Although Switzerland is the home of the United Nations and offers a great quality of life, the contradictory reality is that Switzerland does not offer equal rights for all. Equal marriage is still not legalised and, as a Swiss citizen, I can honestly say that Switzerland can be a rather conservative society.
Recent columns of mine have looked at different aspects of drag within the LGBTQ+ community in London, but it is important to know how the community thrives – or not – in other countries and cultures. Step forward Trystan, 28, a drag queen who has been part of a groundbreaking community in Geneva.
From painter to drag queen
I meet with Trystan in his art studio at “l’Usine”, an old factory building which until now I thought only served the purpose of holding alternative parties in Geneva. Trystan finished his Master’s degree in visual arts at the HEAD, Geneva’s art school. Consequently, Trystan won an art competition with a prize of a studio at l’Usine. I am pleasantly surprised to see this side of the old party factory, as I discover Trystan’s creative space. “I get inspired by my anxieties and darker things, rather than bubbly cute themes,” Trystan says. His devil conjoined twin painting sitting behind him particularly catches my attention.
Trystan is used to painting, not only on canvas but also on his face. He has been using make-up for seven years and has gradually evolved into morphing art into drag. “My drag persona was born three years ago, on the 12th of June 2016 in London,” Trystan says. “Moon” is her name. We joke about the fact that Moon is Gemini, and a little more outgoing than Trystan’s Virgo-self. Moon came to life during Trystan’s nine months of Erasmus language exchange. “It was really London’s drag scene that made me interested in the art in the first place,” he says. Trystan recounts the amazement he felt when he was surrounded by a large group of drag queens and how this is unheard of here in Geneva. “I was more confident in London, here I have to take an Uber from home to whatever night out I am going to in drag, while in London I would take the tube in drag and feel fine,” he says.
I too always noticed this difference between London in Geneva. People do judge more on other people’s appearances in Switzerland, more so if the person happens to dress with a genderfluid and heteronormative-challenging style, never mind going full drag queen.
Moon is the product of a night out in London when Trystan was looking at the stars and imagined an entire story for his drag persona. “Moon ended up on Earth, and she can’t remember where she comes from, how old she is nor what’s really her background story. The only time Moon feels at home is when she looks up and stares at the Moon,” Trystan says. Trystan likes to write stories and draw bizarre and unique pieces. Moon is the only piece of art though, that has managed to truly come to life in Trystan’s life.
The Swiss night life
Moon is part of a house, the Haus of Genevegas, which includes another ten drag artists. I then realise that the small Swiss city I grew up in and always thought I knew everything of has an entire community that I had never heard of before. Trystan is proud to be a member of a growing drag scene, and above all, he is proud of his accomplishment as an artist.
The Haus of Genevegas challenges the Swiss night scene by organising “soirées” (party nights) in both Geneva and Lausanne. In these parties, people are free to be whoever they want, dress up as they please and express themselves without any constriction. For our Londoner readers, this might seem like a normal concept to any gay night clubs and inclusive venues, but for the Swiss party scene, these types of social gatherings are truly innovative. “We have zero tolerance for bad behaviour; if anyone is insulting or discriminatory, we immediately throw them out,” Trystan says. Not afraid to stand his ground, Trystan doesn’t mind people’s stares or comments when he walks in the streets. He is well aware of his androgynous look, even out of drag, and prefers to walk with confidence rather than fear.
Trystan and his Haus always make sure to secure their parties with the appropriate staff. “We have people from many different backgrounds and identities, from trans-people to queer, so we really want to make sure they feel that they are in a safe space,” he says. The Haus of Genevegas offers an inclusive environment that has long been needed in Geneva. Additionally, the Haus has also been organising events in Paris, Montreux, Zürich and more.
Drag isn’t an easy form of art to take up in Geneva. Trystan points out at the lack of Swiss stores that offer wigs, cost-effective make-up, clothes, never mind high heel shoes in male sizse.”We don’t really earn from our parties, they basically refund the cost of our drag,” he says. For the time being, drag isn’t a sustainable form of art in Geneva. Even more so, artists can’t really make a living from solely their art in this city. Trying to make a living from his creativity is a bold choice to make, Trystan knows it too well, however, he feels as though things are changing. “We know our worth now, before I would accept to perform for low paid gigs, thinking that this was what I was worth, now I know better,” he says. Drag queens can make up to 200 Swiss Francs (£157) for a gig in Geneva, keeping in mind that the Swiss cost of living is very high.
“Drag is precious in Geneva, we aren’t that numerous and we don’t have that many spaces for us to perform in,” Trystan says. The cutting-edge artist still struggles with his presentation and skills to sell himself as a drag performer but I am thankful to be part of a Haus that pushes the barriers and always manages to find decent gigs. Trystan is positive that the Swiss drag scene is evolving and things will get better for the community.
Trystan’s Haus features drag performers that identify as “she” and “her” when in drag, but also as “they” and “them”, “they are drag queers”, he explains. However, Tristan wishes he had drag king performers in his house too.
I ask if Trystan would not consider leaving Geneva to practice his art more freely in a bigger city, to which he answers that he would prefer changing things from within rather than just leave. “I am so proud to be a drag queen here, knowing that I could change things”, Trystan says. “Visibility is important for us because it makes people curious,” he adds.
The LGBTQ+ community in Geneva gained visibility this year by finally marching its first Pride since 2011. Of course, the Haus of Genevegas was present, and one can expect the Haus to make a return for Geneva’s Pride March in July of next year. The fact that Pride seems to have made its presence into an annual celebration of the LGBTQ+ in Geneva is absolutely revolutionary. “We exist happily in Geneva, and I do feel like things will get better for us,” Trystan says.
One thing is for sure, I will most definitely attend a Haus of Genevegas event next time I’m back in Switzerland!
Cover Photo: Taken by Lukas Beyeler