Mario Coculuzzi is bathed in red light from the slot machine next to his full-length mirror. With one hand, he gently pulls down on the skin under his eye. The other grips a black pencil crayon.
The sharp point he’s about to drag along the inner edge of his eyelid would send a shiver down the spine of most men. But Coculuzzi isn’t most men.
A curtain is all that separates him from a dingy bar in Enfield. Every time it’s pulled aside, the harsh light that floods the space reveals a five o’clock shadow beneath the thick layer of concealer that cakes his cheek.
“As we like to say, ‘Covergirl don’t cover boy,’” Coculuzzi jokes.
He turns his gaze back towards the mirror and leans in until his eyes adjust. The reflection that stares back at him through the glassy surface is his drag queen alter ego, Heckela Jeckyl.
“Hexxx for short,” says Coculuzzi, “H-E-X…that’s triple X.”
Drag names are often a play on words and Coculuzzi’s is no exception. Drawing on the narrative of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, Heckela Jeckyl has been Coculuzzi’s alter ego for the last eight years.
Since Coculuzzi discovered her, Heckela has quickly risen through the ranks of the Halifax drag scene. Although she’s best known for lip-syncing in the Atlantic provinces, the former Miss Menz Bar and Miss Gay Halifax has performed from as far as sunny Florida to snowy Yellowknife.
Tonight her audience is the people of Shooters Bar & Grill. She paces backstage in her six-inch platform heels, nervous as always, but excited.
It’s the same feeling she had in her first Pride Parade, when she appeared as Miss Gay Halifax. Heckela claimed the prestigious title only four years after she first entered the drag scene.
“It was kind of like a kid their first time at Disneyland,” Coculuzzi says, “you know, that excitement.”
Amidst the confetti and cheering crowd, Coculuzzi felt for the first time that he belonged. After struggling to fit in all his life, he says the feeling was overwhelming.
“You know, I never felt like a popular kid growing up,” says Coculuzzi. “But when I do drag, I am that popular kid.”
By the time the host calls Heckela to the stage for her number, Coculuzzi is gone and Hexxx has fully taken his place. When she steps onto her stage and the music for Frozen’s “Let it Go” cues, every eye in the room is fixated on her. The secret to her magnetism is simple.
“Put your issue at the door and go and perform,” Heckela says, “and when you’re done, go pick it up again.” She pauses. “Or you know what, just walk right past it.”
With his thirtieth birthday coming up, Coculuzzi knows that he won’t be able to do drag forever. But he says that Hexxx isn’t ready to hang up her feather boa just yet.
“For a moment, it makes you feel kinda good that people know who you are,” Coculuzzi says. “I think in the end it just makes me feel happy.”