Mimi Imfurst Admits to Initiating Unwelcome Online Sexual Chats With Two Drag Wars Contestants
Well-known RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant and Gayborhood drag producer Braden Chapman says he regrets that the men “felt pressured or obligated to partake in these conversations.”
After being contacted by Philadelphia magazine as part of an investigation into claims by two Drag Wars contestants that he had sexually harassed them online, Philadelphia drag producer Braden Chapman — better known as drag star Mimi Imfurst — admitted on Friday to engaging in nonconsensual online sexual behavior with the two men. Chapman, who rose to national fame through his television appearances on RuPaul’s Drag Race, says he “deeply regret[s]” his “ongoing late-night sexual conversations that involved in-depth and often exaggerated cyber roleplay that although was welcomed by some has made others uncomfortable and used.”
Allegations about Chapman began to surface after a friends-only Facebook post made in October 2017 by Philadelphia burlesque performer Eric Groff, known as Turnpyke, invoked disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein as part of a call to action for community members:
“Who is the Harvey Weinstein in your town or neighborhood? Hey gayborhood, anybody ever message you at all hours of the night asking you a thousand odd questions? Repeatedly touch you inappropriately even after you tell them to stop? Known predators working in the gayborhood that we whisper about. I know I’ve talked to many people in the gayborhood with similar stories. Who is your HW? Let’s educate these fuckers.”
Now, two of the performers who responded to Groff’s post, Kyle Ayotte and Ethan Hunter Raysor, have given accounts exclusively to Philadelphia magazine in which they detail Chapman’s unwanted and repeated sexual advances toward them over instant messaging.
Both Ayotte and Raysor say they are coming forward because they know others who have faced similar experiences and will not speak openly about it for fear that they could be “blacklisted from the community.” They also want to “dispel stereotypes of sexual harassment in the LGBTQ community.”
“People often assume that because we are attracted to the same sex, we can’t be victims of the same level of unwanted sexual harassment as straight people,” Ayotte says. “That’s absolutely not true. Sexual harassment doesn’t discriminate — it can happen to anyone.”
“I think the LGBTQ community needs to have more conversations about sexual harassment in the drag performance scene and within our social hangout spots overall,” Raysor adds. “We’re not exempt from the pain these incidents cause and the stigma that comes from calling out the powerful people responsible for it. What I experienced was an abuse of power through manipulation. Gay or straight, no one should have to go through that.”
After being questioned about the nature of his conversations with Ayotte and Raysor, Chapman provided Philadelphia magazine with the following statement:
It has come to my attention that my sexual conversations via online messaging were uncomfortable for multiple people that I was engaging with. [With t]wo of those people, I have had ongoing late-night sexual conversations that involved in-depth and often exaggerated cyber roleplay that although was welcomed by some has made others uncomfortable and used. For that I am incredibly sorry. I thought that our conversation, which included sexual and nonsexual discussions, was consensual. I realize now that my intent to engage in a playful and welcomed conversation that I initiated did not have the impact on the them that I thought it did.
I deeply regret that due to my nature as a public person, they felt pressured or obligated to partake in these conversations, one of which lasted over two years back and forth. I wish I had known more clearly that they did not want to participate in the conversations. If I would have known that, I would have stopped. I respect both Kyle and Ethan greatly and would never want to make them feel violated. I apologized to Ethan in October privately when this was first brought to my attention, and I now extend my apologies to others that I have hurt as well. I am not perfect. I have made great mistakes that I am truly sorry for and humbled by.
I am incredibly sorry for this and can only work to be a better person and leader in Philadelphia. If anyone has issues I hope that they will speak to me privately so I can apologize to them directly.
Chapman is one of the few drag performers from Philadelphia to secure national stardom in recent years. His drag persona Mimi Imfurst is known for her physically aggressive and hyper-sexual demeanor, and is perhaps most infamously known for being disqualified from season 3 of Drag Race after lifting drag queen India Ferrah over her head without permission while lip-syncing.
