Pride Voices: the changing face of drag

Pride voices: the changing face of drag | Soho House

Non-binary drag sensation, Tom Rasmussen, discusses what they’ve learnt walking in Crystal’s shoes

Tuesday 14 June 2022   By Tom Rasmussen

In celebration of this year’s Pride, we're showcasing a special series – Pride Voices – to explore the many sides of LGBTQIA+ life and queer culture today, as told by people from the community

The very point of doing drag is to change. To change from one thing to another. To change the dynamics of our surroundings. To change the minds of our audiences.
Never have I experienced – and witnessed – more change than during my 12 years doing drag. Change that was internal, external, super-structural: my mother went from complete drag sceptic to sissy-that-walk superfan; my friends and I took messages of the queers and the queens home to the places we grew up and experienced new kinds of acceptance; the wild array of drag siblings I met over a decade changed the way we dressed, performed and thought about queer liberation. 

And naturally, something so powerful, something that is such an agent for positive change, is attractive to the mainstream; where change is most desperately needed. Yet, with all good change comes complicated change. And, not to sound like a bitter old crone, while the transformative power of drag remains as potent as when I first put on a hard-front wig 12 years ago, the drag scene in the UK, and arguably globally, is unrecognisable from when I started in stilettos. 

Some of this is what we all wanted. So many of us grew up under Section 28 – the legislation that prohibited the promotion of homosexuality across Britain – and felt the searing pain of wanting to be invisible while, somehow, being told by friends and strangers alike that ‘you’re going to be famous’. So, we thought, to get out of obscurity and into safety, we would seek some kind of fame. And we found it on stages of our own making all over the world, where a skilled performer can do as little as move their eyes from one side of the room to the other and have the audience melting with joy. 

But in many cases, real fame came knocking – where we were put on stages that we didn’t make, and told to bring what we had learnt in all those years when you didn’t want to see us and show people what liberation was all about. But as time ticked on, and visibility demanded the shaving off of our more radical edges, there has been a growing feeling of cynicism and disappointment among the community I know so well. One that imagined a Christmas campaign for a behemoth department store to look like liberation, but instead it felt a little like betrayal. Like you are a mouthpiece for a brand who, if it would sell more products to be homophobic, would happily escort you from the premises in your six-inch pleaser platforms.

Maybe this sounds over the top. Maybe this sounds too dramatic (that’s my right as a queen). But every subculture in history has been decimated by its thrusting, and subsequent bastardisation, into and by the mainstream. Is this going to happen to drag?

I hope not. Because the fundamental founding principal of drag is change. And so perhaps here we have a moment where we’ve changed into something that performs the main stages, that sits front row at fashion week; but as ever there is newness, there is resistance – and now across the country, online, and on stages of our own making there continues to be radical drag, drag that questions drag itself, drag that changes once again. Drag that critiques the mainstream. And in truth, whether on the main stage or in a basement dive bar, the liberatory power of drag, and its ability to create major change, is still the beat in its glittering heart. Nowhere else will you find skill, passion, talent and community like in drag – and that’s perhaps the only thing that will never change. 


Pride voices: the changing face of drag | Soho House
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