Nomi B. sings the last lyric and the song ends. There is a hush in anticipation for more, but Nomi B. turns and strides off, chest and head held high, each step of those lethal 6-inch heels stomping the ground without a wobble of an ankle.
Performing in drag, she wasn’t about to do another song in the same outfit. While Nomi B. starts walking toward the changing room, a passer-by asks if she will perform another song. Her focused eyes stay on the changing room door as she walks past him, not even acknowledging his existence.
“I wouldn’t say that I am a drag queen because to me that is someone’s full-time job,” said 23-year-old Fermin Bello, known as Nomi B. when he is performing. “I don’t do it seven days a week; I just perform in drag.”
It has been almost a month since he performed at his friend’s birthday. Fermin sits on his bed and tries to find a comfortable position. He has just woken up and smiles as he adoringly looks around the room at his collection of extravagant dresses. Fermin shares the room with his younger brother, Jaime. In the closet there is a mixture of boys’ clothes, long dresses and heels with at least three different colored wigs sprinkled around the room.
His brother, still in high school, doesn’t mind this invasion of wigs, fake eyelashes or bras. Jaime looks like a thug with his shaved head, oversized white T-shirt and baggy jeans. He once fought a friend of his for calling Fermin a derogatory name related to his sexual orientation. He also attends many of Nomi B.’s shows.
Fermin expresses how lucky he is to have his brother, mother and sister so supportive of him. But he did grow up in a strict Mexican-Catholic family and Fermin is considered a disgrace to his father. When they pass each other at home, they politely say hello but his dad barely looks at him.
“It made me see my dad differently,” said Jaime. “To single Fermin out for being gay didn’t make sense to me.” Fermin entered into a depressed period after coming out to his family.
It was during this discouraging timethat Escalera reached out to show hissupport. Fermin and Escalera were in the middle of a photo-shoot with Fermin’s face half in drag and half normal when Madame LaQueer, a well-known drag queenfrom season four of the popular TV show, “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” saw them.
She walked over to the shoot and asked Bello, “Do you have a drag mother?”
“Well now you do,” replied LaQueer.
A drag mother is a mentor to young men beginning their career in drag. They were more prevalent when it was “unthinkable” to be gay.
Drag mothers would let the boys live with them and helped them cope with the social restrictions of being gay.
LaQueer mentored Fermin in makeup tips, gave advice on where to perform and directed him to nice dress shops. In drag, it is customary that a new drag queen takes the last name of their drag mother. Thinking it’s a ridiculous custom, Madame LaQueer told Fermin to keep his name as it is.
“Nomi is a tribute to the movie ‘Showgirls’ and B. can stand for whatever you want it to be; it could be: Bello, beautiful, bastard, bitch,” said Fermin, who put in a lot of time thinking about his drag name. He sighs as he expresses how happy he is to keep his simple drag name.
Fermin likes to keep the “B.” open-ended because it allows the audience to decide who they want him to be.
There are times he has been booed, but now he chooses not to listen — he just doesn’t hear them anymore.
Fermin used to work retail at the Brea Mall. He would wear regularmen’s clothes with Jeffery Campbellheels. When customers noticed Fermin wearing heels, their smiling faces changed to a stone cold look, judgment written all over their faces.
“Why do you wear your heels when people look at you like that?” Escalera asked Fermin one day.
“I just love the reaction of people who disapprove of how they think things should be,” he responded.
Misunderstanding is a common thread with drag queens. Most people think drag queens want to be girls, but, as the definition reads, their goal is just to entertain. With many critics, Fermin thinks the hardest part of performing in drag is becoming comfortable with yourself and not listening to negative inner thoughts.
Nomi B. goes through a two-hour process to put on full hair and makeup. She wears a bra, heelsand anabundance of jewelry. He is transformed.
Fermin revealed that he often feels like an outcast at shows. Most ofthe other girls are loud and obnoxiousqueens, whereas he is mellow and quiet. He also hates dressing in drag when he isn’t performing and takes off his makeup as fast as possible.
“The only time I feel different is when I am onstage, then I am Nomi B.,” confesses Fermin. Everyone knows drag queens lip-sync. It is their goal to be so convincing that you don’t see a drag queen, you see Britney Spears or Lady Gaga.
When Fermin’s mother, a traditional Catholic woman, went to his show for the first time, her eyes filled with tears as she realized the smiles he put on his audiences’ faces.
“I don’t care what people say, all drag queens are actors and acting is my passion,” exclaims Fermin.
Nomi B. gets on the stage at the 340 Restaurant and Nightclub in Pomona wearing a tube top. She begins dancing around the stage and looks down to notice that the flesh colored strapless silicone bra, or chicken cutlets, as Fermin describes them, are showing.
Nomi B. looks up with her eyes wide and mouth slightly open, a stricken expression blankets herface.
She has already given it away; the audience knows she messed up.
Her hands grasp the top of her tube top and she pulls it down, flashing her chicken cutlets to the crowd and dancing around until they fall off.
When the song ends, Nomi B. picks them up from the floor, rubs them all over her face and glides off stage. Her fierce, sassy persona is left onstage, awaiting her next performance.