INTERVIEW: Miss Fire Island Zelina Duval

Zelina Duval (aka Raymond Nieves) is an artist, entertainer and old soul. She was crowned Miss Fire Island in September of 2022. We caught up with her at the Ice Palace to discuss her perspective on life as she approached the end of her reign; the new Miss Fire Island will be crowned on Sept. 2, 2023.

Fire Island News (FIN): Tell me about Zelina.

Zelina Duval (ZD): Zelina Duval is a queen who is very compassionate with what she does, and loves everyone. She spreads love and equality to all.

FIN: Tell me about Raymond.

ZD: Raymond is very passionate about his work. He loves what he does. Raymond is a hardworking individual with a very good spirit and positive energy. Always.

Headshot photos courtesy of the interview subject.

FIN: I’ve seen your picture out of drag and if you don’t mind me saying so, Raymond is very handsome.

ZD: Thank you so much (laughs). I don’t see it at times, but I am very thankful for that. Thank you so much!

FIN: What made you decide you wanted to compete in Miss Fire Island?

ZD: Competing in Miss Fire Island was something on my bucket list. I always wanted to win a crown for myself. Two years ago, I competed for Miss Fire Island the first time, but didn’t place or win. So, I said, let me try it a second time. When I won Miss Fire Island at the 2022 pageant, I was very surprised. I was in shock. I got very emotional. I laughed, I cried. I didn’t think that I had the potential in drive and confidence to do it. When they called me as a winner, Miss Fire Island, I was head over heels.

FIN: What kind of year has it been for you?

ZD: It’s been liberating and hard work. I feel blessed and thankful for everything that I’ve done. It’s not just about a crown, or the jewels and the fame of it. I met a lot of other people before me that have won Miss Fire Island from the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties. Being Miss Fire Island was a blessing in disguise for me. It made people see who I am. I represent the island with dignity. And whoever becomes the next Miss Fire Island, I want them to continue that legacy for people that came before us. A lot of people have fought and all just to be here.

FIN: Tell me about that tattoo on your arm.

ZD: Yes, it’s funny you asked me that. I got this one day on a rainy day. It says, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Couture is in the hand of the artist.’ It’s a quote I could resonate with because beauty is within everyone. And being a cosmetologist doing hair and makeup for almost 20 years, I’m not just a teacher. I’m just more of an influencer to bring people up. Never to put no one down. And couture is about being who you want to be. Always respect yourself and others that are around you.

FIN: Tell me about your great dresses.

ZD: I’m very flexible when it comes to having things that are made for me. Yes, I love the things that queens have out now, but I like to have things that are customed to my body and my own frame. And I would love to mention a special shout out to someone that has been a mentor for me in my journey of starting in drag as a baby drag and to where I’m at now as Miss Island, and that’s to Jose Disla Jr., formerly known as one of the legendary icons of the House of Extravaganza JMD Couture. Jose – without you collaborating with me, my vision wouldn’t come to life.

FIN: Are you with the Imperial Court of New York?

ZD: I am. I joined the court because I wanted to show versatility and give back to the community and show support as well as give the best advice and guidance to anyone that is transgender, queer, confused, doesn’t know what they want, straight, gay, bi, whoever they want in between that they’re not alone. The Imperial Court embraces everyone. We support causes like God’s Love We Deliver, GMHC [Gay Men’s Health Crisis], hospices for people with AIDS, we’ve done it all.

FIN: Your tenure as Miss Fire Island is a little unusual as there was a transition in owner/management of the Ice Palace during your reign. How did that affect it?

ZD: Honestly, it really didn’t affect my reign. I didn’t know what to expect when I was crowned Miss Fire Island. It has been a beautiful reign for myself. I’m pleased with the new management and looking forward to seeing what they bring for the future. And I can’t wait to give up my crown to the next queen and see what she does. I would love to give a special shout out to Ariel Sinclair, who’s a former Miss Fire Island, Brenda Dharling, Champagne Bubbles, all the locals from the small businesses, the locals that have their homes here, and those before us who have passed on – like Joyce Rogers.

FIN: Of course … Joyce Rogers.

ZD:  She was big – a pioneer and a staple. The last time I saw her is when won Miss Fire Island and she was very happy. She gave me a hug and a kiss. Then, she took a picture with all the queens that were there. That’s the last picture that we have of us. I wish she was here – I know she’s here in spirit, wearing sparkles and with her little doggy. She’s was a beautiful spirit.

FIN: Are there any unique challenges in being a drag queen of color you would like to discuss?


ZD: Being a drag queen of color … the challenges are much the same as other performing arts. I feel with us … drag queens of color from the LGBTQ+, straight. gay, bi, trans, gender fluid, and all of us in between … I feel it’s a little bit harder for us because they don’t respect us. They see us more as a novelty than being respected as individuals, as performers, advocates, and being someone that’s for the community – not just a look – I’m more than just hair, makeup, and a wig. I love and want to give back. If someone is in need of something and I have it, I will give it to them. That’s just me in general. Becoming Miss Fire Island was also a blessing because it opened a lot of doors for me. It made people see me in the way I need to be seen, respected. This is an island that we can all come in and be ourselves no matter what we are or do. This is our little Zen happy place.

FIN: What do you consider a transitional period in your life, either in the recent or distant past?

ZD: Hmmm. Never had that question asked to me. There was a point that I was in a dark place. I was in a dark hole of a place. Everybody that has can relate with the anxiety – how you look, who you love and be with you through everything. I’ve learned how to love myself, how to embrace myself and be okay with who I am. If I don’t love myself, I can’t love anybody else. Even being Miss Fire Island taught me how to have confidence, beauty, and grace. I’ve given my grace and showed it to everyone throughout the island and beyond the island. I represent myself with dignity and class. And as a person of color, it’s very difficult for us. We have to go five steps harder with making sure the hair and makeup is good, the performances are good, knowing your words, while not being sloppy and rude and with venues and businesses because you never know what can happen from here. Right now, at 42 years old, I’m in a higher frequency and see things from a different level. Fire island brought me to this place. At the end of the day, with the title or not, it just brought me to a better place.

FIN: When it’s time to relinquish your crown in September, what is next for Zelina?

ZD: When that happens on Sept. 2, she’s going to take some time for herself. Recuperate, get herself together … you might see her doing another pageant or mentoring, helping someone, sponsor them. She might demonstrate, become part of the board, or own a house out here – anything can happen. From here I’m very happy being a part of Fire Island history.