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"I got my first pair of heels from a friend who is a heel fanatic, I bought a cheap-ass wig and I found this power suit from the Salvation Army and I had just whirled on that stage and I won a hundred dollars that night. And I was like, ‘This is—this is drag, this is fucking drag.’"

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.

Meet Serenity, a drag performer with a passion for matching her mouth to music and dancing in front of a crowd. Her story involves the challenges she has faced and how she didn’t want to give up the make-up when stepping off the stage.

Listen to the audio, or read an edited version below.

Drag Beginnings

Drag for me was very interesting. Starting out was even worse. The first number I ever did was ‘Scuse Me’ by Lizzo and it was July last year. I wanted—on and off—to do drag for the longest time. After I had snuck into The Court and watched all of these girls perform and seeing that it was a possible career path, I decided that was something I could do. Because to be fair, I’ve always been an entertainer—I’ve always tried to make people laugh and have a good time ever since I was a kid—it was always a passion of mine. But drag? It took me a while to start.

A lot of people were egging me on. A lot of people were telling me, ‘Oh y’know, just do one number, you’re such a good dancer, why don’t you wear this wig and see what happens and blah, blah, blah.’ I got my first pair of heels from a friend who is a heel fanatic, I bought a cheap-ass wig and I found this power suit from the Salvation Army and I had just whirled on that stage and I won a hundred dollars that night. And I was like, ‘This is—this is drag, this is fucking drag.’

I had probably not spent over a hundred dollars that night so that return investment, that was fun. But then that translated to another week, and another week, and another week, and another week. And I won a couple more, I’d come last a couple of times. Because I was like Bambi, just really trying to find my legs. And I’d gone into it thinking—like every other girl who starts out— ‘Oh I’ve got this, I’m not worried,’ like, ‘I’ll have a career path and everything and I’m untouchable’ and all that. And that really faded away quickly because I realised that there was a lot more than just fussing about thinking I’m top dog when I’ve only been doing drag for a couple of weeks at that time.

There were a lot of girls I tried to take inspiration from back then in the community. There were a lot of girls who were super-polished who—and that’s who I wanted to be and that’s who I still want to be at this time—were very  clean, like no faults found. I feel that my artistry is lending like clean lines with a little bit of grime on it. I had gone through each of these weeks leading up to me, like, really building on my career thinking, ‘How am I going to be the next big girl? How am I going to be the next big thing? How am I gonna get booked? How am I gonna entertain? how am I gonna get that cash at the end of the night?’ And that’s when I found that, for me personally, that’s not my drag, that’s not what I want to do. I don’t want to be performing every Wednesday and Thursday night trying to win some cash. I want to go somewhere. So that’s when I started polishing.

I Am Womxn

When I started painting a lot better than I did before, I never wanted to take my make-up off. The ideology of being trans was always in my head. I was always like, ‘Oh, I’m such a pretty girl.’ And that was going on since I was really young. I came out as gay when I was ten, but there was a lot more to it than that. At the time, I didn’t understand because ten-year-old me could never have fathomed that you could be a woman, like day-to-day. And I’d gone through the motions of it. I’d hit my really bad spots as well. At sixteen I was lost. I had nowhere to go and I dropped out of high school. The world got to me and that’s when I started sneaking into The Court—and that’s how I got past security—because after seeing me get in so many times and not knowing that I was under-age, they was just like, ‘Oh yeah, he’s here regularly, it’s fine.’ And I’d watch all these girls perform and I was like, ‘That’s something I can do, that’s something I can be passionate about.’ Because I’m passionate about looking fucking girly and I’m passionate about matching my mouth to pop music.

I’d gone through all of that but leading up to only really a couple of months ago, when I started really painting differently and with a different eye, I’d realised, ‘Yeah no, I don’t want to take this make up off.’ And it’s because, and this is the thing, drag helped me find myself being trans. I will always thank drag for that. Drag really helped me embrace my own femininity and use drag as an outlet for that and really push the boundaries of my own understanding of what womanhood and femininity is—because it’s a lot harder. I will never understand the experience of being a born female, they’re fucking lucky apparently. But I will never get to understand what it’s like to live that life.

But I’ve got this path of being a trans woman performing as a drag queen during the night and that’s the thing I’m gonna fucking run with.

Leading up to now, I’d—this is me plugging myself—but in the one year that I’ve been doing drag, I’d say I’ve taken it so passionately that I’ve really come far a lot quicker than most people would’ve imagined. Like, I won my first state title with Pop Princess at Connections, I won that literally on the anniversary of me starting drag.

Serenity, posing for the camera. Her wig is snatched and her booty is poppin--drag style.

Drag Life

It’s interesting to see that you can grow in that space of time. I compared myself a lot to the other girls in that competition because a lot of them had been doing drag a lot longer than I had. A lot of those girls had better costumes and better wigs and better jewellery and had a lot more friends out in the audience and a lot more followers and stuff, and it was hard to compare to them because I didn’t really have that luxury.

I was working two jobs at the time. I was really pushing myself to put more into my drag, I’d set aside a good amount of money just to get the costumes for it and everything. The competition was great, it was fun, and I learnt so much. But it was really tough looking at, as myself, still as a baby queen competing against all these other girls while still technically baby queens because we’re all—we’re not main show girls. So when I won the competition I knew I’d put in the hard yards, I knew that I had perfected my craft to that point, but, it didn’t feel like I had paid my dues, if you get what I mean. And I think that’s the issue with me was just comparing myself—the issue that a lot of these baby queens have is that comparison. I’m honestly just a shy little girl, at the end of it. But it’s a blessing, an absolute blessing to have people come out and look at me and support me, support me for what I do, because I never really got that luxury during like my teenage years—I never really had anyone backing me and backing my art.

