JoAnn Michaels and a friendship explained

Meet this Phoenix drag queen and hear how her friendship with the story's writer and photographer evolved

Story and photos by Logan Lowrey-Rasmussen

I think it was 12 a.m. last month when I was driving a drag queen named JoAnn Michaels home from the set of her “snatch game” performance for the Trans Queer Pueblo, digitally broadcasting her special brand of debauchery aided by Jameson Whiskey.

As we drove out of a parking garage, JoAnn Michaels reached her full-height of intoxication when she began arguing with me about how I need to “have fun,” while ignoring how she previously held me at emotional gunpoint for the last three hours as I dedicated myself to her creative whim. My face lit up with anger as I recalled the uncomfortable memories of my mother berating me to join the cool kids in the same fashion. 

“Logan, you will never let go if you don’t let yourself,” was the booze-inspired mantra of the 15-minute car ride, and I was experiencing every emotion except relaxation. It’s not unlike Joann to repeat lines she thinks is inspirational while in the moment, and this certainly wouldn’t be the first or last time I would hear something akin to this.

I’ve been friends and work partners with Joann Michaels for two years, but I met a fresh-faced Kyle Chavira in 2016, whilst high as a kite on amphetamines, just months after my Arizona State graduation ceremony, and an overdose just weeks before that.

At the tender age of 21 and bitter from past trauma, my friendship with Kyle began as a short-lived fling but later evolved into a reverse mentorship as he taught me self-care and the importance of developing emotional maturity; in return, I taught him the organizational life skills instilled in me by undiagnosed mental illness and a mother who trained me to be the master of adult life preparation. 

The years rolled on as I developed my passion in writing and photography and Kyle grew closer to the idea of performing in drag, spending many nights with me brainstorming ideas inspired by our acid trips and Adult Swim binges after putting whatever we could find right up our noses.

As life stabilized for Kyle and his partner Max, the birth of JoAnn Michaels was imminent and unstoppable; artists can be seen as culturally “dangerous” to society, but no more than one with intention and moxie. JoAnn Michaels was born in 2018 at the Pages Per Content “Crak Estate” (a former DIY venue and zine producer) when the whole audience became familiar with the phrase “someone stole my baby.” Adorned in a bloody-white office shirt and pencil skirt, JoAnn performed what seemed like a small play on the patio of the makeshift basketball court/stage as a voice-over begged for her child back like a parody of Rick and Morty before it was uncool to like it (pre-Szechuan sauce).

As she darted from one end of the court to another in a perceived panic, her face contorted like a 1920s silent movie actress like Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada ended up psychologically tortured in Stranger Than Fiction (2006). The track soon changed to a ’50s ballad, lamenting a prop representing her lover’s severed head in the same way a tortured serial killer follows rituals before and after their deed.

At that moment, I witnessed the birth of my best friend become her destiny; the saga of JoAnn Michaels was not the hack-y material of a one-trick pony, but the evolution of what would bring us to the current state of our working relationship in 2020.

Only months ago did we build a rapport in video format and brought some of her stage concepts to life in what Konstantin Stanislavski would simultaneously rejoice in what JoAnn Michaels considers “method acting.” Acting as choreographer and camera-man for JoAnn Michaels is comparable to directing a children’s show where the lead actor is a belligerent farm animal, except that the farm animal is the drunk-with-power Napoleon from George Orwell’s Animal Farm after consuming the farmer’s entire stash of whiskey.

Two of our videos spawned from JoAnn getting into the mindset of a distressed suburban drag queen housewife out of touch with reality, having little narrative before post-production, and managing to morph into full-blown comedy after arduous sessions in the editing room; sober talks about what went on during the shoot would piece the scenes together. This isn’t to say JoAnn Michaels is an alcoholic, but an inspiration. There are so few loose-cannon creatives I can work with who not only deliver their ideas to home plate but aren’t afraid to go over the edge to capture the creative vision with mind and body in tow. 

This brings me to the present moment as we sit on his patio of his newly-furnished apartment inhabited by him and his two partners, with I, flustered from a mini bi-polar episode and the ensuing argument which occurred minutes prior.

“Logan, we have been through so much shit; what could you possibly want to know?”

Kyle rolled his eyes as I rubbed my temples, while every journalistic trick I attempted to get juicy answers out of him fell short to the unimpressed gaze of two separate spirits brought into one individual. Similar to when we would sit criss-cross-applesauce smoking bowls in his cramped bedroom all those years ago, the moment felt frozen in time, as our separate artistic destinies were finally coming together when my editor tasked me to cover JoAnn, not knowing our prior history.

I know Kyle Chavira, but who the hell is JoAnn Michaels, and what should I tell the world about what they already see on stage? Half the time JoAnn doesn’t need to declare who she is because she knows perfectly well what she’s capable of, her personal assurance intimidates and enchants the fellow performers around her. 

To see a JoAnn Michaels performance could be comparable to a “coming out” narrative changing every date and venue, holding childlike curiosity in tandem with the terror of modern adult life. I have this theory Kyle and Joann might be the same person, and as the years pass, I realize she could have been there the entire time, encouraging my own journey while waiting in the wings. Joann Michaels is not only my best friend and muse but the culmination of Kyle’s personal and spiritual expression through years of living in the gender binary and following heteronormative culture.

JoAnn Michaels is the mirror image of our society held up in all its ridicule, mocking us and enchanting us simultaneously like fine art, and I know she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Follow JoAnn on Instagram @joanntmics.