Mama Martini having a cocktail.
Mama Martini toasts with a specialty cocktail while sporting a shirt from her merch page. (Courtesy of Mama Martini)
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Before each upbeat, lip-syncing dance number, drag queen Mama Martini (she/they) readjusts one of her 18 wigs. She also makes sure her signature bold blue eye shadow is on fleek. With things as perfect as possible, Mama Martini is ready to blow up the spotlight and live her supercharged best life. If you happen to be in the audience, chances are good that you will be too. Such was the case when I saw her at a local drag brunch in February.

Mama Martini got her start in 2018 by winning the Miss UMaine contest during the University of Maine’s Pride celebration in Orono. More than 15 hopefuls registered, some were seasoned in the art of drag, all vying for the tiara. Mama Martini was new to make-up, slinky gowns, and teetering on size-10.5 women’s shoes. But she rehearsed with discipline gained from competitive dance and theater, making the day she won the Miss UMaine contest her “drag birthday.”

Reed Gordon at play. (Courtesy Reed Gordon)
Reed Gordon flashed a smile in a rare moment away from work and out of drag. (Courtesy Reed Gordon)

When not being the queen she is, Reed Gordon (he/they), 26, is an electrical engineer who works a day gig. Gordon lives on the Portland peninsula in a small one-bedroom apartment overfilled with stacked totes of Mama Martini’s wardrobe changes, “way too many shoes,” and of course, the aforementioned 18 wigs. In fact, Gordon was supposed to be at home organizing it all with the help of their “drag sister” Tasha Tektite last Thursday night. Instead, I met Gordon for drinks at the Armory in the Portland Regency Hotel.

At six feet and 135 pounds, Gordon is handsome and gracefully lanky with dark hair and a bright smile. They drank specialty martinis (“Never the traditional,” mostly because they hate olives) and we talked at length.

“I came out as gay on December 17th, 2015,” Gordon said. “It took a bit but I told my parents the following May. Everyone who comes out to their parents remembers the moment. The shocked look on my mother’s face sticks with me because they were surprised. I was anxious and it was really hard. But not as bad as what some others have experienced. Not even close and today things are great between us. But, it’s funny because when I told my friends at home I was gay, they were all like ‘no shit’ Reed.”

Mama Martini strikes a pose.
Mama Martini bends over backwards for her audience. (Courtesy Mama Martini)

Prior to settling down in Portland for work and play, home was Biddeford, where Gordon’s parents still live. His father is an executive chef turned food broker and his mother a nurse practitioner who raised him as a practicing Catholic. Getting a parochial education until high school, Gordon learned to manage dyslexia and bullying. With his parents’ encouragement, he studied and excelled at almost all genres of dance (with the exception of ballet). The participation and wins in national and international competitions helped Mama Martini become the professional force she is today.

Not wishing to stumble over gender labels, I asked Gordon to share his self-perception.

“I am a queer individual,” he said simply. “I present male most of the time and occasionally perform under the name of Mama Martini. Mama actually started out as the other side of me, but I guess I skew male.”

Gordon is also a self-professed, self-critical perfectionist who takes making a good first impression to heart. But, in spite of their meticulous appearance and well choreographed dances, Mama Martini isn’t just another pretty face who can do a full split.

Keeping true to their “serious and studious engineering side,” Gordon updates a spreadsheet with expenses and earnings from each show. And like most performing drag queens, they have active social media sites and payment applications where fans can tip if they didn’t bring a stash of dollar bills. Unwilling to discuss hard numbers, it has to make financial sense for them to continue.

Drag sisters Tasha Textite and Mama Martini in New Hampshire.
Drag sisters Tasha Tektite and Mama Martini strike a pose while performing together in New Hampshire. The two are close friends out of drag as well. (Courtesy Mama Martini)

“I have a 9-to-5 job,” Gordon said. “We all know how expensive it is to live in Portland and I admire the queens who do drag full time. But I’m the kind of person who needs to know exactly how I’m going to pay my bills or I become a nervous wreck. Also, the company I work for sees me for who I am and that element of inclusivity is important.”

Gordon recognizes that drag performances can make people uncomfortable.

“It’s more than a fear of the unknown and being cautious about something new and different,” they said. “It’s become a distraction, or a diversion from the bigger issues. The targeting of anti-gay, anti-drag, anti-trans stuff. That’s what it boils down to.”

No stranger to combating fear and diversion in a meaningful way, Mama Martini led a virtual children’s story hour for the Orono Public Library during the pandemic. They’ve been involved with Drag Out the Vote, a non-profit pro-democracy outfit, and have produced drag shows welcoming everyone who wanted to perform.

“The Portland drag community has been so friendly and upbeat,” Gordon said. “It’s Pride month and things are positive, really good. I have my drag sister, Tasha and my drag mother, Danielle Dior. I have friends at Blackstoness (Portland’s oldest operating gay bar, located on Pine St.), and we all really support each other. We really do.”

Maybe those uncomfortable people stirring up the hateful diversions should pay closer attention to what the drag community looks like. It sure seems like perfection to me.

A Name and a Place

Drag names are usually a play on words, or an off-color pun that becomes as memorable as the queen who takes it on. Picking one is also a soul-searching exercise in self-awareness and presenting a persona to others.

So, when choosing a drag name, Reed Gordon landed on “Mama Martini” and never looked back.

Always a caretaker and nurturer to family and friends, “Mama” came naturally. But a second word that said “HERE I AM, DAMN IT!” and spoke to Mama’s strength and individuality, was called for. With martinis at the top of the cocktail hierarchy, the drink is classically bold and always makes a statement. Put together and mulled over carefully, Mama Martini became Gordon’s obvious choice.

The Place

Every Sunday during Pride month, and once a month otherwise, Drag Brunch can be found at Batson River Brewing and Distillery in Portland. MC’d by hostess Chartreuse Money of Curbside Queens, the effort is more than just a smart revenue move for Batson River.

“At all our locations, we have a diverse work group of talented people,” said Sam Rhys, General Manager of the West Bayside restaurant. “But here in Portland, well, it’s a fairly queer staff. We believe it’s our responsibility to educate and reeducate people who have the wrong idea about what a drag brunch really is. For us, it’s a reward. It’s also just good fun and our shows are suitable for all ages. We have a lot of kids coming.”

Rhys said there has been some backlash about the drag shows and points out that most of the year they only hold one drag brunch per month. But on those Sundays when the music is blasting and the drag queens are dancing, staff and guests alike are happy.

“There’s an undying need to bring drag to this community on a consistent basis, and we’re happy to be doing it.

— Natalie Haberman Ladd

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