Many British drag artists have made the decision to not audition for UK’s first ever season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. One of the main reasons being that they do not feel right about the lack of diversity in the world-famous TV show. With Drag Race becoming internationally acclaimed, the LGBTQ+ community had been expecting more inclusion over the recent years. However, the American reality TV show has on very rare occasions featured non-cisgender men. In its 11 seasons, only eight transgender women have had the opportunity to compete, although most of them have not come out as trans while actually competing on the show.
The art of drag is essentially known, in mainstream media, as being practised by gay men only. This overshadows an entire community of people born female, who still identify as such but who perform as drag queens. As a matter of fact, drag can and is also carried out by non-binary people, trans-women and trans-men.
Maddy, 22, is a born female and female-identifying drag artist, otherwise known as a “bio-queen”. She works under the name of “Stella Marbles”, but is also commonly known on the scene as the “Masked Queen”. She owes her name to her signature look being the use of extravagant and lavish masks (which she creates herself).
“It was hard at first to establish myself as a girl,” Maddy explains. “The struggle was that a lot of it had to do with the right to be there. I had “imposter syndrome” and I was worried people didn’t want me there,” she adds. “There are always going to be people who don’t like it. But what matters is that you bring something interesting and that you’re interested in the art of drag,” Maddy adds.
Society has always separated men and women, and the art of drag is no different. As RuPaul reported in an interview for the Guardian: “Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f-you to male-dominated culture.”
RuPaul’s opinion is shared by many in the community. Unfortunately, it creates a divide between those who accept drag performers from any background and those who enjoy a more traditional view of the art. For Maddie, acceptance is something many have to work on in the LGBTQ+ community. “Being a woman doing drag is the most punk thing you can do because you are going into a cis-male dominated art form,” she says. “Doing it (drag) when no one else says you should is completely twisting the expectation of what it is,” she adds. “Any identity doing drag is a transgressive thing to do,” Maddie says.
Instagram for business
Fortunately, Maddie found a strong support system in her community and is regularly booked. She discovered the “club kid scene” through Instagram and consequently learnt more about female-identifying drag performers. Social media is a space where many drag performers can educate themselves and talk to people in the LGBTQ+ community. It is also a place where drag artists can be discovered. “Instagram is probably the most important part of what I do,” Maddie continues. “Someone meets me at a show or a gig or an event and then I just give them my Instagram, and that’s how they can see my body of work, and it’s also a social networking opportunity.”
According to Maddie, Instagram is also an informative platform. She believes that what people might see on RuPaul’s Drag Race is a narrow view of drag, making Instagram a great way to find out more of what the community has to offer. The app has also been a great source of inspiration, and a way for artists to earn recognition with the use of tags and hashtags, making it easy for people to discover new profiles. As Maddie explains: “ Every day now, I’m trying to look for references through Instagram.”
Queer people have now the ability to share not only pictures and videos but also thoughts and experiences from across the globe. “Insta-famous” people are not limited to a certain demographic..drag queens and other types of alternative entertainers can be insta-famous too. This growing popularity, making drag more mainstream, is a beautiful way to finally give a voice to a group of people who used to have to fight for one.
Too much stigma to make it mainstream
Be that as it may, not everyone in the LGBTQ+ community is represented in mainstream media. Performers, such as Stella Marbles, are not the ones who would typically become “insta-famous” nor booked for the cover of the New York Magazine. “It is definitely harder to get gigs as a bio-queen artist,” Maddie says. “There is still a lot of stigma around females doing drag, they see it as a novelty,” she adds.
Stella Marbles is a drag queen respected by a lot of people, but not always considered to be on the same level as other drag queens. “People praise my drag but that doesn’t necessarily translate into them wanting to hire me,” she says. Interestingly enough, society seems to make a certain type of drag representation mainstream, often at the expense of other performers.
The silver lining of this all lays in more people (outside the LGBTQ+ community) appreciating the art of drag. Drag queens are pioneers for LGBTQ+ rights, and for them to get mainstream recognition is a step in the right direction. It also makes a once exclusive part of the community more accessible for people interested in joining the scene. Unfortunately, such acceptance always comes down to the same downside: corporations often taking advantage of the community. “It’s become more superficial and more about the followers,” Maddie says. She adds: “Brands want to use it (drag) in their marketing because it’s trendy, and then promote cis male drag above all else.”
Header photo: taken by Elliot Moody, featuring: Stella Marbles, Keela Kraving, Elle The Drag Queen and Lori-Mae Crossy