I REALLY Heart Drag Queens
I didn’t know what a Lesbian was until I was 14. I had heard the term Gay, but only when used for men and even then it was in the confines of a pretty Catholic upbringing. I had no Gay friends (as far as I knew). I didn’t know or understand the term Bisexual until I watched the film ‘Chasing Amy’ when I was 16 and even then it didn’t exactly bring up anything particularly constructive beyond the usual stereotypes of Bisexuals making a ‘choice’ to be Straight or Gay depending on who they were with at the time. Even Willow, one of my teenage role models from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, always considered herself having discovered being a Lesbian rather than just admitting to the fact that she had loved Oz, a cis-gendered male, before loving Tara. Queer role models were not exactly easy to find for a relatively sheltered Catholic school girl from Cardiff.
I started going out and drinking with my friends when I was 16. I managed to get a relatively realistic looking fake ID and was super proud that a couple of the establishments in town would fall for it. For this purpose (even though it was half a lifetime ago now), I won’t mention the bars or the people working in them by name as I would hate for them to get into any trouble (it was a really good fake ID… and having been a bartender since then I know how difficult it can be to age-guess sometimes).
We only had one rock/alternative bar at the time. And it was only worth going to on a Wednesday when the drinks were ridiculously cheap, and that was a school night. So Fridays/Saturdays were for extreme cheese. 70’s, 80’s and 90’s hits and even some musical mash ups. Think Steps, S Club 7 and all of the wonderful glory in its heyday. So a group of us underage, naive girls would head to our local Drag Club. Of course we would flirt and drink, not really thinking of the dangers that could come out of it. But we were young and stupid. There was something about being in a Gay bar which made us feel like we were free to dance and have fun without any of the usual come-ons and awkward conversations which would follow when we explained to these older guys that we were too young and not interested.
We managed to make friends and I slowly got to know people outside of my sheltered Catholic upbringing. Soon we were meeting up on Fridays with larger groups of people. We were talking about Gay rights, Pride, drag and I was slowly learning about the importance of pronouns, prejudice and checking my language (I am still learning. We all are). It was the best learning I received from my final year in High School.
We got to know a few of the Drag performers and I’m pretty sure that they knew how old we were. Years later I spoke to one of them and they said that they often got groups of young people coming to their shows as a gateway into the Gay community and that it was safer to let them come into that bar, underage, and keep them safe from the bullying they could experience in other clubs than it was to kick them out for having a drink.
It says a lot that I only really remember three instances of prejudice from my time hanging out at these clubs (and one was on the street, not in the bar itself).
Once was when I was being chatted up by a guy while I was watching a Drag show with my friends. I told him I wasn’t interested and even went so far as to tell him my age (he was in his 20s). He proceeded to come on to me despite this and was saying things along the lines of ‘age doesn’t matter’ and ‘the more fun for me’. It was very intrusive. It was this point that one of the Drag Queens clocked the incident and swooped in like some beautiful protective mother hen. She started berating him from the stage over the microphones and calling him out for his penis size and all manner of possible inadequacies. Of course he shouted back at her calling her all sorts of triggering words which I won’t repeat here. But she just laughed and sent him on his way, using her Queenly power to summon the bouncers to escort him out. She was a bloody hero. I had seen people take on stage abuse at things such as pantomime before, but nothing like this and she just shrugged it off as just another day ‘like water off a duck’s back’ and went back to work.
The second time was while we were all dancing. The Queen on stage had a set where she would throw paper plates into the crowd and get us to all dance to ‘Zorba The Greek’. As a Greek girl myself, this was always my favourite part of the night. During this dance, a man came over and started to grind against me and my friends, groping us and generally being very touchy feely. A bunch of the guys we were hanging out with saw this and began to grind against him, making him feel very awkward. He moved away immediately but as this was a Gay club, he couldn’t exactly go and say they were acting inappropriately so he just left us alone. The power was reversed. It was a pretty special thing to watch. Especially as if something like that had gone down in any other bar in Cardiff it would have most likely ended up with a fight.
