Drag Life shares the experience of three different Perth drag performers, each unique, individually and artistically, in hope to inspire and educate readers on the world of drag as an art form and important aspect of LGBTQIA+ culture.Liberty Jackson is a drag performer coming from experiences between London and Perth. Learn about how she found her drag persona, finding a performance style and dealing with the balance between popularity and political performance.
Click to listen to the original audio, or read an edited version of the story below.Beginnings of Liberty
My stage name is Liberty Jackson. It originally came from my birth name, actually. My name is Jackson, but if I was gonna be a female it was going to be Liberty, and I kind of liked the name and embracing my feminine side. So, I guess that’s why I named my feminine side of who I am, who I am in my identity as Liberty. But at the same time, Liberty is also French for freedom. So, I thought Liberty as a revolutionary, like a freedom of Jackson, basically. I guess that’s a pretentious way of saying it.
I started in London. I originally was going to start in Perth, but I was always so intimidated because, I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the Perth scene is quite polished and everyone has a very distinct style in their make-up and their costumes and even the choreography’s always very well intact and it’s all very well-choreographed.
And I just felt, I just guess there was the intimidation of it all.
My basic introduction was of course RuPaul’s Drag Race like most people in my generation have. So, I guess my idea was, like, I didn’t want to be that idiot on stage who didn’t know what they were doing and, lo and behold, it happened. Because it started in London and finally I just had the courage to do it, I think I was 23 or 24. I started this amateur competition, it was called LipSync 1000 which was at this place in East London called The Glory. It was run by this drag persona named John Sizzle, who actually does quite a lot of stuff for Fringe all around the world including here in Perth, and he was very embracing. I didn’t make it past the first round but he saw something in me, and then he kept saying that we’ve got these open-mic nights, where it’s pretty much all queer performers and not just drag artists—not just drag entertainers—but also anyone who would like to perform or use spoken word or do music or whatever they feel necessary, and kind of comment on how they’re feeling at the moment.
A Queen is Born
Well, it was always, like, I’d thought about [drag] because I managed to stumble upon Drag Race. I thought, ‘Wow, this is something really interesting, really quite unique,’ that I never even thought about before. I’d always known about drag, but never thought it could go past—especially growing up in Perth. And I also always was influenced by British humour, as well. Stuff like Faulty Towers, Monty Python, and although that’s, I guess, in a way it has intelligence behind it, it’s definitely very silly and I feel like that’s what sparked my interest about drag. I guess there was that correlation towards that, it was something silly and goofy and it [drag] didn’t care too much about being this perfect thing—which unfortunately I feel like is what drag has somewhat become now.
Especially with Instagram, people feel like they need to be the most perfect queen ever. I’m definitely guilty of it too, I follow all the trends and stuff.
When I started, I spoke to make-up artist friend of mine who put me in drag once and then I went travelling and I just started doing things, I started practicing basically. And it was like somewhat okay, but then of course, there was stuff I still didn’t know about. I didn’t know about setting your face up before performances. So if you are working for 10 hours a night, you are gonna have to set it with powder—your foundation—so it doesn’t streak and stuff like that. The little simple things like that that you don’t think about—especially when I also taught myself how to sew and how to make stuff as well. A lot of the stuff was hand-sewn when I first started, and the hot glue, and of course none of that is durable and doesn’t last long—especially if you’re dancing and performing onstage. So, it’s just those things I guess.
You can learn so much through make-up and stuff by yourself but you can only really learn how to do drag properly if you’re on the stage performing and you’re learning how to perform.
And you’re learning what’s your strengths, what’s your weaknesses, what you need to work on, what areas you need to fix and what classes you need to take.
I always wanted to be an actor, that was always the foremost, biggest thing for me. There was always, I guess, the creative visual arts aspect too. I used to do a lot of painting and drawing, especially a lot of cartoon, graphic work as well when I was growing up, I used to make comic books when I was ten or twelve or something around those ages. I was really heavily focused on that, even when I was moving to London I was like, I want to be an actor, I want to make this work. And I guess, I don’t know, I guess it wasn’t the right place, right time. I also believe in that everything happens for a reason as well. So, of course, falling into drag as well, I found out I had quite a talent for make-up and for costuming. And then I came back here and did my diploma—just graduated actually—and I work every now and then as a make-up artist.
London to Perth
Of course, when you’re living in East London and you’re basically living off minimum wage—of course the health system is corrupt over there—and we were going through a really rough time because it was Brexit and so a lot of people were very uncertain with their government. There was Theresa May, of course, so there was a lot of, not anger, but a lot of confusion and also feeling a sense of hopelessness. Which I guess is why drag and queer entertainment was so popular in the 80s and the 90s because we had such times with Ronald Raegan and the AIDS crisis. It kind of just was—I call it the ‘kickback’—our generation now is, like, we’re politically more inclined to have an opinion, having a voice, having the need and the yearning to actually voice and speak about it, so that’s kind of where—originally, Liberty was going to be a camp drag queen who would do like a very mysterious femme fatale persona and would do lots of silly things, and she still does that—now she has more of a political driven message behind it as well.
