How to Lose a Drag Competition
When I first came to London as a 19-year-old art student my favourite thing to do was get so drunk that I would get thrown out of nightclubs. I'd dress in a sequin leotard, and under the influence of multiple glasses of snakebite commit minor acts of arson against any nightclub I ended up in. I remember once ripping off all the coloured jells over the lights in one. As the bouncer carried me out, I remember screaming ‘Did I win?’ Another time me and a friend pulled down a huge canopy covering an entire dance floor and were wrestled down the stairs by the bouncers. While they were trying to get us out, I produced a ring and started trying to propose to my friend. Looking back I am fully in support of my young anarchic self. But I had the revelation recently that maybe I did these things because I was angry at society. I’d been bullied throughout school and had been left with this diabolical mix of total self-belief and deep feelings of rejection.
I remember seeing queer performance artists and club kids like The-o, Scottee, and Jodie Harsh. And rather than trying to be friends with them I was filled with a deep burning jealousy at their success. I decided to hate them before they could reject and hate me. I would go to their night clubs drunk out of my mind and wonder why I wasn’t being ushered into the club-kid scene with open arms and red carpet. I was an angry young gay. I think angry young heterosexuals do things like punching each other to express their anger. While I would do things like spinning around the kebab shop squirting burger sauce all over myself.
At that time my performing career consisted of me dressing up as princess Diana in her wedding dress (with full 10 meter long train) which I'd sewn myself. I’d then proceed to get very drunk and sing 'Candle in the Wind' in the first person in karaoke bars. Really deep down I wanted to be a popstar but every band I’d been in had quickly disbanded probably due to my egomania. So instead, I was a malevolent performance artist doing things like fucking a decapitated head on stage to classical music, naked, covered in tomato sauce. I also did a brief stint of having rap battles at highbrow art gallery private views. I was rarely invited to do performances and never paid.
Then the early seasons of Rupaul’s drag race convinced me that drag was the way to satiate my creative drive and need for attention. The first drag competition I entered was Drag Idol in Brighton. I wore a neon yellow skater dress with blue plaits and sang a 1980’s style song I’d written about dating a gym bunny. It was messy in every aspect, and I lost to a gothic drag queen called Susie Spooks. Then I lost in Portsmouth to someone called Betty Wouldn’t singing 'Oom Pah Pah.' I celebrated by missing the train home and getting my drag insulted in a gay bar by Noel from the pop band Hearsay.
A few years later I entered Drag Idol again wearing tights on my head filled with light up balloons singing a medley of 'Hare Krishna' and 'Oh Happy Day.' I hadn’t completely grasped that the competition was looking for a bawdy songstress to entertain drunk gays on a Friday night – not a gay GG Allin or the next Leigh Bowery. Or maybe I had grasped that, but in my mind, I was just so talented that what they were looking for didn’t matter. One time I dressed in gold armour, went a bit more mainstream and got through to the next round. Another time in a purple sparkly conical bra I lost out to Victoria Scone in the semi-finals in Birmingham. That time I celebrated by getting drunk, missing my train, and sleeping in a bush.
At this point I had entered a maniacal state where I wanted a competition win so badly that I entered every drag competition in the country. I occasionally go into these demented one-track states of mind. I thought the only way I could have a singing career was doing drag, and the only way I could have a drag career was by winning a competition. I didn’t have the social confidence to make it happen for myself. I wanted some rich well-connected gay to discover me. I think another part of me wanted some token of acceptance from the gay community. And I got it in Portsmouth. Yes, I have nothing to do with Portsmouth except that I was the winner of Portsmouth Drag Race. I was embroiled in a deciding lip sync in which I ripped all my clothes off and split my lip. But I won $250 and the penultimate spot on the Portsmouth Pride Stage. I sang my song ‘Let’s Never Have Kids’ in front of loads of families trying to enjoy gay pride.
After that it seemed like I was having a fledgling drag career with a handful of paid gigs. My look had accidentally strayed from non-binary creature to being somewhat reminiscent of London drag queen Heidilicious. Dressing up as a girl had always been something I’d done – it was natural expression of part of me. But it became kind of calculated – I was doing it because I thought that’s how I could get gigs. Really, I wanted to be dressing up as a cute intergender alien and singing my own counter cultural pop songs. Drag queen was the closest viable career I thought I could get to that. Though once when I lost Drag Idol at the Old Ship in Limehouse, Baga Chipz slurred at me, “You’re not a drag queen you’re a pop star.”
I was trying to have this drag career while living on a small boat on the London canal which would occasionally fill up with water. A freezing partially submerged ship was not the ideal environment for transforming into a stunning inter-galactic woman. A load of my drag got wrecked by canal water, then I fell in love and ran off to Switzerland, and then everyone got the Corona virus and sealed themselves inside their houses for a year and a half.
During that time something changed for me. I accepted that no magic rich well connected gay was going to come along, I was going to have to make it happen for myself. So in 2022, I found a bar that would let me put on a night of surreal live music cabaret and I made myself very stressed trying to get people to come. Astro’s Dreamhouse stared Dairy King, The Trashettes, and a friend dressed as a giant piece of toast. It was pretty successful. I realised all this time maybe I'd been envying certain people while they'd been working to make it happen for themselves. Though I’d say there are definitely confident people that are better at networking than me. Usually if someone can benefit my career, I will avoid them like the plague out of some mix of Victorian social morals and inner-child self-sabotage.
Still, I kept entering competitions, like I was an addict. I entered Pride’s got Talent, Drag Idol, Top of the Slops, Not Another Drag Competition. I think what I wanted at this point was enough exposure to get enough gigs that I don’t have to talk to the Job Centre anymore. Yes, yes, such ambition, such wild fantastic dreams. I’d also gotten really good at what I do. And let me be an arrogant aging diva for a moment - I think I was better than some of the people that got through. I normally wear sunglasses to disguise how irritated I am when I lose. But at Not Another Drag Competition I gave myself the gift of not standing up there pretending I’m happy for the people that won. Instead, I stormed off and smoked a thousand cigarettes – and I don’t smoke.
In these moments some paranoid part of my brain starts to wonder if there's something I did that turned a certain venue against me. And some childhood part of my psyche says that people don't want me in their gang. I know that's not really the case. I have to remember the sacred words of Baga Chipz, “You’re not a drag you’re a pop star.” Maybe I should do what I really want - record my songs, rather than continuing to rattle at the gates of London's already saturated queer cabaret scene. But instead, I wrote a song about how bitter I was, went back to the RVT, and sang it at Pride’s Got Talent. Lyrics included the classy line, "If you don't let her through, she will find out your addresses and send you jiffy bags of poo." I lost again, got drunk, and then posted on Instagram that I’d won. And it felt good. Now I plan to do a rare act of self-care. I’m going to give myself the ultimate prize, and that is honouring my talent by not entering anymore competitions.
Come to my night at The Glory on the 14th of June, it's called "Astro's Completely Rigged Exploitative Drag Competition - The Final." You can get tickets here: OutSavvy - Astro's Completely Rigged Exploitative Drag Competition : The Final Tickets, Wednesday 14th June 2023 at 07:30 PM - London | OutSavvy