Tammie Brown is turning 20 — the official drag name, that is.
The performer who gives life to Tammie, Keith Glen Schubert, 39, has been performing drag since high school theater productions in Corpus Christi, Texas. Meanwhile, the persona known as Tammie Brown first took the stage at Hamburger Mary's in Long Beach, Calif., where she became a founding member of the chain's popular drag show, The Brunchettes, in the fall of 2003.
From there, Brown began developing a following in Southern California. That following turned national and international once she appeared on the first season of RuPaul's Drag Race. Brown was eliminated in the second episode — she refused to lip-synch to Michelle Williams's song "Break the Dawn" in front of the Destiny's Child alumnus herself.
However, her quirky personality, memorable lines ("Tootsie Loo!" "I'm a high-concept character"), and showdown with RuPaul in the reunion — Brown admonished the host for using vulgar language and the show for its judgment of artists — earned her a place in the hearts of fans and a spot in the first season of RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars. "I don't see you out there walking children in nature," Brown reprimanded to RuPaul, a reference to her activism that has become one of the most indelible lines in the reality show's history.
Today, two decades after Tammie Brown's emergence into the universe, that star has refused to fade. The drag performer counts actor, musician, influencer (229,000 Instagram followers, as of this article's publishing), clothing designer, and environmental activist among her many wigs. The release of her latest album, Schubert (the t is silent), coincides with her 20th-anniversary party on October 19 at the place where the adventure all began, Hamburger Mary's in Long Beach, Calif.
"It's exciting," Brown tells The Advocate about celebrating her platinum year alongside an album release. "My family's coming, other people in the industry are coming, and I'm surrounding myself with people that I like," including drag performers Jackie Beat, Sherry Vine, and fellow Drag Race alumnus Kelly Mantle. Chris Bowen and Tank Boy will DJ the proceedings.
"I hope that people come to the gala and celebrate and just have a rip-roaring good time," Brown said.
Mantle, who once performed in a band with Brown and presently costars in her Instagram series The Browns, is also a protective friend; she was able to retrieve money Brown had given to a purported suitor who turned out to be a user, an experience that partially inspired the song "Queen Killer" for Schubert, according to her interview with Billboard.
To The Advocate, Brown also attributed the song's meaning to the epidemic of violence against transgender women and gender-nonconforming people at the hands of "men that like to bruise [and] abuse."
"Kelly's one of my favorite there," said Brown, who first met her collaborator during the filming of a documentary, When Queens Collide, around a decade ago. "It means the world to me" to have her present at the anniversary party.
(Above: Brown and Mantle appear in an episode of The Browns Instagram series.)
"Queen Killer" is not the only track with activism in mind on Schubert, which is "of course" inspired by French singer and gay icon Amanda Lear as well as '80s disco. Another track, “Sexy Sexy Orangutan,” is "a fun little dance ditty" that also happens to be a commentary on palm oil deforestation.
The environment is a key priority for Brown — and it pains her to see the lack of action that is taking place in the United States. While the drag performer recognizes efforts like the recent Climate Strike and California's straw ban as part of a "slow turning point," she ultimately finds them "disappointing" in response to the crisis of pollution plaguing the planet.
"I think that people are becoming aware but not as fast as they should be, you know?" Brown said. "And it's disappointing. The straw ban in California is kind of a joke because you can ask for the straw." She cited countries like India, which employs muslin instead of plastic bags, as being far ahead of the U.S. in its environmental efforts.
So can drag help save the planet? "We were nurturers before we were vilified," said Brown, referencing the long history of transgender, two-spirit, and gender-nonconforming people as holding revered places in indigenous and Eastern cultures before Christian colonization. "Jesus Christ is not white. He's Middle Eastern. So let's get this straight as well too," Brown added.
However, Brown has her doubts as to the power of drag to cause meaningful social change in the era of Drag Race commodification. "I don't know how drag is going to be able to change things, quite frankly, because of how commercial it is," Brown said. "Especially now with the Drag Cons and everything and everybody's there selling stuff with overpriced [merchandise]." (Brown cited season 6 contestant Milk as one of the activist exceptions. She also credited the show with sparking a dubious spike in padding among SoCal drag performers.)
Which is not to say Brown is not unappreciative of the rise of Drag Race, which has given her a larger platform in her own career. The show is now receiving mainstream attention after its move from Logo to VH1. And on the awards circuit, it garnered yet another Emmy for Outstanding Reality Show last month. "I think it's great," Brown said of the show's critical and commercial recognition. "More power to them. I think it's phenomenal. I'm so happy for RuPaul and for the staff and everybody there at [production company] World of Wonder. Congratulations."
It's a rise in cultural significance that Brown never anticipated the show would receive when she first appeared on the reality competition in 2009. "To be honest with you, I came in very naive to Drag Race, very naive. I thought, Oh, well, I have a car. I live in L.A. I'm going to be able to pick the other queens up. We're going to be able to drive around and go and do all this fun stuff. But that wasn't the reality of it."
While Brown has no regrets about appearing on the show, she does still protest the "abuse that kind of goes on behind the scenes."
"They put us in situations that are not suitable conditions to an actor or to an entertainer or an artist," Brown said. "And to make this competition with each other. I don't like the competing either. It doesn't make any sense. I mean, in reality, we're all individual artists. Everybody's deeply themselves. So why are we competing?"
"I never watched this show," Brown admitted. "It's not my cup of tea, as one would say. I don't even watch reality shows." She does, however, love the second season of The Comeback, in which RuPaul made a guest appearance.
So despite these objections to the format, would Brown accept an invitation to appear on another season of All Stars? "I would accept it, of course, for the fans," Brown said. "And of course, the fame would be nice because already I'm already an influencer. But I mean, at least to get up to a million [followers] would be nice. My goal is to make 16 million followers on Instagram."
Brown — who describes her drag today as "Hollywood" "organic," "healthy," "fun," and "approachable" — sees world domination in the future of her career, with perhaps real estate ventures on the side. "I want to [be in] the pop charts and larger performance arenas and larger spaces where I can perform and larger activism," said Brown. "We're going to start doing [a] docuseries. Maybe owning some houses too would be nice in Long Beach and in Texas and maybe one in Mexico. So I can escape all this craziness of the United States."
And although Brown may have her eyes on the stars — and the advantage of now having designers gifting her clothes — it hasn't stopped her from losing the beautiful and bizarre authenticity that has garnered her a fan base over the past 20 years.
"I'm not trying to fake anybody. I'm just trying to truly be myself and my transvestism," Brown concluded.
The 20th-anniversary party of Tammie Brown will take place Saturday, October 19, 8 p.m. at Hamburger Mary's in Long Beach, Calif. Watch "Round N' Round" from her upcoming album Schubert below.