It’s a chilly night in February and Venus Fastrada, clad in a tight black trench coat, is set to take the stage at Grand Central in Baltimore.
Behind the elaborate makeup, long eyelashes and short blond wig is 23-year-old Codey Odachowski of White Marsh, Maryland. Venus is his stage name and Grand Central is where he performs in drag every week.
He made his debut on the stage nearly two years ago, his parents in the audience to support him, and since then has become one of the best-known drag performers in the Baltimore community.
“My mom is always there, she's always at every single show,” Odachowski told InsideEdition.com, adding that he recognizes he’s lucky to have the blessing of his parents.
“To have my mom there is a big deal,” he said. “… That is something you don't get a lot in 2019.”
Drag has always been an important part of Odachowski’s life. Looming large in his mind is Divine, the drag queen who played Edna Turnblad in 1988’s “Hairspray.”
“Divine is the first, in my eyes, the first drag queen that really made a mark in the world,” said Odachowski.
Divine wasn’t afraid to be bold, Odachowski said. “Embracing what is frowned upon is very important because if we just embraced what is praised, then there's nothing new that's ever going to come out of it.”
Drag has evolved over the years thanks to that kind of fearlessness, Odachowski explained.
“At the beginning, drag was meant to over-accentuate a gender,” he said. “If you're a man and you're dressing up as a woman, you're over-exaggerating what a woman typically would look like.”
Now, Odachowski said, it’s all about taking on a persona.
“As long as you're entertaining and putting on a character that's a little bit different than who you are, then that's what drag is.”
Some of the most famous drag queens are Dame Edna, Chad Michaels, Lady Bunny and RuPaul, whose hit show “Drag Race” brought drag into the mainstream. The show is in its 11th season and has had several spinoffs.
When he was younger, Odachowski remembers sneakily watching “Drag Race” on TV and seeing himself.
“[There was] something about the extravagance, the colorful just grandeur of it that always fascinated me,” he said.
When he takes the stage as Venus, Odachowski said he’s not the same person. Venus sets him free.
“It's like a mask,” he said. “You are still yourself, but you're able to do more than if you weren't in drag.”
That’s why it’s so important to Odachowski to take the stage week after week. On the evening InsideEdition.com saw him perform, he was covered in plastic wrap, a nod to Sia’s “Cellophane,” which he lip-synced.
“[It’s] to kind of get the point out there that people need to be more open with who they are, what they are,” he said of the costume. “I am big on doing numbers that mean something.”
For Odachowski, it’s also about showing his strength in the face of adversity.
“I have a body suit that has all of the bad words that I've been called, whether it's a homophobic slur, a body-shaming slur, because I'm reclaiming those words.”
He added: “I want to show the world that nothing's going to stop me.”
At first, Odachowski hoped doing drag would boost his social media profile, but then he realized that wasn’t what really mattered.
“I meet people all the time that don't like my pictures, but I see them every week and they instantly give me a hug,” he said. “That feels better than that one like on a picture.”
There are certain things he can be ashamed of as Odachowski that don’t worry him with Venus. His weight is one of them.
“I'm able to embrace my shape,” he said, explaining he’s not scared to highlight Venus’ curves.
“The amount of people that come up to me and say, ‘Oh my God, your body is stunning.’ That doesn't happen in everyday life, but as Venus it happens every day,” he said. “It’s like we're taking what is taboo and celebrating it.”
After all, beauty, said Odachowski, “is defined as what you want it to be.”
That’s why his drag look doesn’t have eyebrows. “Society tells us that you look normal with brows, I think I look normal without them,” he said.
“I am who I am. When I do things, I think about what’s going to make me happy.”