So, that’s kind of where I started. I was very punk, so like, I would do stuff like pour Jack Daniels all over my face—about alcoholism—and do a whole number about that or I was talking about how quickly people are moved around and jump systems—so everything, it clearly had a message but it wasn’t quite being well directed which is, of course, how anyone starts as an artist, not just drag.
You need to learn the tools of the trade basically; how to put on your wig right, how to put in bobby pins correctly, how to not lose your wig, how to tuck properly, how to glue down your brows properly, all that other stuff. It took some time.
Then, unfortunately, I decided to leave London just due to the fact that I couldn’t make any money over there—a lot of personal reasons too. Not gonna get too far into it, but I had a couple of drug addictions that I wanted to get out of my system. So I came back to Fremantle, went back to my family, and then I had a massive detox; Eat Pray Love type moment. Had, like, a meditation-yoga transformation basically. I saw a psychiatrist and then after I got that all sorted I got a regular paying job in retail, I decided that I really missed, in the end, to perform—not just as an entertainer, but also in drag—so Liberty came back into the service.
Perth Drag Scene
It was harder here than I was expecting, I guess, because—and I’m not discrediting it—it’s definitely a form of art, but there was definitely a kind of a feeling like if you’re not there doing a traditional straight up entertaining routine to a top-40 song, you’re kind of dismissed—and not by the drag community but more by the queer community in general. So, whenever you get on stage—especially for like amateur nights such as Drag Factory, or there’s Drag-athon on Thursdays at the Connections night club—there was kind of an idea in your head that if the audience didn’t know the song and if it was 20 years old, or if it was just a bit too weird or avant-garde, they would just be like ‘Nah, not interested.’ The negativity ends up like dying down a bit and people start really coming on-board to what you’re doing. So, I’m very fortunate for that so at least I’ve had some people in my corner I guess, if that makes any sense.
The Perth Community
I feel like [the Perth scene] is always going to be stuck, just because if you’re living in a small town you’re gonna have people with small minded views and not—and again, I’m not trying to discredit what the current show girls are doing now because they are doing something that is not only entertaining our community but also, pretty much, the Perth community in general. But I also do think we are heading towards the way where they’re gonna have to make room for us on the bus. So that’s what I’m kind of more excited about, is the fact that we can kind of, I guess, work together in harmony hopefully.
I don’t think there is any strong anti-[behaviour] but there’s definitely a strong opinion, like, ‘Okay, that was great but when are you gonna do a pop song and entertain the audience?
At the same time, going back to how and why I originally started doing her as a person, Liberty Jackson, it was to push boundaries, was to have a point of view and to challenge people, especially in somewhere like Perth where there is such a masc for masc culture, especially in the gay community, or there is such a, ‘Oh you’re a girl, why are you doing drag?’ There’s still moments where, I guess, there’s this frivolity to it or a frivolous nature that I just, I feel like it should be challenged and it should be addressed, because basically, it’s the hetero-ification basically—if that’s a word at all—its hetero-izing our community basically and it’s missing what’s special about the community which is the fact that we are embracing the feminine and masculine aspects of ourselves and we’re kind of merging into one. So, I guess what I’m hoping for is that there’s just a general feeling that everyone’s allowed at the party and there’s no special seating and stuff, there’s room for everyone basically. But, of course, everything happens in time.
I guess there is that quote which has really stuck with me from RuPaul and it’s like, when all the drag queens and kings come out, they’re kind of the Dorothy, they’ve looked behind the green curtain and found the wizard’s not a big bad wolf, he’s just a loser. I guess that’s kind of like us seeing the world and we realise the world can be grey and you can have some amazing opportunities, and still, at the end of the day, there is still very much a clear class structure involved and there’s very much an idea that, unfortunately, if you’re a woman, or you’re gay, or you’re of colour, there is—you’ve kind of been given the scraps compared to the predominantly white Caucasian straight man.
So, I guess that’s how I perceive the world and how I continue to perceive the world, unfortunately. There’s definitely a massive change, and we have seen a lot of improvement—especially with me just walking out in the street in drag.
It’s definitely a lot easier but there is definitely a sense of, ‘Oh yeah, but you’re still the class clown.’ Like, you’re not taken seriously in a way.
That could eventually change, who knows? If we continue to be political about it, if we continue to have a voice about it, to perform about it, to educate other people about it, go to rallies, go to protests and stuff like that—the only way is up. I do believe that, but at the same time there is definitely the perspective I have and continue to have about the world being that, unfortunately, things are just not going to be handed to you as easily as other privileged people would have. I guess in that way, it’s somewhat unfair but at the same time I wouldn’t have it any other way because that’s what inspires my art and what continues to inspire me is to continue to push the envelope, continue to think of different ideas for performances and stuff. It’s a Catch-22 situation, it’s like do I want equality for all and world peace—but at the same time, it’s also good to challenge the authority especially when you feel like there’s a sense of it being somewhat unfair and unjust.Copyright © 2019 Liberty Jackson
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