During pandemic lockdown, Kyne Santos missed performing drag. To keep herself busy, she started dressing in drag and recording TikToks where she discussed math riddles. She thought a few people might appreciate them. But Santos underestimated the appeal of her videos — she has amassed more than 1 million followers and math teachers even direct their students to her TikToks.
“I started it just as a silly little pandemic thing,” Santos, 23, of Kitchener, Canada, told TODAY Parents. “I started these videos because I like wearing sparkly dresses and because I enjoy math."
Growing up, Santos was always good at math. Her father was an engineer and encouraged math skills. But a career in a field like engineering or science didn’t always feel right for her. Then a high school teacher introduced Santos to a different side of math.
“My math teachers had encouraged me to do these math contests,” she said. “They were really tests that required much more creative thinking than a regular math test … They were all about problem-solving and using really creative methods and that was my introduction into pure math.”
Santos attended the University of Waterloo to study math; that's where she started performing drag. Santos was even a contestant on season 1 of Canada's "Drag Race." But she never imagined these aspects of her life would intersect.
“I had never thought to blend these two worlds together. I was a math student by day and a drag queen by night and I didn’t think my drag fans were interested in hearing about math,” she explained. “I thought it was going to be such a niche niche audience but it turns out there’s more people interested in math being taught by a drag queen than I anticipated.”
As her TikToks exploded in popularity, Santos started receiving questions that she answers in videos. She covers topics such as the digits of Pi, how many holes a straw has, financial literacy or how the random shuffle button on Spotify works. Sometimes she still feels wowed that she's educating kids with her videos.
“It’s most surprising when I hear that teachers are playing my videos in the class, that students are showing my videos to their teachers, that it’s starting a discussion in classrooms or even at dinner tables,” she said. “That’s the really great blessing.”
Santos doesn’t plan her lewks to match the math questions she tackles. It’s all based on what she feels like wearing.
“I just love the idea of me talking about some obscure math fact and just wearing the most ridiculous outfit and not even drawing any attention to it. I just think it’s so funny,” she said. “You’re drawn in by the flashy costumes and the sequins and the rhinestones and then once I have your attention that’s when I’m going to hit you with the facts.”
While it started out as a fun activity, the TikToks also expand how people think of drag queens.
“People are coming around to the idea that drag isn’t just locked down to the nightclub that drag can be mainstream. Drag can be story times and also math teachers,” she said. “The drag community, in general, they love the idea of pushing the boundaries on what drag can do because it just means more opportunities and visibility for all of us.”
But Santos also hopes to show young LGBTQ+ people that they can be a part of math and STEM.
“Never once did I see a character on a TV show that was like a feminine boy and that contributed to my feeling of being so alone in this world. And it definitely made me feel like I can never be a gay boy in STEM,” she said.
“If we can start having more visibility and more representation for LGBT people, not just as comedy actors, but as mathematicians, as scientists, as doctors, it can give people a different idea of what it means to be in this community. It can help kids understand who they are. It can help parents understand their kids.”