Joshua Conklin has lived in Astoria for most of his life. Born in St. Helens in 1989, Conklin and his family moved to Astoria shortly thereafter. “My mom loves to tell me the story of how I was the only baby in the hospital at the time of my birth. I had my own personal nurse.”
The only boy in a family of three sisters, Conklin felt free to be himself while being homeschooled and surrounded by those that knew him best. He says of those early days, “I had three sisters and, like them, I loved playing with dolls and dressing up. My mom was always very encouraging and allowed us to be ourselves.”
Unlike his fellow siblings, however, Conklin struggled with what his innocent proclivities might mean. “I never felt normal, and, at the time, I hated it,” he recalls. After making his first male friend, Conklin’s feelings were amplified, and he traded his dolls for video games, basketball and Star Wars – saying he gravitated toward things he thought others would consider more “normal.”
Although he credits being primarily homeschooled as the reason he’s “so weird,” Conklin did spend time with his fellow Astorians in public school. He began attending Astoria High School for the last few years of his academic career and says the transition was not ideal. “Joining the public school system in high school – after all those years of homeschooling – was not easy. In a small town like Astoria, everyone knows each other from kindergarten. Joining in the final round means you are automatically the outsider.” He played basketball and attempted to lead a normal life, but still felt awkward and out of place. With his startling red hair and tall stature, it was difficult for Conklin to fade into the background – something he’d later be thankful for.
While taking courses at Clatsop Community College, Conklin immersed himself in student government, and his passion for performing was established. “For one of our fundraisers, we decided to plan a talent show. The committee was encouraged to perform,” he shares. After deciding to perform a dance routine with his friend, Conklin discovered his talent for choreography. He remembers, “We created some interesting choreography which included the lawn mower, the sprinkler, jumping jacks, and other weird dance moves.” Performing onstage was life-changing for him. “That feeling on stage was amazing. I had never had that feeling of extreme nervousness and excitement. I loved everything about it: the crowd clapping, cheering and laughing, then getting off stage and getting all the amazing feedback. I knew then that I was starting to find myself.”
Conklin left Clatsop Community College and enrolled for a stint at Portland State University in Tigard. In a new environment and with different friends, he fell back into hiding. Shying away from the spotlight, Conklin felt himself reverting, “I went back into the ‘old me’ – hiding behind video games, having a few friends, but not really living as myself.” Shortly after, Conklin moved back to Astoria – determined to live his life the way he wanted, whatever shape it took.
Of his return to his childhood home, he says, “Moving back to Astoria was interesting. The town had changed a lot while I was away. It was becoming a fun place to be.” Conklin got a steady job at Costco and his own apartment downtown. After getting settled into his life in Astoria once more, a few new-found friends – now some of his closest – invited him to a local, live show called “Dragulation!” The show is lauded as an “epic dance party” and features dance numbers from drag performers. Conklin says of his experience, “The show was incredible. The community and love that I felt in one room was indescribable.”
Shortly after his first experience with this unique performance, “Dragulation!” director Marco Davis made a fateful call to Conklin, reaching out to him to be part of the show. “I had a lot of emotions and thoughts going through my mind, but I accepted. Marco took the time to teach me all the numbers during the day at the Columbian Theater. I learned how to walk in six-inch heels and how to present myself.” Conklin performed that night and hasn’t looked back. “I got such a rush from performing. I continued to perform in the ‘Dragalution!’ shows for the next few years,” he says.
Today, Conklin is something of a local celebrity. He aids in Astoria Pride events and is on the planning committee this year. He created his very own dance show called “Ginger Vitus’ Tooth Decay” and was even asked to judge the local macabre contest, “Bride of Jake the Alligator Man,” in Long Beach, Washington – an event that resonated with Conklin unexpectedly. He says, “There were no other drag queens there, but it turned out so well. There was this 16-year-old kid vacationing with his family on the peninsula, and he was dressed in drag. They said they saw my picture on the event poster and thought it would be an accepting environment. That one really blew me away.”
Conklin continues to do countless shows, host events, and inspire others to be themselves. He muses that he doesn’t know what his future holds, but that it’ll be anything but “normal,” and he couldn’t be happier about that.