People never really understood me, but, coming into this community now, people do.

People really understand who I am, who I’m trying to grow into, people have seen other girls go through this journey so they know what it’s like, they know what to expect, they know what to do to support me and I want to pay that forward with the next girl, and the next girl, and the next girl.

It’s just weird to think that a year ago I wouldn’t have the opportunity of people hearing my story. I would’ve never had the opportunity of uplifting people as much as I do now. I never thought I’d have this platform, I never thought I’d have people come up to me for advice, that’s the biggest thing for me is people coming up to me for advice and asking me what I think; what my views are on the world; what my views are on our community; what people think they should do with their drag. It’s weird to think that this has only happened in a year but I’m just thankful. I’m thankful for everything that has happened, all the good and the bad because I have to take the bad as a sign of growth really.

I’ve had some shit experiences in drag. I had some absolute bad ones like, I’ve been compared to girls I’d never thought I’d be compared to. I’ve been heckled on the street, I’ve been pushed around I’ve been called a faggot I’ve been called a fucking he-she, lady-boy, and it’s like none of these people that do that know that I’m a trans woman because you never really know until somebody tells you.

But there’s some shit things that happen to drag queens, honestly. We’re kind of presented in the media if not as these pretty goddesses and everything, we’re presented by conservative media as paedophile sympathisers, we’re presented as a danger to children, we were presented as terrible people. The media has changed because of the popularity of Rupaul’s Drag Race. But there’s still a lot of problems outsiders have viewing queer culture because they’re not a part of it. And, wow, that got political—but I never thought that I’d be in this seat right now a year ago talking about drag politics, about media presentation of queer people, I never thought I’d be here talking about my own experience. And it’s weird to think that somebody else will listen to this and be like, ‘I get that, I understand what she’s talking about.’

Trans and Doing Drag

The trans experience as a drag queen is interesting. Honestly, backstage I’m not treated any differently, than I should be, honestly. I’m treated as any other performer, that’s what I like here in Perth is that people aren’t diminishing me because I’m a trans woman doing drag. People are treating me like a normal person and that’s what—it feels good to be treated like I’m a normal person.

The platform that I have as a trans drag queen is powerful because a lot of the time we don’t get this representation.

A lot of the time, we have actors and actresses who are trans who pave the way in that field. We have performers, we have singers, we have dancers, we have so many people in the intangible side of the queer community—the celebrities we can’t really get in touch with and chat. But there’s being in the community, being present and talking to these people and actually talking to your audience is so valuable to me. Instances like a couple of weeks ago, a girl came up to me and she was like, ‘Are you carrying any progynova?’ Which is the oestrogen medication that I’m on and she was on as well. And she was like, ‘Do you have any backstage? Do you have anything on you? I’ve totally forgotten mine tonight.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, of course, I’ve got some in my bag, give me a second.’ And I came out, popped a couple of pills for her, and I was like, ‘Here you go, take them.’ I gave her excess ‘cos I was just like, ‘If you need some, like if you need any in the morning, take these ok? ‘Cos I’ve got a full fucking slide at home.’

And it’s instances like that, it’s instances where people look up to me for advice, people look to me for help, people value my opinion and that’s something that I never really had—because, truth be told, growing up I never even valued my own. For people to trust my instincts, for people to trust what I do—that’s all I want, that’s all I want is to help people.

Drag is for Everyone

Drag may or may not be powerful for other people. Some people view drag as just a persona that they’ve mocked up. Some people have really built a career out of it. One of the girls in Perth who is like an icon legend has 20-21 years under her belt and she’s still fucking kicking—she’s still choreographing, she’s still creating mainshows and she’s an absolute legend. And it’s like you can’t falter the fact that drag is an entire career path and it’s an entire—I wouldn’t say way of life—but it’s a strong medium, a strong art form that needs to be respected.

I’m grateful for the drag community that I have here. Some of the girls who have been in the business a lot longer than I have, have passed on those secrets to me, those little pieces of knowledge that have pushed me forward and that have made me become a mainstay at the club. I’m not performing in main shows yet, I’m holding myself, like, the next couple of years I will be. But those girls have given me the platform to be there and to hone my craft. It’s like an artists’ residency really. And I’m bettering myself because of it, because of these other girls who have, those girls have helped better me and that’s all I want to do with the next generation.

There’s already a new bunch of girls that are coming up that have got so much talent and potential and who are so passionate about it and they’re a totally new generation of girls who grew up watching Drag Race.

Some of them are queer, some of them are totally different—there are girls that are born women, there are girls that are bi men, there are girls that are cis gay men, there are lesbians, other trans people, there are so many other people practising the art of drag now because of Drag Race.

And that’s the thing, I’m thankful with the competition I just won. I’m the first trans girl to win it, I’m the first trans person to win it. The last trans winner of any competition was not since 2012-2013. And girls like me need that representation. Girls like me need to know that there’re success stories, that there are successful men and women in the community that have had, who have done their dirtiest to get to their point and now they can inspire the next generation.

But at the end of the day challenge what it means to be an actual drag queen, challenge what it means to be in terms of gender—born women aren’t considered drag queens to some people. It’s just weird, it’s weird and it’s crazy and it’s fucked up how some people view us but we’ve got to hone in on what it means to be a local drag queen—push that and show that there are different types of drag. That’s the essence of drag right now. There’s more to drag life than being a pretty girl.

Copyright © 2019 Serenity.

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

This story was published on 21 November 2019.

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