When drag performer Mitchell Goodine left his home town in rural northwestern New Brunswick, he finally felt free to express who he really was.
Fifteen years later, Goodine is returning to the region to showcase a side of himself he never imagined would be accepted, let alone welcomed in the small community of Arthurette, nestled between Plaster Rock and Perth-Andover, where he's set to host a drag show on the evening of May 20.
"And so it's pretty liberating to go back as Amour Love," said Goodine, referring to his stage name.
"To be able to not only show them who I am, but more or less, I'm using this as an example to show people who tried to pray against me, who still pray for me … I really don't care about their opinion."
Goodine is originally from Tilley, another community situated in the area around Perth-Andover and Plaster Rock.
With it and the other communities tied together by shared schools, arenas and churches, Goodine considers himself a native of the general region — a region he left behind when he moved to Fredericton in search of a more inclusive and welcoming community.
As a teenager, Goodine and his family belonged to the Pentecostal Church in Perth-Andover.
He said it was during that time he was subjected to intense meditation sessions and physical abuse in nearby Woodstock as part of the now-illegal practice of conversion therapy, which wrongfully attempted to change who he was as a gay person.
"The abuse, emotionally and physically that I received from both members of the community and church for being who I was... really shell-shocked me from ever wanting to come back into the local area, ever wanting to affiliate with the local area."
An unexpected booking
Then out of the blue earlier this year, Goodine received a message from Cheryl Campbell.
She'd known him growing up, and aware of the reputation he'd built as a drag artist performing across the Maritimes, wanted him to put on a show in Arthurette.
The venue, of all places, is the local Royal Canadian Legion, where Campbell, the president, said she's always looking for new and unique ways to raise funds for its community programs.
"I'm always challenging myself to [organize] something different... and people are happy with it," she said, noting advanced ticket sales have almost all sold out.
"I mean, you get the odd one [saying] like 'Who's going to come to that?' But [the interest] is unreal."
Campbell said she recognizes the region has some religious conservative leanings, but believes people who'd be against the event are a small minority.
"I think that [drag artists] should be eligible and as welcome in our legion as somebody coming there to play pool or somebody coming there to play bingo or a band coming from wherever."
Goodine said the thought of going back and performing in drag brings up feelings of anxiety given his traumatic past in the region.
But his hope is the event helps him reconcile with the community, while also inspiring those who still live there to feel comfortable openly expressing themselves.
"I'm putting on my most gorgeous gown. I'm putting on my most beautiful hair. My heels will be rhinestones.
"I'm going in the queen that I truly am meant to be in a town that just maybe didn't see the potential or didn't understand exactly who was standing in front of them."