Chapman’s influence in Philadelphia’s drag scene stems from producing Drag Wars, a competition show similar to Drag Race but with Gayborhood talent performing weekly at Philadelphia venues, which he founded in 2012. As the creator, producer, and lead judge of Drag Wars, Chapman oversees all aspects of the competition, including auditions and talent coaching. Chapman’s success has allowed him to create and produce other popular drag events in the city, such as the Philly Drag Awards and Drag Diva Brunch, in addition to regularly headlining showcases across the Gayborhood and beyond.
“The implications of a Drag Wars win are so significant that it can make or break an amateur’s shot,” one local drag show producer/performer told Philadelphia magazine. “Some winners have been able to secure careers full time as drag performers and have gotten national and Philly gigs that boosted their visibility. Performers being able to align themselves with someone as famous as Mimi gives them a level of recognition that garners respect in the scene.”
Kyle Ayotte, 25, said he began to experience uncomfortable encounters with Chapman the moment he began to seriously explore drag performance opportunities. “At first it seemed like he was just harmlessly flirting with me,” Ayotte says, “and then he hinted at having secrets that people would judge him for.”
Known by the drag name Lorna Doom, Ayotte says Chapman first sent him Facebook messages in September 2015 about wanting him to “explore some stuff but faggots talk” after seeing him at a drag event in the Gayborhood. Ayotte says his initial fandom for the famous drag queen “turned into pity that eventually led him to sever ties” with Chapman altogether.
Philadelphia magazine reviewed the entire Facebook Messenger history between Ayotte and Chapman, which dates from September 18th, 2015, through October 15th, 2017. Based on the timestamps in the thread, Chapman initiated multiple sexual conversations with Ayotte, mentioning that he has “some kink stuff I wanna explore for sure, but it’s hard when you have to be discreet,” and routinely noting his sexual angst and specific desires.
“I sort of humored him at first because I was surprised with how open Braden was with me,” Ayotte says of the first time they engaged over chat, which led to a sexually tinged exchange on the morning of September 19th, 2015. “I was so shocked that he opened up to me so quickly, and I couldn’t comprehend what was happening or how to handle it. The most famous drag queen in the city was into me, and I felt obligated to go with the flow.”
During those months, their chats ranged from talks about Chapman working on his studio album The Fire, him having a “dry spell” in his dating life. After their first sexual chat session, Ayotte frequently expressed disinterest in continuing, once telling Chapman outright “I don’t feel comfortable doing it.” Chapman persisted, telling Ayotte “none of this stuff is realistic” and “it’s just hot, play pretend,” and reminding him that he was “the only one I talk to about this stuff.”
“It was manipulation through guilt-tripping,” Ayotte says about those experiences now. “Braden was preying on my inexperience in the drag scene to satisfy his sexual fetish to the point that I felt personally obligated to go through with it because I had dreams of becoming a professional drag performer. I only did it because he made me feel sorry for his loneliness and had me thinking I was the only one he could trust. That was all a lie.”
A few months later, Ayotte participated in cycle 7 of Drag Wars, which began on May 19th, 2016, and he says that Chapman did not sexually proposition him for the duration of the competition.
However, on November 8th, 2016, a few months after his June 2016 elimination from the competition, Ayotte says Chapman propositioned him all over again. Ayotte acceded to Chapman’s request, saying now that he thought Chapman’s reaching out again “was a brief moment of desperation.”
Ayotte says that Chapman propositioned him yet again in the beginning of 2017 as he was preparing to audition for cycle 8 of Drag Wars. This time around, Ayotte sensed that Chapman was “dangling his power in the drag community as a way to keep messaging [him].” On February 7th, 2017, prior to the Drag Wars auditions in April, Chapman messaged Ayotte asking him “what would you think about Drag Wars moving to Fridays” and “could u still do if it were on a Friday.” Ayotte felt that because Chapman knew of his interests in drag, it was “almost impossible not to give in.”
