This article originally appeared on VICE Brazil.
Mackaylla, a drag queen, and Larissa Zaidan, our photographer, met randomly at a bar one night. As the cliché goes: it was love at first sight. Mackaylla’s hair was a mess, and she looked wonderful. Zaidan has been photographing her for two years now, capturing the innermost workings of the character created by Vinicius Santana, who keeps an arsenal of wigs, makeup, shoes, and custom-made clothing pieces at his home in São Paulo, Brazil.
Zaidan was tasked with a noble mission: spending 12 hours with her muse before, during, and after the city’s LGBTQ Pride parade, held on Sunday, June 3. The beauty of their relationship is evident in Zaidan’s photographs and her brief descriptions of every moment.
It was raining quite heavily when I arrived at Santana’s house. He offered me a cup of coffee and a slice of cinnamon cake. It had been awhile since we last saw each other, so we spent close to an hour just chatting and catching up. And then he told me that I wasn’t going to believe the costume he’d assembled for the Pride parade.
We were already running a bit late when I found out that he was going to dress as an ivy queen. His boyfriend, Cezar Renzi, is a scenographer, and had worked on a production that required him to purchase fake ivy plants. “He told me he’d be tossing the plants after the show and I lost my mind,” Santana said. “Do you know how much these cost? Just one of these bags is probably R$500 [$130 USD].” Since we were already taking everything out, he decided to use his hot glue gun to make some final adjustments on the costume.
I followed Santana to the bathroom on the second floor of his house so he could quickly rinse off before getting ready. He shaved his head and beard in the shower. I asked if he did that for the play he’s working on, but he said that wasn’t the case. “My hair was getting way too thin,” he explained. “So, I decided to just shave the whole thing off. It’s actually a lot easier for me to put get done up now.”
Backstage—meaning the bathroom he’d converted into a dressing room—Santana started to put his makeup on. The first part on the checklist was his skin. Then, he lightened his eyebrows, which made all the difference in his contouring. Then he decided to put on some music, playing the latest album by Elza Soares, who I had the honor to shoot for VICE a few day ago, called ‘Deus é Mulher [God is a Woman]'.
Putting the look together wasn’t a quick process: the makeup, the lashes, glitter, wig, and outfit. Santana was getting pretty excited about the idea of getting dressed up as a plant and told me he’d work hard on his makeup—entirely green, from the lipstick to the blush.
Mackaylla Maria, Santana’s drag character, started to come to life. ”Can you believe I never had a lace? It’s not my style, you know,” she said, referring to lace front wigs, which are usually made from natural hair and tend to be more expensive. Mackaylla’s style is a messy one, a sort of drag gone wild. And it’s one of the things I find most charming about her.
Renzi, her boyfriend, woke up and made us more coffee. It’s almost time for the LGBTQ parade, but first we take a cigarette break and eat another slice of cake.
The final touches were complete. Mackaylla gave Renzi a tight hug; he wasn’t able to attend the parade this year because he was working the entire day. Even so, he still helped her with her costume, the position of her wig, and other details.
Mackaylla was ready. I suggested we go up to the roof to make the most of the natural light and take a picture of her in full drag.
We’d barely arrived at the parade before numerous people asked for pictures of Mackaylla. At a one point some guy approached her, whispered in her ear, and pulled his pants down to show her his tattoo.
We finally made it to our float, which belonged to a group Mackaylla’s been following called the Minhoqueens. I’d gone to other Pride parades with her, but I’d never been up on a float. There were so many people and it was absolutely surreal.
We were on Consolação Street [in the city center] when we decided to come down from the float and enjoy the actual parade. She danced, posed, and photobombed random people. We decided to do our own thing, and she started looking for her friends.
We found Kael Studart, one of Mackylla’s old friends. They met in Brasilia back when they both lived there, and they’re a powerful pair who attract the eyes of many. Coincidentally, I’d met and photographed Studart before during carnival. But today I truly fell in love with both characters.
Mackaylla told me she usually feels insecure when she’s in drag and drinking alcohol. “That’s when I usually start heading back home,” she said. We grabbed a beer at the Franklin Roosevelt market square and hopped in a cab.
Mackaylla chatted with the taxi driver. He talked about the parade and about selling beer. By the end of the conversation, he shyly asked for a picture with her. “It’s not every day that I get to transport famous people like you two—a photographer and drag queen.”
The end of the night, we were exhausted. Mackaylla took off her costume and wig and got ready to shower. She’s pretty organized and put everything back to where it belonged—everything from the fake plant pieces to her wig. Before saying goodbye, I thanked her. Spending time with her made me feel certain that the world shines more brightly because people like her are in it.