Elijah Kelly Aka “Mariah” Speaks to Kids Struggling to Fit In
I didn’t know who “Mariah” was until I saw her on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I saw the Southern Belle with the great looks but I didn’t realize just how deep her rivers ran until now. Mariah is someone that has something worthwhile to say.
Abby: Well first let me just say that I think you are stunningly beautiful both on TV and in person.
Mariah: Thank you.
Abby: This is basically following up on the “Life gets better campaign.” Are you familiar with that?
Mariah: Yes I am.
Abby: As you know, you are seen as a role model and I think anyone struggling with their sexuality will find you very inspiring. I don’t’ know much about your early years. Where were you born?
Mariah: I was born in Gainsville, GA.
Abby: Do you have a big family?
Mariah: No. It’s my Mom, my two brothers, and my sister. That’s pretty much it.
Abby: Where did you go to school? What were your school years like for you?
Mariah: Well I switched around schools quite a bit. We were a lower income family so we moved a little bit, so I went to city schools starting out in elementary. Then I switched to the county schools and so it was from second grade on to I would say tenth grade I was pretty much teased on for one reason or another. Either I was too white, or I looked like a girl. People would walk up to me and pull my hair on the playground. Stuff like that. Plus I am bi-racial so it was like there was always some “thing” for people to tease me about. Around eleventh grade is when I pretty much took charge of my own energy and said, “Enough is Enough!”
Abby: When did you know that you were gay?
Mariah: Oh, I have always felt different. I never really kind of blended in. I remember my sister had asked me when I was in fourth grade, “Elijah are you gay?” And my sister is like five or six years older than me. And I said “No.” I was like no because I thought gay meant you necessarily had to have sex. You know? Of course, I was like, “Nooooo.” (laughs) Of course I’m not. Then my Mom, later on in life, told me my sister had went to her after, yet again, finding me playing in her makeup and jewelry. She went to my Mom and said, “Mom I think Elijah is going to be gay.” This was around when I was in third or fourth grade. And my Mom simply said, “We are just going to let Elijah be Elijah.” And she was like, “OK.” That was it. They didn’t tell me that until like I was about twenty. I was like, “OK.” I wasn’t sexually active until like two weeks before my eighteenth birthday.
Abby: What a good boy!
Mariah: I was afraid. My mom told us that having sex before eighteen was illegal. So I just knew. I was like no! That was like the last thing I was thinking about when I was younger. It was just never an issue. It really wasn’t on the front of my mind, to keep it short and sweet. It just wasn’t something I was thinking about. I was thinking about having a good time, enjoying life. How I could make it easier for myself? And then also I was in band, and I did other activities. Those feelings really didn’t kick in until later.
Abby: So what instrument did you play?
Mariah: I played cymbals for three years, and I played the third bass drum in marching band for my junior year.
Abby: Wow. Wait a minute. So do you watch Glee?
Mariah: No I don’t watch Glee. That’s a little too peppy for me. I like more cynical, witty comedy. I’m not like a show tunes, unless it’s like… yah. I’m not really a show tunes type of person.
Abby: O.K. I will go back to my actual questions. There was this rash of suicides…
Abby: A lot of kids are facing discrimination or prejudices. What did you run into as far as discrimination or prejudice?
Mariah: They had so many different faces it went from racial issues because I am bi-racial.
Abby: Are you African-American and Caucasian?
Mariah: Yes. Yes. Black and white. And so when I went to the predominantly white school I was called a black and white, a zebra, just really elementary type stuff. But ya know when you are picked on and picked out of a group like that, you interpret those things. You start to interpret yourself as being ugly or different… and not in a good way. Then when I went back to the city school system, I spoke too white, proper English. I was too white and then I looked like a girl. They would tease, “Are you a faggot?” In my household my family looks so different. Like my oldest brother is like blonde hair blue eyes. My youngest brother has sandy brown hair, green eyes and freckles. My sister, she looks German. It’s like so much variety in our family and it’s just us five. We were never given a box about who we are and who we are supposed to be. So there were never any racial or cultural lines that we were supposed to stay in. Never any sexual orientation lines. You were just who you are, who we were meant to be.
Abby: Right, you grew up in the bible belt then?
Mariah: I guess? But my Mom is from Phoenix, Arizona, so it really wasn’t (both laughing). So she came here without those bible belt values I guess you could say. She’s always marched to the beat of her own drum anyway. She kind of taught us that. We got that from her. We pretty much follow our own set of rules and guidelines about what we think is best for us. As long as we don’t hurt ourselves or anybody else. That’s pretty much my mom’s principles. You’ve got good sense. Use it! And it was just that simple. I’ve had the prejudice and discrimination from every angle you can imagine. Even in the gay culture you have masculine discriminating against the more feminine. I mean, you’ll get hatred coming from so many different places at so many different times in life that you really have to find that strength to cope with it and definitely turn it around and allow it to empower you instead of breaking you.
Abby: Where did you find your strength to fight that?
Mariah: You know I really had enough. There are always two options to every situation. Either a positive or a negative option, and I chose the positive one. Enough was enough. I said, “I want to be happy. I want to be happy!” This is not what I am meant to be doing, walking around moping, volatile. Because I had gotten very volatile when I would react to people. So I just chose a happier path. I just let it go. I just started one day at a time looking at myself in the mirror. I started seeing things that were beautiful. It might not necessarily have been the things that I aesthetically thought I should look like because of everyone else’s critiques, but it was just like, “You know what? This isn’t that bad. That isn’t that bad.” And it got to the point where I was like, “This is fabulous! This is good. This is really good!” So I really started looking at myself and started seeing the things I liked as opposed to what other people were saying they disliked.
Abby: Where are you in the family line-up? Of the 4 kids.
Mariah: I’m the second to the youngest out of four.
Abby: Are you the only gay one in the family?
Mariah: Uh… yes.
Abby: (Laugh) I’m just laughing because there are six siblings in my family and there are two of us.
Mariah: Oh word- I love it.
Abby: What advice would you have for the kids facing the same discrimination you face or the ones that are thinking about ending it all?
Mariah: I know at an early age needing to show you belong is a very important thing for anyone, but being different is not a bad thing. It definitely is going to help you in the long run. So hang in there and definitely embrace your differences. Learn how to respect other people for their differences.
Mariah: Oh Lord.
Abby: So will you reapply to the RuPaul Drag Race for another season ala Shangela?
Mariah: Oh gosh. I don’t know if I have enough drag in my closet. that’s a whole ‘nother wardrobe. I’d have to take out a loan just to get ready for it.
Abby: I just saw on line that they are taking applications now.
Mariah: I know. I saw that too. Oh my goodness Round 4. It is really going to be tough for them to cast this season because I think they got a lot of the best in Season 3. I traveled around the country and have seen what’s out there…
Abby: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Mariah: With the youth, definitely know that different – when you are different – definitely know that you are meant for something special. So really try to find what you are meant for and just ignore the rest. Just ignore the rest, and it does get better!
Abby: Thank you so much!
Mariah: Thank you and have a good afternoon!
You can keep up with Mariah at:
FB: Mariah (Paris) Balenciaga