Diabetes Isn’t Slowing This Drag Queen Down
By Matthew Garza
Daya Betty, a 25-year-old drag queen from Springfield, Missouri, is showing the world that diabetes doesn’t have to stop you from doing whatever you want – including wearing a corset! Watch her compete on Season 14 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” premiering Jan. 7 on VH1.
Editor’s note: When referring to Trenton Clarke we use the pronouns he/him/his. When referring to Daya Betty, Clarke’s stage persona, we use the pronouns she/her/hers. In either case, we are referring to the same person.
Daya Betty is a captivating sight. The 25-year-old queen, who has made her diabetes diagnosis part of her drag identity, hails from Springfield, Missouri, and was recently cast as a contestant on the latest season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a reality TV show that has drag queens competing in challenges that include comedy, fashion design, singing, dancing, and more. The winner receives $100,000, a year’s supply of makeup, and the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar.
When many people think of a drag queen, they often picture a gay man who dresses up in wigs, makeup, and costumes to portray an exaggerated version of a woman in a performance. These performers may lipsync to songs, do stand-up comedy, or dance – often in gay and queer bars.
However, “drag” itself is really just an art form, one without rules. Anyone of any gender can be a drag queen, and it doesn’t always mean dressing up to look like a woman. Drag queens have been key members of the LGBTQ+ community for decades, but now, thanks to “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” people of all backgrounds are being introduced to drag.
At six feet, five inches (yes, that’s before heels), Daya Betty – whose name is intentionally a play on the word “diabetes” – stands out not only for her height and for her glam, punk-rock ‘80s aesthetic, but also because she is the first queen in 14 seasons of the show to have type 1 diabetes.
Like many others with type 1, Daya Betty, whose real name is Trenton Clarke, was diagnosed as a teenager in 2009.
“I was diagnosed when I was 15 during my freshman year of high school,” he said. “You know, that time in your life is already kind of stressful because of hormones, and some of the symptoms of type 1 are drastic mood swings and having to urinate a lot. My mom actually thought that I had fallen into the wrong crowd and that I was just being rebellious because of the way I was acting.”
No one in his family has type 1 diabetes, so they didn’t recognize these symptoms for what they really were. It wasn’t until one morning when he was in the shower getting ready for school – feeling really tired and out of it, so much so, he said, that he couldn’t even get out of the shower – that his mom finally took him to an urgent care clinic.
“They checked my blood sugar, and it was 721,” he said. Thankfully, his care team was able to get him to a hospital and get his glucose levels down. However, being a young, queer teenager with diabetes isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world.
“I was one of those people, especially at that age – 15 or 16 years old and just entering high school – that tried everything to fit in,” said Clarke. But after trying sports and not being able to really find his community there (complicated by the fact that he had diabetes), he got involved in musical theater and performing and really hit his stride.
“It’s weird being young and trying to navigate diabetes. And adding in all the social pressures and the pressures that come with school and trying to fit in obviously did not help,” he said.
He did, however, have a strong support network between his family and friends, which helped make it just a little bit easier. One of his friends even carried around extra small bags of snacks in her backpack, just in case Clarke ever went low or wasn’t being quite as responsible as he could’ve been.
A few years later, Clarke was in college at Missouri State University, feeling like all he was doing was working and going to school. He began to miss the fun he used to have performing.
Then, in 2016, he met Crystal Methyd, another drag queen from Springfield, who was a top three finalist on Season 12 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Crystal Methyd became Clarke’s “drag mentor” and was the person who got Clarke his first performing gig.
Crystal Methyd hosted a show called “Get Dusted” at a local bar and music venue in Springfield, The Outland Ballroom. “[Crystal’s] rule was,” explained Clarke, “if you had never been to a ‘Get Dusted’ [show] and you wanted to perform, you had to come to the show in drag, introduce yourself to [her], and then you would maybe be booked [to perform].”
“Long story short: I got into drag, it was absolutely terrible, Crystal welcomed me with open arms, and I have been annoying her ever since – and we have been friends ever since.”
Around that same time is when Clarke chose his drag name.
“Not that I ever resented having diabetes… but it was one of those things that was a negative for me for a long time,” he said. Once he got older, he used his humor to work through all of the negative connotations surrounding diabetes and the misconceptions people so often have about it.
One day he just said to himself, “I am going to use this part of myself that I don’t really like all that much, and make it my superhero name. I wanted to make [diabetes] the coolest thing about me.” And that was how Daya Betty was born.
But for Daya Betty, meshing her diabetes management and her career as a drag performer has never been an easy task.
She described a handful of times when it was hard to tell if she was just nervous, sweating, and excited from performing or if those same symptoms were actually a sign that she was going too high or too low.
“There was one time I was performing at a ‘Get Dusted’ [show], and I literally thought that I was just really, really anxious. I checked my blood sugar, [and those feelings] were because I happened to be going high,” she said. She tries to keep her diabetes as well managed as possible while performing – being sure to check her glucose levels before she goes on stage.
In order to check her glucose, she uses a blood glucose meter. Though she has tried continuous glucose monitors (CGM) in the past, she found that being a drag queen can be quite an active and sweaty profession. Her sensor kept falling off her body and she said it wasn’t always comfortable having it under all of her outfits.
“So just for comfortability purposes really, I don’t use a CGM anymore. But I do use fingersticks, and that’s just what works for me,” she said.
Daya Betty also uses a Medtronic MiniMed insulin pump that is attached to her at all times to help keep her glucose levels in range. The interesting part is how she keeps her pump in place when she is wearing all of her costume pieces that help create her feminine figure.
“The way I go about hiding it is to do one layer of tights, connect my pump by a clip to that layer, then I put my pads on top of the pump, and then more tights, and then corset,” she said. “Once it’s hidden under the pads, and I’m corseted, it’s staying there.”
Daya Betty knows what she represents being the first person with type 1 diabetes on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
“It’s just awesome because, especially this season, there’s so many different types of representation,” she said. “And [diabetes] is just an aspect of who I am… I just want people watching it to know that regardless of whether you have diabetes, or any other sort of illness or immune system disorder, that it shouldn’t affect your goals and your ambitions and your dreams – as cliché as that might sound.”
Many people applaud “RuPaul’s Drag Race” for this reason. Not only does it allow members of the LGBTQ+ community to unapologetically be themselves on national television, but it also showcases drag queens of all different backgrounds and experiences – from people who have larger body types to people who are HIV positive to people who have diabetes. And it allows viewers to see the contestants have honest conversations about their experiences and showcase their talents, no matter their circumstances.
For Daya Betty, she said that the thing she enjoyed the most about being on the show was the friendships she formed with the other contestants.
“No matter what happens, or how the show progresses throughout the season, I know that we’re all going to have each other’s backs,” she said. “There’s a sisterhood and a real bond between us.”
And now that she is officially a part of the RuPaul’s Drag race family, she said that she most looks forward to meeting the fans.
“I’m really excited to get on the road, start touring and meeting people face to face, and signing people’s insulin pumps,” she said with a laugh.
Daya Betty will be one of 14 contestants vying for the crown and the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar when Season 14 premieres on Jan. 7 on VH1. You can find her on both Twitter and on Instagram – and we can’t wait to see what she has in store.