‘Drag Race’ Star, Daya Betty, Encourages People with Diabetes to Live a Life They Love
Editor’s notes: This conversation was edited for length and clarity.
This content was made possible with support from Abbott, makers of the FreeStyle Libre 3 system, an active partner of Beyond Type 1 at the time of publication.
Beyond Type 1 sat down with Trenton Clarke, well-known for his drag persona, Daya Betty, to discuss his journey with diabetes, what inspired him to start drag, and how he manages travel and performing with T1D. Daya Betty appeared on season 14 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which aired in April 2022.
Beyond Type 1: Before we dive into diabetes, can you tell us what inspired you to get started in drag?
Trenton Clarke: I did musical theater growing up, and it was kind of the one avenue that I had where I felt like I could be the most myself when I was younger, knowing that I was queer but not out to anybody. I lived in a really small town in the middle of Missouri — in the bible belt — so it wasn’t like I knew a bunch of queer people.
When I went to college, I wasn’t studying or doing anything with performing. I went to school for graphic design, so I spent a lot of time behind a computer. But I missed the community around performing.
I remember going out to a show — I didn’t know that it was a drag show — it was one of my first times going out to a queer night thing.
It wasn’t like a pageant drag show. It was weird people doing weird things. I really enjoyed that and asked if I could be a part of it the following month. It was very similar to theater — I liked that I got to be whatever character I wanted…it just kind of evolved from there.
When you dove into the drag scene, did you ever worry that diabetes would hold you back?
No…I was diagnosed at 15 — an age where you can understand things and do things for yourself. But you’re still a kid, and you’re not doing everything you should. By the time I left for college, I had a good grasp on how to take care of and manage my diabetes, but when I got to college, I had a different schedule and lifestyle. So it was a little rough, especially when I first started drag.
When you’re not on a consistent schedule, it can throw your blood sugar levels off. It was something I struggled with, especially towards the beginning of my drag career.
It’s definitely something you have to check in with yourself on — your health comes first. Without your health, you can’t really do anything else. I make it one of my top priorities, especially while traveling.
What does that diabetes self-check-in process look like for you?
When I get really nervous, my legs start shaking, and I feel sick to my stomach. Those are the same symptoms I have with low blood sugar. Between the time I’m getting ready and when a show starts, I always check my blood sugar.
When you’re working with others on a drag show, do you let them in on what your diabetes needs are or what they should do in case of an emergency?
I always make sure that the bar has Sprite or orange juice or something I can have, just in case. But typically, unless I’m traveling with someone who knows me really well or if I’m traveling with an assistant, I don’t feel the need to tell random cast mates (about my diabetes).
I just got back from an Australian tour with the whole top five of my season of “Drag Race”, and there was one day I was not feeling well at all, and I told Willow, the winner of our season, how to check my blood sugar. I let my really good friends know. They know the process.
So you’ve never had a moment in the middle of a show where you had to stop to treat a low or high blood sugar?
Never! That’s my worst-case scenario to have to stop mid-number. People would probably think I pooped my pants or something. But usually, I just have to drink some orange juice backstage.
What is the most challenging thing about being a performer with diabetes?
It’s definitely the schedule — there are nights when I’m up until 4 A.M. There are days when I get no sleep at all. That is definitely the part that I struggle with even now because I’m never in one place for very long.
I try to eat very healthily but being on the road, all I want to do is get something fast. And I’m active at random points of the day, so I’ll have a low at random times.
But when I’m home and have time to recollect, I can generally get back on a ‘normal’ cycle.
What are some diabetes travel hacks you’ve picked up along the way?
I was so behind when it came to different ways to check my glucose levels. I was so used to the fingerstick method. I remember getting the FreeStyle Libre 2 system, and the first time I got one, it was when you had to have another device with it (a reader).