The third time I remember was when me and a few of our friends were walking back to the taxi rank. We were being wolf whistled and cat called as we walked down the street which was most commonly known at the time for housing the most gay bars. A guy started following me and trying to talk to me. One of the girls I was with held my hand and told him to back off. He proceeded to shout homophobic abuse at her and suggest that he could change us etc. etc… the usual garbage. He even suggested that we both share him. She turned around and kicked him in the groin and we all ran away laughing. I think about how I would feel in that situation if I was alone and not with a group of Queer warriors and I feel a little bit sick.
These experiences are so tame in comparison to what so many of my Queer friends have experienced. I was so lucky. I was coming from a place of cis-gendered, white, able-bodied, middle class privilege that I didn’t even know about. As I grew up I met friends who had been thrown out of their homes, abandoned by their families, beaten, abused and generally had to fight tooth-and-nail just to be who they were.
I have also had the privilege of having been a ‘passing’ Bisexual. I have known about my sexuality for as long as I knew there was a word for it (though even now the language is constantly changing – I suppose I would consider myself Pansexual now that I am more aware of Non-Binary, Intersex and Transgender people. But I identified as Bi for so long it is just a term I am comfortable with). But I have only ever introduced my family to my cis-male partners. This was not through any choice, it just so happened that many of my long term relationships were with men. As such I have never had to ‘come out’ to my family, despite all of my friends knowing about my sexuality and me never having been particularly closed off about it.
This year I became single for the first time in five years. I was single at 30 and it was actually incredibly liberating. It was at this time that I got offered the colouring book ‘I Heart Drag Queens’. As I was coming up with ideas for the book (mostly watching ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’, ‘To Wong Foo’, ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’ and listening to the soundtrack to Rikki Beadle-Blair’s musical ‘Stonewall’ on repeat) I began reminiscing about the fun I had growing up in the gay community in Cardiff. The Drag Queens, the parties, the nights out, but mostly how safe I felt to be myself and explore my sexuality. You often hear Drag Queens described as ‘Fierce’ and you have no idea how true that is.
I knew that when the book came out I wanted to make sure there were at least a few pages dedicated to representing different genders and sexualities, as well as the different types of Queen including Bearded Queens, Androgynous Queens, Fashion and Pageant Queens and Plus-Sized Queens. I wanted to represent different races and body types as best I can and, most importantly, I didn’t want it to fall into the category of Drag Queens just being ‘guys in dresses’. I really wanted to show their fierce beauty. I hope I’ve done that in some small way as well as made it fun.
With the launch of ‘I Heart Drag Queens’ in October I knew I was going to be posting about this a lot on social media and all over the internet. So, earlier in the year, I decided to finally tell my parents about my sexuality. It was the easiest conversation it could have possibly been. I knew they had always suspected and I had never gone out of my way to hide my affections and attractions to women, but I knew that by not openly telling them I was keeping them out of an important part of who I was.
Again I note my privilege in that I know how lucky I am to come from a family of amazingly understanding and open people. Despite being a majority Catholic family, my family have always been accepting, caring and loving towards all of us and go out of their way to understand and fight for us on a daily basis. Little freedoms like not having to check my pronouns or language or hide my crushes for celebrities around them are finally gone. I could not be happier for having such an amazing family and friendship circle who is always encouraging me to be myself. If there is one thing I regret it would be waiting so long to let them know officially (even if they always had an inkling).
So, while working on a colouring book may not seem like the most enlightening or life-changing experience, I just wanted to share with you a few of the thoughts that have been floating around in my head since I started work on it earlier in the year. ‘I Heart Drag Queens’ is now available to buy on Amazon and from most local retailers. Working on this book was an honour and a privilege and I hope I did some of those beautiful, fierce and strong queens proud; because I really do ‘Heart’ Drag and everything it represents in my small little life of growing up in the LGBTQ+ community.
But mostly, I hope that the book is still fun! Fill it with rainbows, glitter and sparkle and enjoy every page. I know I did. Patreons can view preview pages from ‘I Heart Drag Queens’ over on my Patreon now. You can also view previews of pages from the book via the ‘Look Inside’ option on Amazon, or visit my Gallery here.