“When Braden became very direct about my involvement in Drag Wars for cycle 8, I knew I was basically in a trap,” Ayotte says. “It began to feel like a lose/lose situation. I was either going to get more visibility in the drag scene due to my involvement in the competition at the expense of keeping this unique secret Chapman claims I only knew about, or lose it all if I told others about it and stopped messaging him.”
On February 21, 2017, during the same time he began to start cyber-chatting with another cycle 8 contestant, Ethan Hunter Raysor, Chapman messaged Ayotte telling him “thanks for keeping my secret between us.” “During the competition, Braden would back off again,” Ayotte says. “Then once I was eliminated in July, it started again. I made it pretty clear that I was uncomfortable with participating, [and] I would ignore the messages. Then I’d get a repeated ‘Hey,’ ‘Hi,’ ‘you’re up late,’ or ‘are you mad at me?’ and I’d continue to ignore it.”
After the summer, Ayotte began to hear from other performers that Chapman was engaging in similar online behavior with other contestants involved with Drag Wars. It was in that moment that he began to completely distance himself from Chapman, keeping any conversations that the influential drag producer initiated stay on topics about drag or nonsexual. “I felt used and taken advantaged of,” Ayotte says on hearing that other performers had similar experiences with Chapman. “Braden lied to me to fulfill his selfish desires. I lost any sympathy I thought I had for his personal problems, and stopped speaking to him after more people came forward.”
The last conversation Chapman tried to initiate with Ayotte was at 11:13 p.m. on October 15th, 2017, the same night of Groff’s Facebook post. Chapman messaged Ayotte “lol.” Ayotte never replied and says he has not spoken to Chapman since.
Ayotte says that the situation has “dampened [his] enthusiasm for drag” and knows that now coming forward “will probably harm [his] career.” “People I’ve talked to in the Gayborhood told me that speaking out against Braden will hurt my chances of being booked because of his power and notoriety,” Ayotte says. “But I don’t care about doing drag that much to continue tolerating this kind of harassment that’s happening to me and other performers. If I didn’t get booked at this point for telling the truth, I wouldn’t care.”
The second man, Ethan Hunter Raysor, a 24-year-old ballet dancer turned drag performer known as Lilith Del Ray, tells of similar encounters with Chapman beginning in February 2017 when he was fairly new to the drag scene. Raysor, who lives in Wilmington, says he was “in a vulnerable place at the time” after dealing with a marital separation that made performing drag in Philly “feel like an escape.”
“As I was dealing with my divorce, I took to drag to better understand myself and deal with all of the personal drama,” Raysor says. “Looking back at our initial conversations, I feel as though Braden took advantage of my vulnerability.” According to Raysor, friendly conversation between Chapman took a quick turn the moment he revealed he had a fetish for sexual cyber-chatting.
Philadelphia magazine reviewed the entire Facebook Messenger thread between Raysor and Chapman, which dates from February 20, 2017 through January 31, 2018. Based on the timestamps in the thread, Chapman contacted Raysor numerous times before and after his participation in Drag Wars, with conversations ranging from Raysor’s drag interests to sexually charged messages that included desires for Raysor to engage in “kink interests” sex chats. Chapman also requested that Raysor connect him with someone who had “an active imagination” that he would “compensate them” for. The picture avatar in Raysor’s Facebook thread match those in Ayotte’s screenshots.
In their first conversation via Facebook on February 20th, Chapman reached out to Raysor about auditioning for Drag Wars, and the two quickly got acquainted. “I opened up to Braden because I was starstruck that he would personally seek my participation in his huge competition,” Raysor says about their initial conversation. “I opened up about my interest in drag, my relationship problems, and everything else. Braden seemed like a decent person and I just wanted to make a good impression prior to the competition.”
