Behind the Paint and Glitter of Lacey Lou: From Navy School, To Drag Queen

As a heterosexual woman in a relationship with a man and a drag queen with an active presence on Birmingham’s LGBT scene, I get shit from people not knowing my background and thinking I’m just some ‘faghag’ making novelty of the gay community. As drunken men in smoking areas of Birmingham’s gay bars question my validating as a drag queen just because I do not possess a penis between my legs.

Queer is not defined by who I let in my pants, who I find myself opposite at the altar and who I spend my life with, but my ability to make my stand against crumbling institutions of expectation, regulation and the desire to fit in the norm. A person’s biological sex or gender identity should and will not prohibit or inhibit their participation in an art form that mocks gender. Do not assume someone’s story. This is my story, how I found myself go from Navy school to the drag scene in the space of a few years and why I’m so happy I did so.

A Confused & Bratty Lacey Lou // 7/8 years old

13451096_10154001713519902_1955944877_n

My family were in the army and after my parents divorced when I was 5. I remember living mostly with my mother. She worked a lot which included night shifts at the hospital where she was an A&E nurse. Because of her long hours with the NHS, a lot of my childhood was sided with babysitters and nannies. My story starts wit my babysitter’s daughter. Let’s call her ‘S’. All my memories of ‘S’ can be counted on one hand: she liked the film The BFG, she wore big Dr Martens, she had short blocky hair, she was older than me and in her early teens, she encouraged and made me perform sexual acts on her which I didn’t want or enjoy.

As a child you have a sponge mind. You absorb words and experiences as black and white with no full understanding of what any of it really means. I didn’t know what S’s behaviour meant, but I had a feeling of it being wrong, something not to talk about, of embarrassment and shame. But I was a curious child. I would go on throughout my younger years exploring less advanced sexual behaviour with other girls. I presume this was out of confusion and curiosity as I did not enjoy it and again, felt embarrassed.

I liked making things as a child, from bits lying around, boxes, cardboard, various army materials my dad would have. I would sit in a corner with my blanket and cut and glue away. I liked tv shows like changing rooms and art attack and felt jealous I could never make the stuff he did!

Explorative & Unfashionable // 12/13 years old

13436032_10154001716004902_1664710910_n

I enrolled in Pangbourne College in 2003 due to a few reasons. The military lifestyle and the beginning of the war in the Middle East was sending my mother on operational tours. I had been getting in with the wrong people leading to me being arrested for theft of three stores. Mum had had enough. The collage was a Navy background coeducational boarding school from year 7 to upper sixth. With less than a few hundred students (mostly all from wealthy backgrounds), I found myself as an outsider, on a reduced tuition from the military. Day one and I wore vibrant pink oversized skater girl trousers, an O’neil surfers t-shirt and proudly spiked my short hair. I was different to them from the start and for the first time, I felt it. I enjoyed dressing up but definitely had no idea about this so called idea of fashion. For the first few years I would go on to be called names and mocked for my appearance with ‘Russian Lesbian’ being the predominant insult, the inventiveness of children, aye?

Anxiety & regrets // 13-18 years old

13444214_10154001716254902_2129912272_n

I remember the day I first experienced anxiety. I was at our new home after a school trip holiday and my mum introduced me to our neighbours’ daughter. She was 13, the same age as me, but bubbly and full of confidence. She invited me to go bowling with her friends the next day. As my mum closed the door saying goodbye to her, I had a wave of panic telling her I really, really, really didn’t want to go. This anxiety has stayed with me peaking and troughing throughout the years and, of course, we didn’t know what it was or where it had come from back then. I started to grow my hair out and tried to dress more ‘normal’ after having the piss taken out of me and being mistaken for a boy on occasion.

The mid teens hit and I started putting weight on which added to my long list of anxiety. The anxiety crippled me and I had no confidence, it affected relationships with friends, with boys, with school work and resulted in me becoming rude and disruptive. Attempting relationships with boys would barely get to kissing and once at kissing, I would break up with them from the pressure I put on myself. In these years I would lose my virginity to a boy I barely knew, whilst steaming drunk, hating it the whole time and feeling the same embarrassment with ‘S’ all over again.

