If you have been watching the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race and its spectacular finale last week, you know who Nina West is. The winner of the Miss Congeniality title of the world’s biggest drag competition wowed the judges not only with her outfits and acting abilities, but also with her kindness and generosity. If you have no idea what Drag Race is, or have never heard of Nina West before, I hope that this little spotlight will help introduce her to a broader audience — because she is not only a delightful entertainer, she is a huge advocate and activist for the LGBTQ+ community.
When not in drag, Nina is Andrew Levitt. Levitt graduated university with a theatre degree and has been working as a drag queen and entertainer for over 18 years. According to the official Nina West website, she has put together over 35 stage shows, hosts a podcast, and most importantly, has founded her own charity foundation (The Nina West Foundation) in order to help raise money for LGBTQ+ causes. Levitt was inspired to use drag as an outlet as well as an opportunity to raise awareness and support the community by his friend, fellow drag queen Virginia West. On the website of his foundation, Levitt says: “When I started, I didn’t see myself in the current culture of drag. I wanted to allow people who were like me to know they also had a place in it as well.” The “Nina” portion of her drag name is an homage to the singer Nina Simone.
This is one thing that makes Levitt and his drag persona so interesting to me: he created a character that is built around comedy and kindness rather than one built on being extremely fashionable or sassy. Of course, Nina is both of these things as well, (as was proven on the current season of drag race) but she is also an inspiration with her calm and supportive character. From the very first episode, Nina was one of my favorite queens because she radiates an incredible amount of joy. Even before the season aired, Nina was well-known in the drag community and had an overwhelming amount of supporters who were rooting for her. She was finally accepted to compete on the show after auditioning for nine years in a row. Prior to competing she was perhaps best known for her performance in a moving dress at the Entertainer Of The Year awards in 2008, which was later copied (with proper credit) by signer SIA at her Coachella performance in 2016.
Her sense of humor was evident from the start, when she introduced herself as being inspired by “Pee Wee Herman and The Muppets” and of course when she nailed every acting challenge that was thrown her way. What the “Instagram queens” had in looks, Nina had in performance and acting talent. She was hilarious, present, and the star of every scene — especially her Snatch Game characters (Harvey Fierstein and Jo Anne Worley) which were hysterical and perfectly done. She also showed the Drag Race audience a side of drag (and gay culture) that is either rarely spoken of or presented for shock value. Nina opened up about her time at a conservative college, where she was targeted by a hate-group because she was openly gay. The way she presented this traumatic experience was human, real, vulnerable, but also empowering, because Levitt channeled it into something beautiful and helpful with his activism.
As mentioned before, Levitt has his own podcast, merchandise and music. All of which do the necessary work to be loud, proud, and active in a society that likes to close its eyes against a still oppressed minority. Like Nina said on Drag Race: “Don’t let anyone tell you your voice doesn’t matter.” And the community is definitely richer with a voice like Nina West’s in it.