PAUL SOILEAU AKA CHRISTEENE HAS A SOFT SPOT FOR URBAN COWBOYS AND MEN WHO CALL HIM SISSY
Performer Paul Soileau (his last name's pronounced 'swallow', but with the accent on the second syllable) has been blowing people's minds as drag-mare on Elmstreet, Christeene, for the last five or six years, ever since she elbowed her way onto the stage in 2010. He's had bit parts in films, like in Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight where he played opposite George Clooney and J. Lo, as a feisty prison whore named Lulu. Last year, he played against type — that is, as a boy — in the Roddy Bottom Sasquatch opera. But the raunchy, toxic and almost childlike rap act Christeene seems to be the one character who has been burned most permanently into his fan's minds. On the heels of his North American tour with Peaches, Paul spills the beans on his drag terrorist phenomenon from his adopted hometown of Austin, Texas.
John: Were you made fun of as a kid because of your last name?
Paul: Yeah, I mean tell me a joke I haven’t heard and I’ll marry you. In Louisiana, there’s tons of people name Soileau. There are Johnsons and Soileaus, and it’s not an uncommon name, so you don’t hear much, you know, ha-ha about it.
I’d never heard of it.
Yeah, well you’re probably not from Lake Charles, Louisiana. You’re probably a Yankee or something.
Well, I’m from Dallas. When did you start performing?
I was always like the gay clown, you know. I did theater and shit when I was a kid, and then I started throwing wigs on. In high school, we had the big-ass VHS camcorder, so we always made films, and I always played these weird women in most of the films. Like if we played Super Friends, I was Wonder Woman. If we played wrestling, I was the wrestler’s girlfriend.
What was it like growing up in Lake Charles?
Fun. It was like bike riding, playing in the woods, vandalism, camping out, smoking at school — it was real Tom Swayer-Huck Finn country living.
Did you come out there?
Yeah, I was like thirteen when I came out. I had a really good group of friends in high school, and I had a guy that I met who was in high school too.
Uh-huh, so we we’re like okay this ought to be fun. So you go sleep over your friend’s house, and you’re screwing at night. And we didn’t have anything to worry about sexually-transmitably.
Just the two of you.
Yeah, and all of our friends were girls. We had this gaggle of girls, and we were the two fags. I wasn’t like, running around with a rainbow flag, you know, like you had to kinda watch your ass. You stuck with your allies.
I think Southern drawls are real sexy. Are you turned-on by Southern guys?
I’m very attracted to the kind of guys I grew up with. Like a guy who’ll puts his arms around his baby, and like, you’re his, and he’s gonna take care of you, and he ain’t ashamed of you. Like, ‘Get in the truck, we’re leaving.’ I like when they smell like English Leather or Old Spice, and they drive a shitty pick-up, but have a nice job. But yeah, country is good. They’re very polite.
Are you a romantic guy?
Yeah, I like romance. I’m no good at it, but I love it totally. What do you consider to be romantic?
I don’t know, like buying a guy flowers.
Yeah, I love that shit.
Yeah, totally. Like I said, I am horrible at it, but I like to be courted. I’m the Southern lady. If you tell me I’m good-looking, and put a prize in my hand, I’ll just melt. I’m very susceptible to gentlemanly ways, but that don’t mean you gotta be a cleaned-up sweet pea in bed or anything.
When we were scheduling this interview, you blocked out a whole day for your mom’s birthday. How was it?
Did I block out a day for her birthday?
I just called her, I didn’t go.
I have forgotten her birthday before, and that’s bad. I’m bad with birthdays, I’m bad with names…
What does she think about Christeene?
I get a lot of, “Oh, Paul…’ But she’s really cool with it. It’s funny because my parents are like small town farm kids. They were both raised on farms with no money and no electricity, and for them to have a child that is doing this — they’ve had the courage to adapt and deal with it. They know what’s going on.
We both attended Catholic school, by the way. What was your perspective on going to Catholic school?
Catholic schools were just weird to me. When I was little, I was always fascinated with church, like the pageantry, and the ritual, and the costumes.
I feel like the Catholic church has turned a lot of gay boys into very theatrical queens.
Yeah, it is theater and all. Many of the priests I know are gay. When you grow up in a small town, and you are gay, you can become a priest because you’re safe there. Like, you can still be flamboyant, and you can still be every housewife’s best friend. You can live in a house with other men, you can drive around a nice car, you can get fed every freakin’ holiday, and you get to know everybody’s secrets. That’s why most priests are gay. Back then, you either lived alone and you were the weirdo, or if you’re a female, you were the spinster. Hell, most of the show I do today is ’cause I got fed Catholicism my whole life. If they would have let me dress the way I wanted and be what I wanted to be then, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now. Or maybe I’d have my own show at Disney World.
