


In March, Bianca returned to the Southern Tier to pass on the Miss Gay Elmira crown, a title she’d held since 2016. She also still, occasionally, performs under the name Bianca Daahling at drag shows throughout the region; and was most recently invited to perform at a company Pride event in New York City this month.


Video provided. Bianca's final performance as Miss Gay Elmira as she passed on her title in March 2022.


But for Ronnie, it all started in Elmira with the help of a supportive drag community. And although the local scene has changed since Bianca was "born," Ronnie thinks that social media has made it easier for aspiring drag performers to get started.


“If you’re interested in performing drag I would encourage you to go see as many drag shows as you can,” he advises. “Pay attention to which ones stir something inside of you. Don’t be shy. Reach out to the performers you like and ask for their advice. There’s nothing a drag queen likes more than being admired and appreciated for their look and their performance.”


“Follow them on social media, join their Instagram. It’s so easy to do that now.”


“And once you get started, my goodness, do what you love, love what you do and try to stay as true to yourself as you possibly can!” Ronnie said, encouragingly.


“Everything we love about drag – The craziness, the gorgeousness, the insaneness – All of that stuff is just going to get bigger and bigger!”

 

Find Bianca online at:










About this Feature


ExPats catches up with former residents of the Southern Tier who've left the area to find out where they landed and how life is going. If you know a subject for a future ExPats feature, please send the name and contact information to info.southerntierlife@gmail.com.

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