The party girl years // 2K11/2K12

13457745_10154001717419902_1685174534_n

I moved to Birmingham and began studying Events Management at university. During this I went through a bad break up. So, I turned to alcohol and partying. This became a hobby I adopted for 2 years which seemed to help. I lost the break up weight and spent hundreds on new clothes, new hair and new nails. I looked good, but was a broken person inside with a broken bank balance to match. My anxiety peaked at this point, the worst it had ever been leaving me unable to leave the house unless drunk or with the plan of drinking. I still felt I was that chubby teen girl so when drunk, I would often throw up the teeny meal I had eaten. I began failing uni to lack of attendance from either being hungover or too anxious to leave my room. I would beat myself up about the shit person I was being and for ruining my own plans of getting a degree. When drunk I would try and transfer the pain and anger into art, then get pissed off it wouldn’t translate into anything. I was shit at the one thing I loved and shit at everything else. I was creatively stunted and didn’t know who I was. Then came the depression.

My Gay Family

13457597_10154001717844902_1755335117_n

While at uni, I made a new friend who repeatedly suggested I work at the bar he was working at and that I would love it. I reluctantly went to my trial shift the Friday before Birmingham Pride and loved it. I loved the welcoming of the staff, I loved to diverse customers but mostly I loved that I felt home in a group of people fighting for the same thing I felt so strongly about, EQUALITY. I worked my first Pride and felt electric with pride. It was a beautiful weekend and I felt like I had a home. The topic of my sexuality didn’t seem to come up much, people knew I was in a relationship with a man and that was that. I was referred to as a ‘fag hag’ at times, which I hated and promptly shut down.

I went on to work in marketing some of the venues, I had big ideas of creating a more theatrical angle for the gay village, more performers, more colour, more glitter, more wow. However, it stayed merely ideas and I didn’t get very far as I was let go as there was ‘no role for me’. I was brought up with the work ethic, you work hard, you get rewarded, how different the competitive unfair world of business is.

Lacey Lou

Unknown-13

Being a female drag queen, in a straight relationship, in the gay community is a challenge. However this subject is a bit of a taboo as we are small in numbers within gay communities. Gay communities can be glorious spaces of progressive ideas in terms of equality, if you supported this too, why would you not want to be part of it? I am here, part of the gay community because of my past and because I see gender, sexuality, race and disability and recognise the importance of acknowledging the struggle of being a minority. I do not see it as a reason to treat someone differently based on how they are born.

I have a term I use when asked questions as to why I’m here working within the LGBT+ community, I call it ‘the transferable feeling’. I’m a woman and from a young age I have been repeatedly made aware of my gender through a difference in treatment. My ideas have been disregarded based on my gender, I’ve been belittled, catcalled and obscenely shouted at based on what’s between my legs, I’ve been disrespected in situations because I have a vagina.

‘The transferable feeling’ is the feeling of being treated differently based on how you are born. So, as I don’t fully know the pain of growing up gay and all the issues that come with it, I know and bare that unacceptable feeling of mistreatment, and that is the fundamental aspect which needs to be recognised and used to link us. Yet there is still misogyny and racism within the LGBT+ community which seems like the most backward concept. There are times when I’m treated differently within the community based on my gender and sexuality, for those that also endure it I share this, the progressive and equality fierce work you are doing within the community is greater than the actions and attitudes of few.

We are part of an exciting progressive age in Birmingham’s LGBT+ community (and universally) where I meet many young adults like myself, who do not consider gender, race, sexuality and disability as an issue to necessarily address, let alone as a topic to mistreat. We are a new generation of positive accepting attitudes that include ALL types of people. Being a drag queen for me, is the perfect example of progressive artistry that’s relevant now, it’s a fuck you to gender expectations, to misogyny, homophobia and racism, yet more palatable and dressed up in colour and glitter. Most importantly it’s a talking point, a powerful way to spread the equality message. We cannot continue to create labels and restraints in order to figure and understand people, we are not black and white but a range of shades of rainbow. We must continue to stand proud of who we are, who we love, how we are born and spread this message fiercely to break down the history of societal norms and expectations for us all.

I’m still dealing with a lot of issues from past and present experiences like we all are and my advice to you if you are in a similar place is this.

Believe in yourself and never let anyone kill your passion.

Lacey Lou is a friend of HISKIND, one quarter of the Housewives of Birmingham , pioneer of glitter, founder of Glitter Shit and a queen we consider to be one of our country’s best.

You can catch her with the other Housewives of Birmingham at the Nightingale nightclub.

Words – Lacey Lou
Header Image – Antony Collins