In the very first line of their new book, Trixie and Katya’s Guide to Modern Womanhood, drag queens and best friends Trixie Mattel and Katya write, “As far as we know, there are three facets of your humanity that make you you.” According to the queens, who met over five years ago while competing against each other on season 7 of RuPaul’s Drag Race and have maintained a close working relationship ever since, those three facets are: intelligence, beauty, and personality.
“A lot of the book is built around personality,” Trixie notes about their decision to kick things off with this specific proclamation. “Also, those qualities are pretty universally applied to personhood in general,” Katya adds. “Because this book is not just for women and it's not just for gays. It's for ice road truckers and archers and taxidermists too. It's for everybody.”
Styled as an advice guide, Trixie and Katya’s Guide to Modern Womanhood is modeled after an old-school etiquette book Trixie read when she was younger, with some additional inspiration stemming from Amy Sedaris’s popular self-help books, like I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. A hilariously shrewd collection of personal essays, conversations, and photos they claim double as “spank-bank material,” the book delivers advice on all fronts — ranging from the straightforward (how to choose the right wigs, shoes, and makeup) to the somewhat more surprising (entire chapters are dedicated to drug usage, alcohol consumption, and how to have the perfect random hookup with someone you’ll never see or talk to again).
Written while both queens were traveling on their respective world tours, the book flits back and forth between the former All Stars competitors, with each queen individually tackling the topics she’s most qualified to — Katya handles the chapter on wigs, while one-time MAC counter employee Trixie handles the chapter on makeup — before joining forces for one-on-one conversations for topics they both are well-versed in (like travel). Held together by the pair’s trademark wit and unapologetically edgy humor, Guide to Modern Womanhood is a nonstop laugh riot that will please Trixie & Katya’s current fans while surely helping them gain a few new ones in the process.
On the day of its release, NYLON hopped on a three-way phone-call with both Trixie Mattel and Katya to talk about their motivations for entering the publishing world, why their careers as professional drag queens qualify them to speak on women’s issues, writing about controversial topics without glamorizing them, and why the most disappointing part of promoting a book during a pandemic is not having the opportunity to witness brutal acts of violence while signing copies of their book for crazed fans.
What inspired you to write a book?
Trixie: I think we both always wanted to do it, so when this opportunity came, we were like, "For sure." The team we worked with had worked with other drag queens before on literature. Drag is so unique, so you never know which obtuse straight white guy at the top is going to be like, "I noticed you have Instagram followers. Do you want to write a pamphlet?" But we had a good team. Then, we had the idea to make it sort of a women's guide and got really inspired by that. Once we decided on the concept, I think we both were like, "Got it. Let’s go.”
Katya: I mean, I've always wanted to write a book since I was probably five years old — maybe even before that — and I cannot tell you how pleased and surprised I am that it actually happened. It's literally a dream come true. Not to be corny, but I always wanted to be at a wooden desk with a turtleneck and a pen, with some thick glasses, looking out the window at the sea, just pondering and being "authorly."
It’s formatted as an advice-style book. What books did you look at for inspiration?
Katya: Trixie had this fantastic old-school etiquette book, which was such a great inspiration for the format. But also Amy Sedaris's books. I'm obsessed with Amy Sedaris. She's my favorite human being who's alive. What I love about her books is that they're funny, but they're not “joke” books. There are real recipes in there. It's actually useful.
Most self-help books have a guiding mission statement, something they hope every reader takes away when they close the final chapter. What is yours?
Katya: Mine for the book is kind of mine for life: Just be yourself and if nobody likes that, change.
Trixie: Yeah. Through comedy and observation, I think we're trying to say that all the things wrong with you are fine, but there are lots of tools you could change with. The expectations of women, especially, are so rigid and so insane, so with two men who have dedicated their life to dressing like a woman, it’s like, if we can do it, you can do it. It's all about your own version.
Katya: Be yourself. Unleash your inner-fierce!
What about your careers as drag queens qualifies you to write a guide to “modern womanhood?”
Katya: Pain — pain, blisters, bunions, blood. Having literally walked a mile in these ridiculously beautiful but impractical shoes, the takeaway for me is, "Hey ladies, aren't these shoes great? Now let's go burn down the shoe store." It's this double-edged catch-22, where it's a simultaneous appreciation of the aesthetic while also realizing that these things are killing us.
Trixie: Yeah. It's about your own boundaries. Even in the makeup chapter, the tag at the end is that we call it a “makeup routine,” but if it really starts to feel routine, ask yourself why you're putting it on and who you're putting it on for. I think quarantine taught us a lot about this. Even if you're not going to see anyone, you really realize that doing your hair and makeup or putting cologne on is for you. I wear cologne every single day and I don't leave the house.
Katya: Absolutely. I mean, I have Tom Ford on, but I haven't showered in three days.
Why did you want to do this together?
Katya: Well, it's hard work. Writing a first book is daunting and writing is extremely difficult, so I know I wouldn't have done it by myself. This is the perfect project to start in publishing because I don't think I would’ve finished it without having that accountability with Trixie. A problem shared is a problem cut in half.