When did you decide to move to New York?
That was right after college. I was in New Orleans doing theater, and I was like, ‘I’m going to New York.’ I mean, it’s where you go when you’re an actor, so I just went.
What was the scene like in New York when you arrived?
It was the Clinton years, so people were spending money, people were happy. I had two friends, these older guys that were kind of my drag aunties. I went straight into the world of Barracuda, the bar in Chelsea, which was very muscly, during that wave of big, built dudes. But Barracuda was a little more dirty. I worked there, I hung out a whole lot, and got educated by a bunch of drag queens. I worked with Cazwell, I worked with Candis Cayne. Mona Foot was doing her thing. Mario Diaz was down there doing The Cock. The Scissor Sisters… Jake was still waiting tables. Amanda Lepore was doing her parties. It was a kickass time.
Is that when you met Justin Vivian Bond?
At the time, Vivi was doing Kiki and Herb, which was like the best thing that ever come out of anybody’s ass. I’d see Vivi out, but we didn’t know each other.
What made you leave New York?
I saw Kiki and Herb at Carnegie Hall, where they sold out their last shows. It was one of the best things I’d ever seen in my life. And when I saw that, a little red light went off and I was like, ‘There’s things in my head I wanna do, and I’m not gonna get it done in New York’ — I was havin’ too much fun. You know, when you’re young and you’re working at a restaurant, you get a lot of cash at the end of the night, you go blow it up your nose, or out your ass, or you drink it. I knew I wasn’t gonna get shit done staying there.
And so you went to New Orleans?
Uh-huh. New Orleans had just got a big boom in the film industry, so I was like, ‘This is perfect!’ I started doing theater, doing some commercials… I was there for six months when Hurricane Katrina came though and ruined it — but in a good way.
Was your house completely gone?
Yeah, I lived in an apartment with four other guys and yeah, it was — well, it was there, but the entire the first story was under seven feet of water. The city was gone, it was a wacked-out time. You go into survival mode. I went back, cleaned up and got what was left, and I left.
Is that when you got a job at Starbucks?
I worked there.
Isn’t that where you got the idea to do Christeene?
Well, I was working there for the healthcare. I was the drive-through princess. I wrote my first three Christeene songs when I worked at Starbucks, and I’d sing them into the headset. You could say that corporate monster put something up my ass to make the demon that is Christeene.
Christeene seems to enjoy watersports, do any of her sexual perversions cross over to your real life?
Uh, well yeah, I’ve been peed on, you know, and I’ve peed on someone. But just because I’m singing about buttholes, and pussies, and dicks, and all that shit, doesn’t mean I’m doing all of that. It’s like, I don’t know, like a lot of comedians, they go home and they’re quiet and reserved, or depressed, and then they get on stage and they’re happy. I’m totally different at home compared to what I do on stage. The only quality or thread I share with Christeene is just being personable with people. I like people, so I can talk to them in the same way that I would as Christeene… I can connect with people in that weird way, but it’s just decorated very differently in the privacy of my home.
A Christeene show is a lot like a punk show, more so than a drag show. It’s cathartic in the way that punk can be.
Yeah, a lot of people tell me it’s a lot like the ’90s. Like these grunge bands like Nirvana and shit when there’s a whole room of different people, all in it together. I’ve also played festivals with families. I don’t necessarily like to play in my own back yard, it’s way more fun to break into a room where you don’t belong. That’s where you’re gonna change the most minds, and meet some wacko hotties in the process.
Your Backup Boyz dancers, T Gravel and C Baby, are either of them exes or current boyfriends?
No, we’ve never dated, but we have good chemistry. We’re not afraid to shit in front of each other — well, you know what I mean. I don’t shit on stage, yet.
Do you like to tour?
I absolutely love it. It’s fantastic! It’s like you’re like fucking three-hundred people at once.
What was on your tour rider?
Besides the tech, there’s six helium-filled balloons with strings, any color you’d prefer. One white onion, two cabbages, two enemas, two milk crates, one Sharpie marker, baby wipes and — am I forgetting something? Oh, and six rolls of toilet paper. They’re all very cheap items though, and you can go to any grocery store and get them all at once. Except the balloons, those are always tricky, especially overseas. Helium is actually becoming scarce in the world…
All things Christeene can be found on her nasty website.