Spunky child drag queen Lactatia and his family have come under fire for a fashion campaign with designer and social media star Brandon Hilton. Hilton, a drag queen himself and owner of Canadian fashion company House of Mann, is best known for his queer-positive Instagram account.
Nemis Quinn Mélançon Golden may only be nine years old, but he’s as impressive and magical as his name suggests: After school, if he’s not crushing it in Grand Theft Auto V, PlayStation controller in hand, he’s getting dolled up and dancing to his favorite dubstep violinist (that would be Lindsey Stirling). It all depends on his mood. When he was seven, this pint-size boy—who had a habit of wearing his sister’s tutus and princess costumes when he was two—officially transformed into a queen called Lactatia. Now he’s a miniature fixture on the Montreal drag scene. “I was always a drag queen, but I never knew it until my sister showed me [RuPaul’s] Drag Race,” Nemis explains. Drag, the subversive art of deconstructing gender through over-the-top aesthetics and performances, has become Nemis’s main source of empowerment and pride. “I have half the confidence he does, and I’m 37!” laughs Jessica Mélançon, Nemis’s mom and makeup artist who helps curate Lactatia’s lewks. Prior to Lactatia’s first drag ball—where he took home a trophy—Nemis enrolled in voguing classes to refine what he calls his “weird dance moves.” Voguing, a stylized form of movement that evolved from the LGBT ballroom scene, is an exercise in control that Nemis teaches his friends at recess (“If it doesn’t look controlled, you’re chopped!”). Her skills have earned Lactatia a slot at a major vogue house, the New York–based House of Mizrahi, through which she will hone her craft with other queens and participate in future competitions—yet another indication of how Lactatia has been embraced by the community. As for his future plans, Nemis is dreaming up Lactatia’s look for a Lady Gaga concert he’s set to attend. “My favorite song is ‘Born This Way.’ It has an amazing message that I try to apply to myself,” he says. “People are born differently. But we’re all people, and we all have the same rights.” Indeed—all hail Queen Lactatia! @roeethridge
Lactatia — the drag name of 9-year-old Nemis Quinn Mélançon Golden of Montreal — collaborated with Hilton after his mother Jessica Mélançon reached out to the designer. The two had previously connected over Drag Queen Story Hour, a nonprofit organization that brings drag queens to local libraries to read to children. Lactatia is no stranger to doing drag for charity; every dollar raised by Nemis's performances is donated to LGBT youth.
Hilton, Lactatia, and Lactatia's mother collaborated on a photo shoot that featured the child in a onesie designed by House of Mann. “We were completely planning on making her something original, but she picked the sequin onesie off the website and loved it,” Hilton told HuffPo. “So we made one in her size and sent it to her. Then her mom took photos of her in it.”
After the photos appeared on Instagram, users on 4Chan and Twitter began berating Hilton and Lactatia's parents, accusing them of sexualizing Nemis. Far-right sites The Daily Caller and Breitbart also wrote articles criticizing the images. Although the 9-year-old is completely covered, Hilton told HuffPo he's received numerous death threats and that a Bitcon account offered money to kill him.
Some of the criticism is driven from the other garments The House of Mann sells; the brand identifies itself on its website "boudoir couture" and features lingiere and bondage apparrel, as well as drag costumes.
“Yes, we sell adult clothing, but we started as a drag queen store, and Lactatia is a drag queen.” Hilton says, “I’m honestly just so shocked that this has gotten so out of hand and taken the way it is, because we never looked at a kid in a onesie and saw sex.”
woke up to countless tweets telling me “kill yourself” and calling me a “pedo” after we announced 9 year old drag superstar Lactatia as our new HOUSE OF MANN covergirl...
If you can’t handle a kid in a sequin onesie, maybe the future isn’t for you! pic.twitter.com/7HPbwzbMYX
— Brandon Hilton (@BRANDONHILTON) January 6, 2018
“We looked at a kid in a onesie and saw a kid living her dream and doing what she wanted to do. Lactatia chose the onesie, she chose all of it. Her parents aren’t making her do anything.” the designer asserted.
Lactatia's mother agrees with Hilton, defending the fashion brand: “House of Mann makes burlesque and drag costumes.” As to claims she's sexualizing her child, she told HuffPo, “They’re performance pieces. House of Mann sent Lactatia a full coverage, head-to-toe, sequined one-piece. Lactatia is a drag performer and also vogues, so that piece made sense. No, Lactatia is not going to be modeling the burlesque and fetish wear designs featured on his site, and the fact that we actually have to clarify that is a little ridiculous.”
She chalks the outrage up to a lack of education the public has about the drag world. “People fundamentally do not understand what drag and drag performance is. Consequently, those people do not want to understand it either, so it makes explaining or defending it useless."