Trixie: To be honest, I don't think she would have done it either without me! That's a joke, but also we really balance each other out. I knew that with Katya, the quality of the work [would be good]. She was really going to go in, so it also made me be like, Okay, I have a responsibility here to make this as funny and good as I can. I mean, the book is hilarious and also accidentally truthful and helpful. We don't try to be role models or good people, but all of the comedy is based on the skeleton of certain truths.
Katya: Plus, I love grammar. I think there's less than five typos in there. There's maybe three. So I feel proud about that.
For the most part, you both write your own individual chapters. How did you decide who was going to cover which topics?
Katya: Well, some were intuitive — like drugs and drinking — but others, we kind of curve-balled it. Like, Trixie went to beauty school but I did the hair section, for some reason.
Trixie: You know why? Because I may have gone to beauty school, but I don't sit in my house in my wig. I don't go get the mail in my wig like you do. I don't have sex in the wig. Katya’s put the miles in, folks!
Katya: I have more ear-to-the-ground knowledge of the wig-wearing world.
Trixie: Like breakups — how could Katya muse on breakups when no one’s ever loved her?
You both are such naturally funny queens. How did you effectively bridge the divide between being funny and doling out real advice that can actually be used?
Katya: Well, for me, I find that if I'm trying to be sincere, it usually ends up funny and vice versa. If I try to be sincere and helpful, it usually sounds absurd and ridiculous. So I can't really ever try to be funny because I don't really think of myself as a comedian.
Trixie: I don't think of you as that either.
Katya: I'm really just a model that's known for my legs, to be honest! But I really just don't want to be corny or cheesy — and in real life, I don't like corn or cheese either. Fun fact.
Trixie: Yeah, neither of us are comfortable with being directly sincere ever. I think of [this book] as a form of escapism. There's truth in there — it's coded language — but I'm not going to sit and grab your hand and be like, "Hi, this is about love." Nor am I going to be like, "12 Steps To Being Fierce." If we're going to talk about the deep, dark parts of the human experience, we're going to do it with satire, which is a way of joking with a straight face. Everything Katya says that's serious comes out as a joke, and unless I'm trying to joke, everything I say comes out as mean.
Katya: The most direct and sincere I ever got in the book is, "Brush your teeth and wash your legs." Trickle-down economics does not work in the shower, mama. Wash them legs!
While talking about the “deep, dark parts of the human experience,” did you find yourself revisiting moments from your past in a way that felt cathartic at all?
Katya: I went so deep. I went past life regression, honey. I went eons into the past, into myself. I was Cleopatra. But yeah, I got a chance to revisit some really great trauma and unpack that with the help of no one. So that was fun! It was really tough, though. I got to tell you, it's hard to try to write comedy and try to be funny when you feel not funny or whatever.
In addition to lighter topics like hair and makeup, you also have chapters that delve into slightly riskier topics, like drug and alcohol use.
Katya: Well, I remember having lots of conversations with our editor Maria, who is an angel, specifically about the drug chapter because it was very difficult to establish the appropriate tone. Obviously, I don't want to glamorize them, but my personal point of view is not to stigmatize them either. Treating them in a comedic but instructive format was really challenging — it wasn't Don’t Do Drugs, but it's also tough to not have it seem like you’re encouraging them when you're describing them in such detail. I guess that's the takeaway: [Drugs] are fun, but they’re bad.
Trixie: I don't think we ever make anything look cooler than it is because usually we're telling stories that have…
Katya: They usually involve some element of body horror.
Trixie: The story always starts with, "Here's something I'll never forget." It never says, “It was amazing.”
Katya: ...because there's a lot of skin gone.
Trixie: I don't think we ever make anything look cool. But ultimately, nothing's cooler than doing your own thing. I mean, this book could be called The Guide to Modern Humanhood. We only talk about being a woman because...we're women.
Katya: Yes. But we're drag queens. So everybody starts as a girl, and when you graduate to womanhood, you're a person.
That’s certainly what I was taught in school! How has it felt to be promoting a book during the middle of a pandemic?
Katya: Kind of shitty to me.
Trixie: I really wanted to go on my Sidney Prescott Out of Darkness book tour. I thought my publicist could get stabbed, probably by Katya.
Katya: It's been my dream to be in a book-signing line and have a crazed fan just come up with a machete and hack my head off.
Trixie: I've done record store signings and I thought bookstore signings would be even more, like...chunky, Afghan cable-knit sweater, messy bun. You know, no fingernails.
Katya: I wanted bifocals with a chain.
Trixie: But, you know, writing a book is a huge accomplishment. I love Stephen King, so I looked up his process and I was like, "Oh, it's cocaine and depression. I don't have either of those, so I'm going to have to use hard work and imagination.”
Katya: My practice is fear and shame.
Trixie: With J.K. Rowling leaving the scene, I think the gays are looking for new literary heroes.
Oh definitely. This is the next Harry Potter, in my opinion.
Katya: Yeah. Exactly. Whorey Potter.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Trixie and Katya’s Guide to Modern Womanhood is available everywhere now.