I started working behind the bar in a gay club in Birmingham and I was always getting told off for not sticking to the uniform rules and putting flowers in my hair. But it got me noticed.
When one of the marketing team suggested I became one of their four ‘drag hosts’ – someone who welcomes people to the club and makes sure guests are looked after – I jumped at the chance. The other three hosts were men and I was not aware of any other female drag queens in the area but why shouldn’t women be drag artists? It’s an art form like any other which explores different colours and forms.
Like many seven-year-old girls, I used to love dressing up in colourful costumes. My mum would allow me to slick on her bright red lipstick and totter about the house in her high heels and hats. As I got older, I became a make-up artist and wig designer and I loved breaking conventional rules when it came to fashion.
But I was in for a shock. When I first started at the age of just 22, there was a very mixed reaction. Even some of my friends didn’t really ‘get’ what I was doing. How could a woman be a drag queen – traditionally a man dressed up as a woman? Some people were angry that women were trying to ‘get in on the act’, calling us ‘faux queens’ and other offensive terms. People can be too obsessed by gender and get derailed by arguments over it. Why can’t we simply accept each other no matter what gender we are?
What I found most shocking was that it seemed to be older, gay men who were the most prejudiced against me. At the time I was struggling with my own sexuality – I now have a male partner but I’m bisexual – and I thought that if anyone would be supportive of equal rights, it would be gay men. I wanted to say: ‘You’ve experienced homophobia, I’ve experienced sexism’ so you should know how I feel. But sadly, that wasn’t the case and many refused to book me. It surprised me that even the most famous drag queen – Ru Paul – was incredibly misogynisict about female drag queens. He’s apologised now but we have a long way to go before we’re fully accepted.
I had to learn a lot in those early days. Drag makeup is very dramatic. It’s about changing your proportions and creating an aesthetic and persona that will attract people to have their picture taken with you. The more time you spend on your look – and I can spend up to four hours at a time doing my make-up, hair and outfit – the more polished you will look and the more work you get. Ironically, some people now say that female drag queens are often better than male drag queens because we’ve had to work twice as hard on our look.
It wasn’t easy to get work in the beginning because many people thought I just looked like an overdressed woman. It took a while to perfect my drag persona of Lacey Lou. Now I’ve been doing it for six years and have built up a lot of confidence. As well as hosting, I also do dancing.
Some people think that drag is a sexist artform with men taking the p*** out of women. But I don’t agree. Why should an overtly feminine persona be something to look down upon? Most male drag queens I know are not comic queens – like the men you see dressed as women on a stag do. Instead they respect women and dress up in drag to feel empowered by femininity.
I get a mixed reaction from guests in the club. You can meet absolute darlings who are very liberated and don’t care at all if you’re a woman. Then I get others who don’t even introduce themselves before trying to look under my wig or touch my breasts. People often see you as a bright, colourful decoration they can touch and you have to be careful as to how you react. Your natural instinct is to lash out, but there’s no point fighting fire with fire. I simply give them a stern: ‘Please don’t do that’.
I love my job and have a room full of costumes, wigs and make-up to create different looks. It’s lots of fun but there’s also a serious side to it. One of the most important times of queer history is during the Stonewall riots in the 60s. Three of the instigators were two trans women and a lesbian woman – who was also a drag queen. They fought for the rights of so many people, yet died with nothing.
We have to remember people like them and part of my act is to educate others and constantly promote inclusivity. After all, why should anyone care what I’m doing based on my gender when all I’m doing is a job to try to make people feel happy?