However, during their next Facebook chat, on February 22nd, Chapman sexually propositioned Raysor for the first time, notifying him that “this conversation takes a dangerous right turn at some of my kink interests.” After Chapman expressed a persistent desire throughout the conversation to engage in a cyber sexual chat (making the remarks “it’s purely psychological” and “not real,” “I need to find a guy who can be kinda my cyber buddy on this,” and “I’m just bored and need some ‘inspiration’ right now”), Raysor agreed to participate.
“I thought that if I did it that one time, he would just leave me alone afterwards,” Raysor says. “Braden told me that he could be able to compartmentalize his desires for me outside of the competition while still being able to be discreet. I wasn’t comfortable engaging with him in that manner again, and I tried to avoid suggestive conversations with him outside of the competition.” After several weeks of attempting to casually distance himself from Chapman’s multiple late-night Facebook initiations after February 22nd, Raysor participated in cycle 8 of Drag Wars, which began on April 13th.
During the competition, Raysor began a brief romantic relationship with another individual closely involved with Drag Wars and felt that Chapman (who served as both the producer and lead judge) “retaliated” against him because of it.
“I told my boyfriend at the time of my numerous attempts of trying to avoid another uncomfortable sexual proposition from Chapman after the first encounter,” Raysor says of informing his former partner during the first week of May 2017. “He told me that he had spoken with Braden about it, and that [Braden] was upset and threw nasty insults about me that he didn’t want to repeat. I sensed at that very moment my drag career would be over because I had just pissed off the most powerful drag queen in Philly.”
On May 25th, shortly after being made aware that Chapman knew of his concerns, Raysor was eliminated from Drag Wars in what he characterizes as “a mean-spirited way.” “Braden insulted me rather harshly during my performance evaluation in his role as a judge,” Raysor says. “Among other insults, he told me in front of everyone viewing Drag Wars that I should do cocaine to give myself energy on stage. It was humiliating, and I felt these shady remarks were rooted in his personal grudge against me. I took a break from performing shortly after that. Other producers and performers in the Gayborhood began to distance themselves from me.”
Raysor also claims that he informed other contestants of Chapman’s sexual cyber chats with him during the competition, with several of them “totally discouraging” him from speaking publicly about it. “They told me not to say anything or Braden could have me blackballed in the Gayborhood,” Raysor says. “I was warned that making a fuss over the situation would do more harm than good to my hopes of continuing drag.”
Months after Raysor’s elimination, Chapman once again began Facebook messaging him after 2 a.m. on September 19, 2017, with a proposition to “chat” about how he is “frustrated with [his] kink thing.” Raysor did not respond.
A few days later, after requesting a Philly Drag Awards ballot from Chapman, Raysor says he decided to stop speaking to him altogether. “I’ve made it a point to not to speak to Braden again because it’s clear that he has no respect for me,” Raysor says. “I’m finally getting back into the drag scene again and don’t ever want to have an encounter like that again.”
Consequently, Raysor says, the situation has “negatively impacted his drag career tremendously.” Since the competition, Raysor has no longer been sought out directly for gigs, and the ones he says he has had to “beg for” were not paid opportunities. “People that talked about booking me because of knowing Mimi Imfurst or being a part of Drag Wars have not booked me, but have still booked other people that were in the competition,” Raysor says. “I haven’t really gotten any responses from producers, probably because they were aware of what was happening or loosely aware at least.”
On October 16, 2017, the morning after Groff’s Facebook call to action, Chapman sent numerous Facebook messages to Raysor requesting that they speak immediately. After receiving no reply for a few hours, Chapman sent the following apology: “You made it clear to me that you didn’t want to talk about such things and I’ve backed off. I’m not perfect and I’m sorry if I made u uncomfortable. My boyfriend and I have had extensive conversations about my interests and our relationship is complex in a good way. I’m an open book and never mean to hurt anyone and want you to know that if I ever made you uncomfortable and or hurt you can always come directly to me — I am an open book and respect your boundaries.”
Raysor did not reply.
Several months later, on January 31, 2018 at 2:20 a.m., Chapman contacted Raysor on Facebook with the message “hope ur well.”
Raysor did not reply.