by Joey Amato | Photos provided by Danielle Shields Photography
Veronika Electronika was born Steven Raimo in the early ’80s (a lady never reveals her true age) in Staten Island, New York to a family of working-class parents. Living only about 100 yards from the Atlantic Ocean, the family loved fishing on the beach and on their boat. Veronika’s mother, Julie, is a lively character to say the least. She is always the life of the party. “There is a lot of my mother, in Veronika. When she first learned of my drag persona, she was surprised to see a slight reflection of her own youth in the photos.”
Veronika relocated to Nashville in August of 2000 to attend Trevecca Nazarene University (TNU), a conservative Christian school. “After becoming a Christian with the guidance of a boyfriend in high school, I felt that this school would challenge me, and them, in some good ways. Studying music business and communications, I knew that Nashville was the right place to be. My first year in Nashville was filled with exploration and lots of questions. Being openly gay on such a campus was…a challenge…but nothing that I couldn’t handle. I even dated one of my classmates — take that TNU!”
Steven started doing drag in August of 2002 and was painted by Nashville native, and Wig Goddess, Sara Andrews. With a bit of Max Factor Pan Stik and a 27/613 wig, Veronika was born. “The night was abuzz with three queens trying to get ready for a night out at the Connection and I was the project of the evening,” she recalls.
Veronika is quick to explain that getting the makeup, hair and outfits together is not all it takes to be a great drag queen. “You need a name! Deep down I always knew what it would be, but I did hesitate at first. Let me take you back to an internship I had in high school. I was fortunate to have worked at Maverick Records, yes Madonna’s record label, my senior year and it was around the time of her Ray of Light album and her thoughts of using an alternate stage name, for it was whispered around the office, Veronica Electronica. M’s middle name is Veronica and the electronic sound of the William Orbit record made her think about using this name. Alas, her highest advisors thought Madonna’s best option was to be…Madonna. Well, if she isn’t going to use it, I will!”
What Veronika enjoys most about drag is the limitless possibilities and opportunities it can open. “Drag is a gateway to access and experience your own personal world of fantasy; to be nostalgic of my ’80s roots, your own personal Never Ending Story, as it were. One day to be a Glamazon the next day to be Maleficent followed by a stint of being Dolly. Drag, however, comes with some downsides, most notably the critique of other queens. I dislike how we can feel like there is a right and wrong way to be. I am not immune. Not ten minutes before typing this sentence I was “commenting” on one of my friend’s eyebrows to Sara…and as she should have, she put me right in place.”
Giving back is extremely important to Veronika. She has contributed to many organizations and served as Abbess (President) of the Music City Sisters. “The Sisters serve many purposes: to spread joy, to abolish stigmatic guilt and to be a light in our community when we face dark times. I also enjoy working with Launch Pad, because all youth deserve a street-free sleep. One of my newest collaborations is with Music City PrEP Clinic. PrEP is the world’s best chance of keeping the HIV negative population negative. They accept patients during clinic dates with and without insurance to provide HIV and full STI panel testing, including labs with a 99.9% chance of NO PAY.”
This year is gearing up to be an interesting one for Veronika. She has begun booking shows in and out of Tennessee, a new internet radio blog with the GayBC and is also in the beginning stages of writing a new stage play. “A Queen is Born” will be produced in late Spring at local theatre venues and will showcase the life and trials of the nightclub lifestyle.
Although life may be challenging at times, Veronika encourages people to never give up the fight. “Being a part of the LGBT (D) (yes, I’m adding a D for Drag) community, we all have our own personal challenges. Most of these start in youth in our own homes and schools with not knowing how we fit in, and how to keep bullies at bay. These challenges follow us through our teens and deep into our adulthood. The bruises and the scars, both physical and emotional, are lasting but so is the joy of victory over bigotry. Use the strengths that you have gained to your beautiful scars and become a strength for one another.”
Veronika’s advice to anyone looking to start dressing or performing in drag is to find what drives you. “If its money, fine. If its artistic expression, that’s fine too. Drag queens (and kings) have a unique opportunity in this world. We are literally given a stage, and some of us are lucky enough to be given a microphone. Let this microphone be a motivator to say something important.”