Fact: Tamisha Iman is a legend. Prior to her RuPaul’s Drag Race debut, the Atlanta-based icon had been gagging the girls with her top-tier drag for 30 years. But her journey to the Drag Race mainstage was not easy. Tamisha was originally cast on Season 12 before having to drop out due to being diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer. She finally stomped into the workroom for Season 13, making the children recognize that they were competing against a true trailblazer.
In the season premiere, Tamisha lost her lip-sync and was sent to the Pork Chop Loading Dock, but she proved she was a consistent competitor by staying safe throughout the challenges, including the epic Bag Ball runway extravaganza. Sadly, the judges were not impressed with her disco moves during last week’s “Disco-Mentary” challenge, and after a lip-sync against Kandy Muse, Tamisha was asked to sashay away.
Tamisha spoke with NewNowNext about her intense Untucked fight with Kandy, her decade-long break from drag, and the best advice she ever received from her own drag mother.
Hi Tamisha! You were so good on the show. But I have to ask about that Untucked fight with Kandy. I had not seen a fight like that on Drag Race in a long time.
Yeah. I deserve an Emmy.
What was going through your mind during that showdown?
What was going through my mind at the time? It was crazy, but it was normal because if you are a real drag queen, that happens in the dressing room all the time. It’s just personalities clashing. At that moment, it was heated — her horns are showing, mine were showing. And it was like, “Okay girl, let’s go at it.” But we left it right there. It wasn’t anything that I took personal. She and I have spoken on it, and we’re good.
That’s what I was thinking when you were going through it. Like, “Tamisha is a pageant queen. I know this has happened in a dressing room before.”
But on the show, you said that the challenge brought you and Kandy closer. How so?
Okay, so this is the thing. When you get two powerful, strong personalities together and they finally clash, and then they go back to their individual corners and think about the situation. You think we both could have handled that differently, but it allows you to respect other’s perspective. And I didn’t need to be checked, but Kandy on the other hand, it kind of made her sit back by being a younger girl. It’s like, “Well girl, did I really have to do all that?” She saw it from a different perspective. And when you’re around people and you see there is no true malice behind it, it was nothing personal. It was like, “I understand that you are a pit bull, but I am as well in the heat of the moment.” But moving past it, it was just an argument. In life you have arguments. It’s just how you resolve them that matters.
You’re such a legend, and there are some really young queens in the dressing room this season. Is there something that you would like to see more from this generation of queens?
The education factor. It matters because coming up, we knew all of the icons of our community. Even though we didn’t know them personally, we knew of them. This new generation, they do what is considered “microwave drag.” They learned it on the internet, and they only gravitate to those who interest them, which are probably younger other entertainers. There is a whole generation that has come before you, and we’re all standing on someone’s shoulders. And you have to do your due diligence to find out who’s who in the community, whatever your aesthetic may be. For my kids, I try to educate my kids on all things dealing with the community, period. You have to know your history. You can’t just be gay just to be happy. You have to understand, “Why I am able to have these freedoms? How did this come about? Who fought these battles for me to enjoy this freedom?”
Did you say “microwave drag”? I’ve never heard that term.
Well… as an example, you can learn how to do drag on the internet. In my day, we didn’t have the internet. It’s like going to college: You had to take that [time] to get your hours to graduate. That’s how it was. But now, you got people that can do drag in their house and be just as successful as people who’ve been in the industry forever, and they never know how to walk in heels. So that’s microwave drag.
You have so many drag daughters. Who was your drag mother?
My drag mother’s name was Chanel St. James. She is the mother of the St James house. And unfortunately, she lost her life. I want to say probably like eight years after becoming my mother. But she was a fierce boy in Atlanta that could stand against the trans girls or anybody. She had such a classy and a sassiness about herself. She was extremely talented. And the one thing that I took away from her was the fact that she could be doing a pageant and everybody’s in the pageant, and this person got six dances or this person got 10. And my drag mother would take that stage by herself and win talent. So that inspired me — “Girl, you don’t need all that.” I just took that and ran with it. I was talented enough. Her thing is, you got to believe in yourself. If you can’t sell a product to you, it doesn’t matter how many dances you got. Ain’t nobody going to buy it.
I read this online, so I’m not sure if it’s true, but did you stop doing drag for a few years?
Yeah, for like 10.
What made you stop? And then what made you get back into it?
The environment had become toxic. It’s a thing in the drag community, the changing of the guards. So the changing of the guards is where the older norms that are known begin to change because the younger generation can’t rise to the occasion. So they simplify it and make it easier for themselves, pretty much lowering the bar so they can play. You understand? There was a lot of that going on, and it wasn’t healthy for the pageant community to survive. So not being able to change it and not being really willing to accept the changes, I just bowed out gracefully and stepped away from that part of the community. … And I didn’t come back for the community this go-round. I came back for a love that Tamisha has for drag and entertaining and just inspiring people. I took myself out of the pageant world and just got into the drag world. Once again, I was free.
Were you surprised when you were asked to sashay away, or did you think it was your time?
I knew it was my time. Kandy didn’t beat me, just put me off. Well, and then another thing, I was okay with it because I had exceeded myself by just going. Because it may appear that I’m healthy standing there, looking one particular way, but I knew I was fighting issues going on within my body. So I didn’t argue. It was a game. It was an experience. There was nothing that Ru could have said that probably was going to put a bad taste in my mouth. Because when you almost die and then get a second pass at doing what you love, the majority of things just don’t matter. [Ru] could have been saying sashay away, and it’s like she’s saying praise you, Tamisha. I was just happy to be there.
How are you feeling these days?
I’m getting better. I’m really getting stronger. My legs are still getting stronger. I still have a ways to go, but I’m not where I was at that moment. At that moment, that was adrenaline. That was just really wanting to be there. I knew there were a lot of things that I couldn’t do, but looking back at it now, I wouldn’t have changed anything because I got what I wanted. I wanted the world to see who Tamisha Iman was.
Do your biological kids watch the show?
They’re watching it. But I have always kept Tamisha, not [a secret] to them, they know of Tamisha, but I’ve never shown them pictures. They’ve never seen me in action. If they see something on the internet, it’s because they researched it. But Daddy don’t talk about Tamisha and that life. It’s not taboo or anything like that. It’s just, I never introduced this to them. I’ve always wanted to be a father to my kids and Tamisha to the world.
Yeah. I bet it’s almost like when they see Tamisha, it’s a different person, like a superhero.
Looking back, what was your favorite moment from the Drag Race set?
There are so many moments. You don’t even understand. That whole experience, even from getting on the plane, going there and meeting the staff. The staff was amazing. The set was amazing. The girls, I mean, my Pork Chop group girls, — I’m sorry. I love them to death. I do. I think us being put in that situation, it was a very smart play on the producers to even go there. But it allowed people to get to know each other and to support one another. I mean, there are so many amazing moments of the show, but I’m going to say mainly with my girls. The other group is cute, even though it got my daughter in it, it’s cute. But I like my girls.
RuPaul’s Drag Race airs Fridays at 8/7c on VH1.