Last week I met a new collaborator, someone I’ve never met in real life before. As I downed a mug of strong tea he suspiciously approached and said “...you must be Scottee! I was expecting something quite different!” It was only then I realised those who Google me are probably expecting a drag queen, dressed in sequins and covered in milk.
As he takes his first bite out of his sticky bun he begins to question further “...if we were to work together what version of you would show up? This you or the you on the internet?” Ever since I’ve been thinking about the semi-conscious choice to de-drag.
When I first started off attention seeking as a means of paying the bills I was pulling pints at the now derelict Black Cap. I was inspired by the pub drag upon its stage, encouraged by its ability to get a room full of those who had traditionally ignored me (gay men) to pay attention. Being able to turn the often traumatic and problematic environment into your speakers corner was as exciting prospect.
I began to go out to nightclubs that other gay rejects put on - Kashpoint, The Cock, NagNagNag. I quickly realised that if I wore an outfit I’d be paid to be there. I then learnt being the most ridiculously dressed meant you got your picture in the gay rags and often this led to you becoming the DJ. My mate Buster and I then cut out the middle-gay-man and started to run our own discos for fat, queer and femme outcasts.
I became a club kid after a chance encounter with a bloke called Warboy on the 24 bus! I wore cardboard boxes, laundry bags and was obnoxious. For my 18th birthday two of my queer encouragers (for which there are many I acknowledge as pushing me towards performance), Jim and Stef bought me a book about performance art - the seed was planted.
Soon after I cut my teeth at clubs like Duckie, a south London gay knees up for bald homosexuals who listen to The Smiths. My early performances or ‘turns’ often entailed me in weird drag get up throwing Slim Fast or cake about - it was the version of me that walked about nightclubs but just 3 mins long with some clout behind it.
Drag and dressing up allowed me to be seen, which allowed me to be heard and in turn allowed me to be politically aggressive. The sequins softened the blow and meant people paid a fiver a pop, the lipstick allowed punters to understand the parameters.
Almost a decade later I’m more likely to be seen in a pair of high waisted jeggings, a fancy blouse and a Nannas shopping bag. As my collaborator finishes his sticky bun I’m forced to give an answer - but a straightforward one it is not.
Drag allowed me to invest in my desire to wear clothes marketed towards women, I now have the courage to wear those clothes every day. Perhaps my attraction to frocks abs sequins was always because it gave me license to be socially and overtly femme.
The fear and courage it takes to wear and even shop for clothes that are considered not to be made for you will never be understood by those who’ve never deflected shade whilst perusing Primark spanks, those who’ve never had to deal with the “is this for your girlfriend?” line when shopping for roomy tights in Evans, those who’ve never been refused to use dressing rooms in New Look because “your section is downstairs”
But there’s more to this than gender identity. As dramatic as this sounds I’m pretty sure Drag Race has also massively contributed to me whipping off the under lashes that once were my trademark.
Drag Race is problematic as fuck - gender exclusionary, a leader who has been quoted to endorsing that exclusion (see Ru's views on Miss World), with language and slang used in the show derogatory towards women ...and its just super naff - my aversion can also be attributed to how RPDR has homogenised queer cultures.
Drag is now is a paint by numbers affair - lace fronts, ombré blends and death drop to crescendo. What was once a protest has become a popularity contest. I’m not here to be popular, I’m here to help throw the toys out of the pram.
As a result of telly drags success it seems everyone is desperate to be a drag queen - those who float to the surface seem to have a few things in common. They are usually armed with toxic masculinity, a taste for appropriating Black American cultures (some even take to performing in blackface), confident transphobes with misogyny a concept yet to reach their vocabularies. Why would I want to be aligned with that?! Of course there is a whole bunch of brilliant artists, queens and queers pushing drag to it limits but the dominate narrative is hard to escape from.
The punk and politic has predominantly left the art form, although I acknowledge how bastions like David Hoyle, Panti Bliss, Le Gateau, Merrie Cherry and Christeene keep the pervasive p’s in place. Queer spaces have turned into living rooms, broadcasting the latest series of RPDR or hosting expensive meet and greets with its alumni.
At a time when queer space is being closed down, the world is fully tilted to the right and the shit is hitting the wind machine perhaps I’m abandoning the high heels for something more activist, more helpful, more useful. However, this shouldn’t read as me serving the T on those who paint their eyebrows or who are using drag as a means to an end - it’s just not offering me what I think is useful
However, with drag at the forefront some might say so-called bio queens or faux queens (typically cis-women or femmes who do drag are called this, in my eyes a pejorative) “adopting” (again, super problematic) the culture is a direct result of drag going pop. However, I think this brilliant broadening of drag culture has to thank brilliant queens, queers and NB folk like Holestar, Victoria Sin, Eppie Conrad, Lipsinkers, Maurice Maurice, Rubyyy Jones, Meow Meow, Miss Annabel Sings and Amy Redmond - the list goes on!
I feel now is right for me to take the drag off because of the aforementioned, with it - drag, I’ve managed to build a platform big enough to be heard but it's no longer true to who I am or what I want to be. The world is going to hell in a handbag - it’s more urgent to make political statements than focus on disposable aesthetics. Perhaps that also has something to do with it - aesthetics - perhaps I don’t want to look like everyone else at the party.
What's really interesting is since taking the garb off and finding that courage to full time femme throughout my life I’ve been welcomed into some of the biggest institutions, organisations and broadcasters in the UK - are the two related? Who knows.
Every year I throw a NYE party and this years bash is titled ‘Naff Drag’ - it's a retaliation against elitist drag parties and perhaps my last dragy knees up, naturally no one from Ru Paul’s Drag Race features on the bill. Perhaps my subconscious knew my beef with drag in its current form before I did.
If drag is to still exist in my periphery vision it has to be the version I’ve put together for NYE - POC, trans*, NB, queer, fat, working class, femme gorgeousness - centre stage, finally.
For now I’m comfortable presenting myself in and outside of my work as a fat hard femme but who knows the lashes might be stuck back on at some point, because as my neighbor Angela reminds me “life is long, Scottee. Life is long!”
All images by Holly Revell