But they just came out with the FreeStyle Libre 3 system, which sends my glucose levels straight to my smartphone*, and that has been a game-changer for me. I don’t have to carry around everything extra — I don’t have to fingerstick† — it’s literally just on my smartphone, which is with me at all points of the day. That’s been the best thing for travel.
What has your diabetes journey been like from your diagnosis day to now?
For a long time, I was on self-injections. I didn’t mind self-injections. I liked knowing I was in control of what I was putting into my body. I started using an insulin pump around 17. When I finally got one, it did change my life.
However, things can go wrong with technology.
In college — there are a lot of layers to a drag body — and I would put my pump underneath all my layers. I remember one time, my pump keyboard was a little laggy because the moisture and the water of my skin would mess up the keypad. I freaked out when it wouldn’t work on my insulin pump and had to call my mom to get that situated.
Do you have tips for people who feel really busy and are struggling to manage their diabetes?
Check in with yourself. Surround yourself with people who will remind you of what you need. With my boyfriend, when we’re driving somewhere, he always has 15g [of carbohydrate] granola bars. If you’re a little uncomfortable or need some help, make sure you have a good team behind you. Make sure you have some good friends or family members to hold you accountable.
We’ve talked a lot about the challenges of being a performer with type 1 diabetes, but what is the most rewarding part?
Representation. It’s not like diabetes is something you can’t manage or that you can’t live a well-rounded life with T1D. I think it’s cool that it’s an added little fact about me. I really wasn’t that vocal about it on the show, or if I was, it wasn’t included a lot. So it’s cool when people come up to me and are like: ‘I knew your name was Daya Betty and I didn’t get it until I found out you were a true diabetic.’ I think it’s cool for people to find out if they see you on TV and enjoy what you bring…just to find out that extra little fun fact.
Do you have any tips for people living with diabetes who are afraid to pursue the arts?
I’m a firm believer that you have full control over the direction that your life heads. I completely understand being nervous or worried but I truly think if you want something bad enough and you take care of your body and your mind — your mental health is just as important — you can totally achieve anything you want.
I want to make sure I’m living how I want to live despite any circumstances I think might get in the way because at the end of the day, truly, you’ll be fine. It’ll be okay. You can truly do whatever you want — you really can! You just have to be persistent.
Finally, we know many fans of “Drag Race” and yourself. Can you share any fun tidbits from the show?
My sister Bosco, we have a very famous wall in the workroom — it’s a pink brick wall. Towards the end of filming, we were all searching around the set for something we could take. I stole a bunch of cotton swabs for your ears. But Bosco took a pair of scissors and cut a hole in the brick wall of the set — it’s pink fabric.
Our season was a season with a lot of diverse individuals, all strong-minded in our own ways. But despite us all being so different, we are a close cast. As we’re talking, I’m having texts pop up in our group messages. We love “Drag Race”. We love our sisters! We love the community it’s helped us build. That’s a really cool part of the show; in general, giving people a family that may not feel like they have a chosen family.
Do you have any other thoughts on how you live with diabetes?
I always remind myself that the sexiest accessory you can have with any outfit is something related to your diabetes. I just bought a case for my insulin pump that I’m going to cover in stones. I’m going to be more flashy with it. I know a lot of people try to conceal it, but I want people to be proud of the fact that they have this.
* The FreeStyle Libre 3 app is only compatible with certain mobile devices and operating systems. Please check our website for more information about device compatibility before using the app. Use of the FreeStyle Libre 3 app requires registration with LibreView.
† Fingersticks are required if your glucose alarms and readings do not match symptoms or when you see Check Blood Glucose symbol during the first twelve hours.
Important Safety Information
Failure to use FreeStyle Libre 3 system as instructed in labeling may result in missing a severe low or high glucose event and/or making a treatment decision, resulting in injury. If glucose alarms and readings do not match symptoms or expectations, use a fingerstick value from a blood glucose meter for treatment decisions. Seek medical attention when appropriate or contact Abbott at 855-632-8658 or FreeStyleLibre.us for safety info.