Heels. Discrimination. Anxiety.
Facing discrimination and racism within the drag community head on, the British performer on refusing to let the haters get in the way of their success.
FKA has been a part of my life now for just over two years. I stepped out into the London performance scene of drag in March 2016 onto one of the best London stages for emerging talent – The Glory – in their annual LIPSYNC1000. I still remember the excitement of finally being able to perform. Upon discovering drag, and of course RuPaul’s Drag Race, I fell in love fast with the craft and became hypnotised. I fell in love with the glitz, glamour, wigs and heels. However, my barely legal 18-year-old self was unaware of a much darker and deeper issue amongst the performance scene. March 2016 was not my original debut, in fact I actually debuted at a well-known national drag competition some months before – it was my first step onto a stage outside of my high school theatre. It was also my first time encountering racism.
It took some time for me to understand and digest what exactly went down at that first appearance in drag, upon being in that space that is mostly occupied by cis middle aged gay white men, I’d constantly been told that “your kind” don’t belong here, and you “won’t go far in this industry”. This came from not only punters in the bar, but in fact fellow performers on the London scene when I’d expressed interest in beginning a performance career. It didn’t take me long to realise that there was a significant absence of people of colour on the London scene. My drag has always been quite inspired by the glamour and pop lip sync style of the US drag scene and this meant that I was met with resistance – constantly being told that I wouldn’t make a name for myself if I didn’t sing live and tell jokes. In other words, be racist, transphobic and a misogynist.
Fast forward to September 2016, I’d then stumbled upon a 12-week RuPaul’s Drag Race-style competition at the now closed Her Upstairs in Camden Town. Once again being the only person of colour on the line up, the competition was audience-voted by tickets purchased at the bar. The constant reality of placing in the bottom two week after week, feeling that I was putting strong amounts of effort into my work only to be overshadowed by my white competitors, was something I struled with for a long time and probably still strule with it today. I feel that it’s where a lot of my performance anxiety stems from; very often being the only person of colour on a lineup, and usually performing to an audience of white people, even today.
I had the pleasure of discovering The Cocoa Butter Club later that year where I was opened into a world of fellow creative people of colour and generally people that understood my art. It was here that I began the relationship with my mentor and my manager, who has coached me to stand harder for myself and not allow me to be taken advantage of. I used to spend the majority of my career just showing up, getting my coin and leaving because I was scared to upset the white person with the money – the one essentially feeding me. I would hear so many comments from performers and hosts. I would stay quiet because I feared if I spoke out it’d damage my reputation, but what I’ve learnt over time is that surely those are not the kind of voices I would want to surround myself with anyway. If a booker has an issue with me, as a mixed race individual calling out a situation that I feel is racist, then surely that isn’t the correct path for me to be following.
This year I was on a tour of Australia with some names from RuPaul’s Drag Race, including names like BenDeLaCreme, Mayhem Miller, Morgan McMichaels, and internet sensations Biblegirl666 (US) and Hungry (Berlin). We had a situation in Adelaide with a host who had dived into a sea of racial humour at an all-ages family show on the tour. I had felt some nerves before embarking onto a tour of Australia because I was a person of colour and I was also likely to be the least known person on the lineup. It’s an honour and pleasure to tour with the queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race, but it does come with setbacks. Drag Race fans don’t want to support local drag; they see it as a bar or smoke break when the support/local queen is performing, and it is unfair. We work hard to put our pieces together and we deserve your full attention. Returning back to the Adelaide show, it was the first time that I genuinely felt enough courage to stand up and speak. It was almost as if I heard my mentor’s voice in the back of my head telling me that I had to do this.
I approached the promoter and told him you need to fix this, this is not acceptable and I feel disgusted that a host would make such comments in the space of POC, so boldly. I have a rather large online following and I received major backlash and support for speaking out on the topic. It taught me that racism still thrives hard, even within our own community, you do not have to verbally insult a person of colour to be racist. Standing by and refusing to acknowledge your privilege is just as toxic. POC often go underpaid or not paid at all in reflection to our white performance colleagues. Having spoken with some queens from RPDR who are of colour, I’m told that their fee is lower than the white girls. It’s damaging to realise that this is a huge issue, even at the top of our game. Why must we work two/three times as hard to be seen and have our voices heard, when we are in fact as valid as everyone else. I have had a massively successful DJ and performance career these past two years, having gone on to tour the UK, Europe, Australia, Japan, US and more. And as a POC who “on paper” shouldn’t be so booked, I think I work as hard as I do because I want my black and brown sisters to see that world domination is in fact a possibility.