I have always been a introverted extrovert. I’m not loud and outspoken, but I like to be fabulous and the centre of attention both at the same time. Which can be mentally complicated. It often means that I’m quite shy. I’m not great at being put “on the spot” (I don’t even like asking for assistance at the supermarket). I often say that there’s at least two versions of Chris. There’s Chris that you don’t really see, that’s the Chris that’s at home on the sofa, snuggled up with Ness and Stanley watching Netflix. Then there’s public Chris. That’s the guy you meet at conventions and events. He’s the outgoing guy, but that doesn’t come naturally to me, I’ve spent 17 years working on Public Chris and making him into someone I like. He’s essentially a performance, a character that I put on, the version of myself that I want to be. This doesn’t make public Chris any less real, everything I am at an event is genuine, I promise, but the way it comes across is the performance, normal Chris isn’t as loud and witty and good at expressing himself, normal Chris is quiet and shy.
I think that side of me has always been there. I recently went through a load of photographs of me as a child, and realised that in so many of them i’m “dressed up” in some ridiculous hat, or a pair of high heels, or covered in improvised make up (there was this one instance where a childhood friend Holly and I raided her mum’s make up and turn ourselves into cats…. didn’t go down so well…), and that Chris was always the extrovert one. Normal Chris hid behind his mum when we went anywhere, was horrendously homesick and suffered with what my mum used to call “billious attacks” (I was sick a lot) but I think in hindsight was actually quite severe anxiety.
When I was eleven, I started High School, and that’s when I really discovered acting. I remember one of my classmates coming up to me when I was 12, having seen “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” at the local youth theatre, in which I had played the treacherous Edmund, he said “Chuckie - I didn’t expect you to be such a good performer!”. To be honest, neither did I. Being on stage made me the most powerful boy in the world. Playing a character allowed me to be everything I felt I couldn’t be in real life, and I LOVED IT.
It was around the same time as this that I was first introduced to this strange and wonderful thing called “Drag”. We were on holiday, staying with family friends at their home in the New Forest. One of the traditions of this part of the summer holidays was watching a film of an evening. I saw (and slept through) a lot of fabulous films at that early-isa age. Room with a View, Remains of the Day are two that stand out, along with the collected works of Kenneth Branagh. Always in my mind, however, remains one film that fascinated me more than any other.
PRICILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT
Now, I must add that at the tender and innocent age of 11 or 12, a lot of the jokes and the language and the storyline alluded me, but the costumes and the performances, and the complete change in persona that happened between Tick and Mitzi, Adam and Felicia had a resounding impact on me. These were characters that in their day-life were normal (if a little messed up) and relatively plain, with their own problems and troubles. Tick is separated from an estranged wife and has a child he’s never really met, Adam is a young gay guy in the early 90s, but in the evening become these beautiful, confident, powerful creatures. The power of that transformation is captivating and exciting to me, and, I think it’s fair to say, it lit a flame inside me. The power of transformation is exactly what I adore about being a performer. You can be whatever and whoever you want to be - because it’s a character, it’s not you, it’s not me. Ok, it’s an extension of me perhaps.
Though my teenage years, my education in Drag moved through “The Birdcage”, to “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and, after seeing the trailer for a rather interesting looking punk rock musical film - “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, which is STILL on my “shows I want to do before I’m 40” list.
Some may (and I KNOW some do) find it uncomfortable that a guy who identifies as straight should have such a strange love affair with drag. (My ex wouldn’t even have my heels in the house) but what difference does it make?! Isn’t that like saying that gay men can’t like football? Just because it’s not how you’d expect it, that doesn’t make it wrong...
I was once told by a friend of mine, “Chris, do you know what you are? You’re a gay man who doesn’t fancy men”, and perhaps this is easiest way to explain how I am.
I have always identified with queer culture, the celebration of humans as individuals is wonderful, and I don’t think this is celebrated anywhere as much or as fiercely as it is in the LGBTQIA+ community. Do I consider myself to be a part of that community? Yes. Am I actually a part of that community? That’s probably not for me to answer, but I sincerely hope so...
I first discovered Ru Paul’s Drag Race when I was at university, in around 2010. I can’t remember which channel it aired on, but I know it was one I could get on our tv package at my uni house that I couldn’t get at home on freeview. The first season, let’s face it, wasn’t great. BUT as the 10th season airs in the coming months, it is clear that it has gone on to become a phenomenon and make household names of the queens that appear on it across the world. Although there is a criticism that Drag Race is making the “real world” of drag so much more difficult, in that it’s raising the expectations of those whose only real experience of Drag is via Ru Paul, and that drag in the real world (especially in the UK) is a little more…. basic? But surely that drag is now transcending queer culture and becoming so much more accepted and mainstream can only be a step towards the acceptance and tolerance that we all deserve? If it’s on Netflix, and not in the same category as “manic depressive psycho hoarders” or something, then that’s amazing, that’s a step forward, yes? I really hope so.
Just before Christmas, Ness and I went to see “Christmas Queens” at Cardiff TramShed. Starring Queens from Ru Paul’s Drag Race (Ginger Minj, Sharon Needles, Ivy Winters, Thorgy Thor, Jiggly Caliente, Peppermint, and the legendary Michelle Visage) and a couple of things came to mind. One was the brilliant, unapologetically campy, fabulous and celebratory nature of the show and the incredibly moving words from Michelle and Peppermint, the other was the wide ranging mix of audience in that room. There were (obviously) a lot of gay men, but also straight men, couples of all persuasions, young teenage boys and girls with parents and friends, older couples, older singles, people with a range of disabilities and all were welcome and accepted and loved. It was splendid.
On Thursday this week We were lucky enough to be present at one of Sasha Velour’s first UK events, at a small bar in Cardiff. I don’t want to sound wanky when I say that it was a performance like nothing I’ve ever seen before, but it was.
I’ve seen drag shows before, I’ve seen them in clubs and bars for
Newcastle to Brighton but it’s never moved me like that. What Sasha (and Cheddar Gorgeous for that matter, who provided a jaw dropping support act) present is a form of drag that is so modern and relevant and brilliant, that it can’t help but fill my heart fill up with pride and love and joy. It’s intelligent, it means something, and it’s breaking through stereotypes and expectations. (I mean, I never expected to see Sasha Velour dressed as Gollum lip syncing Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights whilst miming a fantastically funny break-in, but it was SO RIGHT!!!!)
This is going to sound like the most bizarre analogy, especially considering Sasha’s bald drag persona, but I had a similar feeling at Sasha’s show to the one that I felt the first time I saw Blue Man Group perform. There is something honest and primitive in what they both do. The way they engage an audience on a deeper, more honest level and find that sweet spot that makes your heart feel enormous and full of life is what I feel about performing.
I want to be on a stage and making that feeling happen for me and for the audience. That’s why I got out of performing, I stopped loving it, because it became my living, it became the way I paid the mortgage or the phone bill, it stopped being my enjoyment and became my necessity. But now that it’s not, I’m starting to be able to enjoy being a performer again and I think so much of that is thanks to Vanessa, who knows and understands what performing does for me and encourages it.
I am proud of who I am, and what drag has made me. I am lucky and very very grateful that my beautiful girl Vanessa feels it too, and understands what an important part of who I am drag is, and loves me because of it.
So there you have it ladies and gents. I’m still not entirely sure I’ve managed to express this right, but I hope you get the idea.
Now, Everybody Say Love.