This year’s unique Pride Month is coming to a close very soon, and the LGBT Network is planning to go out with a bang on Friday, June 26. The LGBT Prom will provide queer youth with a virtual night of dancing, a live DJ, red carpet looks, the crowning of the Rainbow Court and a dazzling performance by the fabulous drag queen Naomi, the Crown Jewel of the Hamptons.
In the age of social distancing, Naomi, the drag persona of East End esthetician and owner of RCK Skin Robert Kohnken, has taken the virtual world by storm with Naomi’s Nifty Neighborhood, a weekly performance and comedy skit show that streams live on Instagram and Facebook every Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. While she has performed with Our Fabulous Variety Show, sharing the Guild Hall stage with fellow East End drag queens RaffaShow and Rusty Nails, Naomi is a largely a self-made woman with dreams of establishing a strong Hamptons drag scene with the help of local performers and business owners.
Long before Naomi became the star of the show, Kohnken was passionate about theater. As a middle schooler with a flair for the dramatic, Kohnken wrote, directed and starred in original productions every summer that his cousin would come to visit. One year he decided they needed a second female character, so they went to the 5 & 10 Sag Harbor Variety Store to buy red sequin fabric that he paired with a cute wig for the show. “That was the first time I did drag,” he recalls. “I didn’t know I was doing drag at the time; to me, I was just playing a character in my musical production.” While he wouldn’t delve into drag until college, he did pursue the performing arts during his time at Pierson High School, working on five productions a year with his theater group. “Theater was my saving grace—without it, I probably wouldn’t be here right now,” Kohnken says.
While attending the Florida College of Natural Health in Orlando, he got his first true taste of drag and was utterly mesmerized. “I saw it as this extension of theater that was so organic, where these performers were taking music and interpreting it to figure out the story they wanted to tell and the image they wanted to portray. They were building this story from the ground up using the music as the blueprint.” In 2007, he joined the Pulse nightclub show cast, and for six years, he developed and refined his pageant drag skills.
Kohnken has expanded on the music-first mindset that he picked up in Florida, crafting lavish outfits and incredible performances based on the song he chooses to interpret. All of Naomi’s looks are tailored to fit Kohnken’s 6’4″ stature, plus the corset and additional padding, making the act of curating each show’s ensemble an immensely expensive feat. “Drag is probably the epitome of a starving artist,” he says. “But it’s my passion. It’s my art. It’s something that I’m so proud to get to say that I do.”
He describes Naomi as a character that he created to represent a heightened version of himself, likening his transformation to putting on a suit of armor. However, he doesn’t see her as defining his lifestyle or an asterisk on his male gender, noting, “After a show, I go back to the dressing room, get undressed and leave as Robert.”
Looking ahead to the 2020 LGBT Prom, Kohnken can’t help but reminisce about the year when he, as Naomi, helped oversee a fundraiser for the event that donated promwear to the youth and taught them how to do their hair and makeup. “It warmed my heart so much to have that interaction with them and to play a part in this night where youth get to be themselves, be free and enjoy themselves without having to worry about what anyone’s thinking,” he says, beginning to choke up thinking about the queer youth who find comfort in the LGBT Prom each year. “You’re perfect as you are in this moment, and you don’t need to change who you are for anyone. Acceptance, love and community are so important!”
For this year’s event, intended for youth ages 13–24, Naomi will serve as red carpet host, introducing each guest as they enter the virtual prom, and will also put on a showstopping performance. Pre-prom skincare begins on Zoom at 5:30 p.m., followed by makeup at 6 p.m. At 7 p.m. Naomi will announce the arrivals. The Rainbow Court will be crowned at 8 p.m., and DJ Marky Mark’s dance party with TikTok songs and remixes kicks off at 8:30 p.m. Visit lgbtnetwork.org/lgbtprom to register for prom and pre-prom.
To learn more about Naomi or to tune in to Naomi’s Nifty Neighborhood, follow her on facebook.com/robert.kohnken and instagram.com/ohmahlife. To help LGBT Network continue to put on vital community events such as LGBT Prom, consider donating at lgbtnetwork.org.