Drag Artist "ShayShay" Highlights Four Essentials To Understanding Drag
Photography: Jordan Rossi
ShayShay is a drag artist and activist devoted to empowering the queer community, exposing intersectionality, and raising marginalised voices. ShayShay is the Creator, Curator and Host of the ShayShay Show, a queer community gathering providing a performance platform for new performers and their work to develop.
This month ShayShay sat down with Reform The Funk for a colourful photoshoot and gave us a rundown on four important points to remember about Drag.
Drag is a form of expression that allows my outside appearance to reflect some of the many versions of my gender identity that exist within me. As a gender-fluid non-binary person, my gender changes, not just from day-to-day, but also minute-by-minute. I live my everyday life visibly androgynous (or “androgenius” as I like to say) and folx will identify me in their head however they read my appearance. But when I am in drag, I get to control every aspect of what they see. This is true with my everyday clothes too, but each drag look (from the hair to the make-up to the clothes) I have fully curated. I can tell a story with my look. In theatre this might be considered part of creating a character. For me, this is creating, or re-creating my sense of self. Sometimes I feel like a bossy soccer mom, who won’t let her kids drink soda. Sometimes I feel like a punky teen with gloom looming over them. And sometimes I feel like the birthday girl living out her princess fantasy. Through drag I can visually embody these facets of my personality.
Drag is a tool for exploring gender. When I started going out to queer nightlife events, I witnessed the spectrum of drag from clowns, to creatures, to kings and queens. I'd previously only seen classic drag queens (men dressed up as big exaggerations of women), and that hadn't appealed to me, but the East London drag scene is so genderqueer and experimental. It inspired my creativity and beckoned me to dive into the world of drag.
When I first started attending queer parties, I would go out dressed up in androgynous outfits with a bit of makeup on. I found that I felt more like myself in this form, closer to my true self.
Society might lead us to believe that there are only men and women, a binary. We know this to be a farce, both sociologically and biologically (shoutout to my intersex siblings!), yet that gender binary is still oppressive and omnipresent. Rejecting this binary is built into the foundations of drag. Drag allows you to break down gender norms into tiny pieces and then mix and match them anyway you want, or even throw gender out the window completely. Seeing that gender roles can be so easily dismantled and rebuilt simply by dressing up made it so apparent to me that gender itself is just a social construct. Doing drag reinforced my belief that ‘everything about gender is made up.’ All the ideas about how to be a man or what makes a woman have been socially constructed.
Drag is inherently political because it is a huge middle finger at all notions of gender norms. And in that way, it is a powerful tool for exploring one’s gender. There is a huge amount of trans people in the drag scene. Some started doing drag before coming out as trans, and for many, doing drag is part of their transition process.
All drag performers, and fans of drag, should be fighting for trans rights. Not only because we owe the early drag scene and inception of the Stonewall riots to transwomen, specifically transwomen of colour, but also because trans people, especially trans people of colour (POC), who have been dealt a challenging hand that sadly comes with so much unjust hate and violence.
Queers, as a marginalised group, should have the utmost sympathy for and understanding of the plight of other marginalised groups. We should be the loudest supporters of POC, for muslims, for immigrants, for women. We are all fighting to be seen and treated as equals, while the white supremacist patriarchy tries to keep us down. We are fighting the same fight, and none of us will be free, until we all are.
Drag is a powerful and diverse community and I am so excited by the direction drag is going. There are so many women, non-binary and trans people doing phenomenal drag, and creating space for their communities to thrive. Drag and cabaret nights that celebrate POC performers, and trans performers are thriving! The Cocoa Butter Club, The Bitten Peach, and Transmissions, just to name a few. I’ve even heard that an all-Muslim drag night is being developed in London.
Personally, I use my platforms in the drag scene to create space for others to experiment with their gender through performance. At my show The ShayShay Show, I give new performers with limited stage experience a safe space to perform with an enthusiastic and respectful audience. I work hard to make sure the environment is safe for performers to explore sensitive issue, such as mental health, gender identity, and past trauma. Creating a space for our community to come together and share our experiences is extremely important for empowering us to come together across our differences.
Follow ShayShay on Instagram @theshayshayshow
Here are ShayShay’s up coming events.
The Bitten Peach, Queer Pan-Asian cabaret Collective's next show:'Summer Fruits' on June 6th 2019 at Looking Glass Cocktail Club. https://www.outsavvy.com/event/2752/bitten-peach
ShayShay is debuting a brand new Judy Garland tribute show to honour 50 years since the legend's death.'ShayShay's Good Judy' on June 14th, 2019 at The Glory https://www.outsavvy.com/event/2819/goodjudy
Photography: Jordan Rossi