Keytar-wielding, Brooklyn-based musician Michael Doshier, who performs under the name Johnny Darlin, is the queer mastermind behind cabarets “Johnny Darlin: In the Closet” and “Johnny Darlin: Songs About Boys,” and his work has been performed at the New York Fringe Festival 2016, the Prague Fringe Festivals of 2017 and 2018 and the New York FRIGID Queerly Festival 2018.
Doshier released a video today for his song “Way with Words.” It’s a sultry, glittering mashup of two of the places he considers most holy: the church and the gay nightclub. “The video features talent solely from Arkansas – actors, dancers, drag queens, and churchgoers,” Doshier told us, “all unified under a holy roof to deliver this message.”
Doshier chatted with us via email about the video, about its Rapert-adjacent inception and about his work more broadly — which, as Doshier states on his website, “reckons with reconciling spirituality and sexuality, the difficulty of cementing a sense of self-acceptance and finding love and beauty in the world along the way.”
Are you from Conway originally, and can you talk a little about your connection with Arkansas?
I am an Arkansas baby through and through! I was raised in Conway, went to school and church there, took piano and voice lessons at UCA, performed in the Conway High [School} plays, musicals, and choir. I was always working on some secret artistic project in my room, and Arkansas Governor’s School was the first time I performed any of my own work to anyone. My first concert was Britney Spears at the Alltel Arena. Calling into Alice 107.7, going to Razorback games, fishing the White River with my dad, seeing Snoop Dogg at Riverfest; These Arkansas memories all make up my DNA!
When you sent us your new video, you mentioned that one of the reasons you placed the context within a church was to reflect that the church and the gay club — these two places you considered holy — can coexist in radical ways we’ve not considered, given their shared message of love.
My song describes a love that can exist in silence, without any pressure of having to say the right thing. That love feels holy to me. The two places I’ve felt in the presence of something holy are the church and the gay club. Many, myself included, often see them as diametrically opposed to one another.
This persists even now — for instance, I know many of my LGBTQIA Methodist friends were hurt by the Church’s vote in February (though it must be noted it was a wonderful Methodist Church who opened their doors to us!)
I was raised in church, but I started going Triniti in Little Rock when I was 18. This is where I saw my first drag show and experienced my first gathering of queer people. I remember watching a queen perform and thinking I finally understood why some of my church friends’ arms flew in the air at the chorus of their favorite worship song! Both the church and the gay club exist for us to find community, to feel a sense of togetherness and to be accepted and loved for exactly who we are. When I realized this, throwing them together into this big, hybrid celebration of love and life — and a vision for how the future can look — just felt natural.
So, Chloe Jacobs — Miss Gay Arkansas — makes an appearance in this video, and I understand you were moved to include her after you discovered that she’d received some stern condemnation from Sen. Jason Rapert in December of 2018 for her central role in “Drag Queen Story Time,” an event at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith. Can you talk a little more about her role in the video, and why you chose to have her reading a Bible story to churchgoers?
I ran across that story in the Arkansas Times while doing research for the video, then I listened to Chloe’s episode of “No Small Talk.” As I listened to her, she just automatically became a part of the video in my mind. I was nervous to ask, but I sent her a message, and she wrote right back saying she was in! I felt like the luckiest guy in the world.
It doesn’t take much to see the innocence and fun in “Drag Queen Story Time.” I think it takes way more effort to see it as anything more sinister.
The concept reminds me of one of my favorite parts of the church services I grew up in. The kids would come down and sit with the children’s minister at the altar, where he’d read them a Bible story. I liked this part because it felt so pure and sweet (much like “Drag Queen Story Time!”) I thought it’d be cool to have Chloe act out this role and read the Bible to us, an attentive and appreciative congregation. And, of course, she was amazing. Shout out to Icona Klast and Princess, too, for slaying it and rounding out the trio of queens!