Why do you do drag? Birmingham based drag queen China Dethcrash reveals the real side of drag.
The most recurrent question I am asked is ‘Why do you do drag?’ It’s a big question, with a multitude of long-winded responses that I’m tired of giving to pissed folks in the Nightingale (Birmingham’s oldest gay club) smoking area. Drag appeared in my life quite organically, and it spoke to me as it seemed to be the binding element for my interests and experiences.
When I was young I was completely oblivious to the ugly towering structure of gender. I would scrape my hair into pigtails and play dolls, then catch frogs in the school pond, climb trees, kick a ball. My childhood would have been bloody brilliant, had the other kids not noticed my flouting of their norms, and attempted to beat me back into submission. Every day I would be reprimanded for doing an activity that was ‘for girls!’, shooed away by tight knit packs of girls and beaten up by the boys.
I lingered somewhere in between them, but I was cut off from both.
The school system was brutal, as it was for every outsider, and I was bullied, threatened and beaten until I went to college and was the most ‘straight-acting’ I would be, earning praise from my friends that I wasn’t one of those gays that rubs their sexuality in your face.
I’d always loved art and craft, building something from nothing, I appreciate everything where you can see the workmanship, and used to spend hours and hours painting the most photo-realistic portraits of my friends and family (always women) that I could. I was always encouraged and supported by women, they shaped me, I have always admired them, always coveted their intangible power. I noticed that power could be transferred to men because my dad is unconsciously a huge drag fan. Tubs from the League of Gentlemen, Dame Edna, Vince from The Mighty Boosh; crossdressing has always been a cornerstone of British humour, and I wanted a piece of that somehow.
My upbringing left me repressed, depressed and riddled with anxiety. I hated everything about myself, centrally my squashed femininity. I was isolated and rude to those who dared encroach, I couldn’t meet the gaze of anyone who spoke to me, I loathed everything about myself as it didn’t seem to fit into this system that my (straight) friends could navigate so well.
When I came to University the building blocks of feminism and gender criticism were already in place, and it was slowly drawn out in that space. I read ‘Gender Trouble’ by Judith Butler (not all of it, I have a low attention span), and everything crystallised.
I used my food allowance for that week on Max Factor panstick, gel liner and a set of four ugly eye shadows, and carved feminine features over the top of mine and got my fucking life in my bedroom for the first time.
Naturally it had to continue, and after a few months of practice and making a costume, I was trotting delightedly through the streets behind the Yeast London Cabaret, spurred on by my sister Rodent Decay, and I was introduced to a beautiful underground culture where gender did not matter, it was the Utopia I’d dreamt school should be, but with more shots and poppers and meaty tucks.
Everyone, be they drag or not, was performing gender on a conscious level. It was a delicious hodgepodge of femme queens, bears, t-girls, twinks, who had found communality in their desire for self-expression. I was welcomed, I was celebrated for the bravery of adorning myself in a way that felt true to myself. I realised how lucky my sisters who could afford to go to London were- it holds the monopoly on queer culture, that brand of anything-goes gender bending only exists there. It was a world away from the tired old dive-bars I’d frequented around the country as a miserable 18-year-old, where men wanted ‘real men’, and you would either be shamed or fetishized for your femininity. The first words ever said to me in a gay bar in Leeds were ‘you’re a pretty thing, I’d tear it up and make you cry.’
Drag spilled into my life and enriched it. I’d found my space in the world where these arbitrary laws of how to be were just bullshit, and I couldn’t return to following those codes. I became more confident, I realised that I am a complex person with different facets. I want the freedom to drink pints and watch action films and scratch my balls in a pair of joggers, and go out on the weekend and sip pink drinks and wave my wrists around to campy pop, and I’ve spent so long with this deconstructed idea of gender that it just seems fucking ridiculous that gay men haven’t grasped that we all contain multitudes, that femininity isn’t a shameful or undesirable trait.
I continued to do drag in Birmingham because I felt that the club scene was failing, it had a duty to provide this escapism for those clever enough to know that gender is a lie, and educate those who hadn’t woken up to that fact yet. The gay community is so derisive of its own, the feminine is shamed and lambasted, and I sought to change that.
I’ve dipped my fingers in many pies, I’ve been involved in some brilliant projects, I have partied in the strangest places and I want Birmingham to experience the richness and fun of a nightlife where anything goes. Not everyone has to don heels and acrylic nails, but the cohabitation of a space and mutual appreciation of everyone’s choices and aesthetics makes a club so much fucking better.
Words – China Dethcrash
Header Image – Antony Collins
Be sure to catch the FABULOUS family of queens at the Nightingale