I am so Honored to have yet another article written about Momma Dion Spires A student at Florida Southern College.
Dion Spires Momma Ashley Rose: A Different Kind of Drag September 11, 2014
He calls it “The Gospel According to Momma.” The show is a creative vehicle to deliver the message of God. The performance plays out very similar to your usual church service. The message is delivered, the music is sung and attendees rejoice in fellowship.
The exception to the typical service is that it is all led by a drag queen named Momma Ashley Rose. Donned in makeup and wigs and joined by his friends and fellow performers, Jason DeShazo delivers God’s word in hopes that audience members who attend the show will leave feeling joy and happiness. That they will have had an experience like they’ve never experienced.
Growing up in a small country town in Florida didn’t prove to be an easy childhood for Jason DeShazo. From a very young age he knew that something was different about him.
“We were in a little orange grove in the middle of the country. Hunting and fishing was normal, and I did that, but I had this desire to go out of the box,” Jason said.
Ever since Jason was a little boy he had a strong will to participate in theatre and the arts. In his early church experience he found a youth group that he joined which used miming, clowning and other theatre-based activities and took a strong liking to this form of expression.
It became evident that people in his small and conservative hometown found these interests to be “repulsive” and something that boys should not do.
“They viewed it as ‘God would not like it and he would not use it,’” Jason said, causing him to pull away from his hobbies.
“Even as a child, I wanted nothing more than to love God and love people,” Jason said. “I focused less on what I wanted to do and more on myself and tried to change myself.”
Little did he know at that time, these interests would influence his future in a big way.
It was around the age of 10 years old that Jason began to realize one of his greatest struggles as he started to deal with his sexuality.
Growing up in a Pentecostal church with a strict biblical lifestyle, he was raised believing that homosexuality was wrong and that all homosexuals would go to Hell.
From ages 10 to about 19 years old, he battled homosexuality, unsuccessfully.
Jason describes high school as a time when he was balancing what his parents wanted him to do and what he wanted to do. He tried to do everything that he thought God wanted him to do and do what was considered to be “right.”
“I tried dating girls, I tried everything,” Jason said. “I went through counseling and ex-gay ministries. I went to all of the therapies. When I was about 19 years old I couldn’t deny it anymore. I had tried everything, and I mean everything, and it wasn’t working.”
Jason found himself looking for answers and acceptance in his life and his religion. He prayed constantly asking God for his approval.
“I told God ‘I just need to know, am I okay?’”
His answer came when he least expected it. A man that he respected in his religious life approached Jason at church and told him “I believe that God loves you just the way you are and you don’t have to change.”
“He didn’t know my struggle, he didn’t know what he really was telling me,” Jason said. “This man was very anti-gay, so if had he known what he was saying, he wouldn’t have said it!”
It was with that confirmation that Jason set out to research scriptures about God’s love and discover that God loves everyone and to believe that it was okay to live by scriptures while being homosexual.
“I could still love God and he could still love me,” Jason said. “Not many people get to have that journey because what I’ve noticed is that when they come out they have this block in their head that ‘God doesn’t love me’ and throws that part of them away and that leaves a void in them.”
Following his struggles, he felt that he had a higher calling to teach people about God’s word, while bridging that gap between his word and sexuality.
In doing that, he took an interesting angle. Nowadays, at age 35, he is a self proclaimed “pastor by day, drag queen by night.”
Jason served as an associate pastor in a gay-accepting church in Winter Haven until recently when he resigned due to a relocation to South Florida to pursue other ministry opportunities.
His role in the church is what he describes as “typical pastor duties.” He would pray and counsel with church members, teach Bible studies, lead worship and the arts along with other outreaches as well.
He considers himself very lucky to have been involved in a gay-accepting church and with a pastor who was accepting of his drag performances. While he said that some congregants had doubts and concerns regarding his work, he has performed shows on the stage at the church prior to his resignation.
When faced with backlash from congregants, he has tried to handle the concerns with love and tender care, which he feels he was able to do because he grew up in an environment that was skeptical as well.
It was in his 20’s that Jason discovered the drag scene.
“I met a drag queen and some transgendered people in Tampa and began talking with them. It was Halloween and we were dressed in drag and I thought this was so cool,” Jason said. “It was one of those things where you start to scratch an itch and it’s like ‘okay, it’s there.’”
Jason came and went from the drag community, eventually returning for good with his current persona, Momma Ashley Rose.
Looking at Jason on a regular day, you would never know that he was a drag queen. The stereotypical drag queen is often very flamboyant and Jason doesn’t exude that personality. He spoke as eloquently as you would expect any pastor to, as if every word was carefully considered before it left his mouth. He spoke about his story in a way that really draws the listener in, with compassion and in amazing detail. He dressed in a t-shirt and shorts with a bandana headband in his mid-length, jet black hair. He wore none of the makeup that he dons as Momma, and spoke in a rather deep voice contrary to what some may expect when learning that he performs in drag.
When he performs as Momma he does a total 180. Momma often performs in a large curly blonde wig with makeup for days. By looking at photos, one of her signature makeup trends would seem to be her eye makeup, which is consistently beautiful and outrageous in color. She dresses rather modestly compared to what many expect from a drag queen in dresses,hats, masks, tiaras and whatever else may fit the occasion. Looking at Momma, it’s hard to believe that she is actually Jason, but once she begins speaking and performing she greets people with a warm smile and always has a message for the masses, just like everyday Jason.
Momma Ashley Rose’s motto is “You’re loved, you’re accepted and you’re wanted,” which is the ultimate message that Jason aims to convey to all communities through his performances as Momma.
One of Momma’s first efforts came after Jason became a leader at a church in Atlanta, Georgia.
After moving to Long Beach, Ca., he discovered an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) center for youth where LGBT youth were housed after being kicked out due to their sexuality. The center was on the brink of closing and it was then that Jason thought “why can’t Momma do something for the community?”
They put on a variety show featuring drag performances, poets, songs and multiple other types of performances in a small coffee shop nearby and raised a great deal of money for the center, benefitting it immensely.
“That was really the starting point for me that said this is more than a drag queen and entertainment. I love to bring laughs and entertain but I have a responsibility in the community to show love and acceptance and I want everyone to know that,” Jason said. “I need to bring something to the drag community that has never been done before. I want to be a visionary. I want to be a history maker. When I leave this life I want to know that Momma has made a difference in one life, or millions of lives.”
While he still performs variety shows as previously mentioned, Jason has now expanded his performances to a full blown Momma Ashley hosted show.
In all of this Jason has a strong support system that he expresses undying gratitude to, specifically in the love that his father has shown him
Jason calls his father his hero and the “epitome of what Christ would want a Christian to be.” When Jason was very young he saw his dad have a spiritual encounter with God, which changed him forever. Overnight he saw his father turn from someone who struggled with drugs and alcohol to a man who would give the shirt off his back.
“My father has loved me and supported me. I may have done things or gotten involved in things that he didn’t like but he never pushed anything down my throat. He loved me,” Jason said. “One of his favorites quotes he says is ‘God told me that I gave my son to him at an early age and he’s his, and I’ll let God handle him.”
Jason’s father has preached alongside him in church and helped to support him financially and emotionally more than he could ever ask for.
Most of all, his father respects his work and sees that Jason’s doing good things.
“He tells me, ‘Son, I don’t get you, but I love you and I know who is inside of you and I know how God works through you and I don’t question that.”
Jason says that his duty in life is to bring joy and color to a dark, damp place. His ways may not be conventional but he intends to continue pushing the boundaries and moving forward to change lives.