Heels. Dis­crim­i­na­tion. Anx­i­ety.

Gay Times Magazine - - CONTENTS - Im­age Daniel Sut­ton Words FKA

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 stru›led with for a long time and prob­a­bly still stru›le 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.

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