For as long as I can remember, drag has been intertwined with queer culture, connected to the vaudeville theatre and the Stonewall era (The Cockettes, Quentin Crisp) . To me, drag opens the door to the kaleidoscopic expressions of gender and provides tools to entertain, make people laugh, shake heteronormative structures, and create a space for identities that are underrepresented in mainstream media.
As drag went mainstream with RuPaul’s Drag Race, there have been heated discussions about sexism, transphobia, racism, and ableism within the LGBTQIA+ community.
The popular tv show has been creating cookie-cutter drag artists, blessed with talent but also not representative of the entire spectrum of drag, somehow reinforcing stereotypes around it.
We should rethink the binary divide between ‘Queen’ and ‘King’, starting to use the most inclusive word Artist by focusing on the drag scene in London. Drag events such as The Gold Rush hosted by Southern Belle-end Taylor Trash at the Glory, Mariah and Friendz hosted by Baby Lame and Crystal at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club provide a beautiful platform for trans and gender non-conforming artists.
Addressing key questions about drag culture and queer performance today, Independent drag magazine Louche “hopes to be a project of the community and for the community”: below my conversation with Louche’s daddy and editor Georgeous Michael on queer visibility, drag as a political tool and independent publishing as a medium for smashing capitalism.
Hey Georgeous. Can you first of all introduce yourself? Who are your main drag inspirations?
Georgeous Michael: Hiya! About me? Well that’s simple really, I’m a camp spectre haunting the heterosexual illusions of pop mega-stardom in the earthly guise of a George Michael impersonator! I’m also the Father Figure of Louche magazine, aka the ‘Louche Daddy’, ahem. My drag inspirations are so many, but include: every single performer featured in Louche Issue One! Victoria Sin, Landon Cider, Del LaGrace Volcano, and the old school legends like Stormé DeLarverie, Claude Cahun, Vesta Tilley, Bloolips.
“It’s hard to think a world more ‘louche’, of the night and anarchic than the world of drag”, says writer Shon Faye in a 2016 interview for Dazed [about Rainbow GoreCake contribution to Seattle’s Drag Scene]. What does ‘louche’ mean and what is its value in terms of publishing strategy?
Georgeous Michael: ‘Louche’ [which means ‘ladle’ in French] is something which is a bit sordid or disreputable, but in a rakish and appealing way. This feels fitting for a queer project somehow, in that it embraces the sordidity or ‘morally dubious’; ultimately questioning these as value judgements which have been used to denigrate our community, its art and cultural expression, in the past. It is precisely its irreverence which makes the world of drag so appealing! So ‘louche’ feels like an attitude and a perspective that is inherently unorthodox, challenging, and yet at the same time which draws you in.
“Louche is a love letter; a hom (o) age to the tenacity, diversity and sheer punk brilliance of the drag scene today, beyond the mainstream. What was the creative process behind the magazine? What are the goals of Louche in terms of extending queer visibility or creating a queer archive?
Georgeous Michael: A few years ago I came across The Drag King Book, published in the late 90s, about the thriving drag king scenes in London, Paris and New York at that time. If I hadn’t found out about that book, I wouldn’t have known about the rich legacy of my own community – the drag king community – one that is sorely under-documented. It made me realise how vulnerable our stories are, as performers and as audiences. When so much of live performance is ephemeral, fleeting and momentary, it can very easily be lost from history. That’s why I wanted to make a magazine – something which could function as a living archive of drag today. Louche doesn’t capture everything of course, but I hope a few copies of it will survive as some kind of a record into the future of a part of drag which otherwise isn’t afforded too much space in mainstream media, namely the countercultural and revolutionary!
“Beginnings and Becomings” is the theme for Issue One. Can you explain to us what we should expect to find in it? What does the process of ‘becoming’ mean to you and to the artists featured in Louche?
Georgeous Michael: It felt like a good, open theme for the first issue. On this, we have a piece about coming into a more nuanced relationship to femininity as a trans masculine person [check out the essay by D Mortimer] , a photo essay capturing performers getting into and out of drag in a single long-exposure shot created by Holly Falconer, and a look at histories in queer performance.
Louche draws inspiration from the legacy of drag as a political tool of resistance and activism. London-based radical Drag troupe Bloolips, Sylvia Rivera, Stormé DeLarverie are one of the pivotal queer figures who paved the way to fight capitalism, patriarchy, misogyny and racism. Queer history is a fundamental part of our culture, what are the resources you use to extend your knowledge? Any places in London where people can go to learn about queer history and live performance?
Georgeous Michael: The Drag King Book for sure [collaboration between the artist Del LaGrace Volcano and queer theorist Jack Halberstam]. Also Marlon Bailey’s book about Ballroom culture in the US, Butch Queens Up in Pumps, is excellent. If you want to go deep, I would really recommend the Bishopsgate Institute in London, which has incredible archival material on drag.
The article We Need to Talk About… highlights with the help of fabulous performer Chiyo strategies to dismantle structures of oppression within drag. Tell us your experience as a performer in relation to this issue.
Georgeous Michael: Many structures of oppression which sadly exist more broadly in our society are replicated or echoed within drag today – racism, transphobia, misogyny, ableism etc. As a drag king, for example, I’m acutely aware that questioning ideas around masculinity still feels taboo because of deep-rooted misogyny. Our work frequently gets undermined as a result. We tend to be paid less/booked less, told we have no history or that the history of drag/definition of drag does not include us, and generally given a diminished platform despite being utterly fabulous!
What’s next for Louche? Where can people buy the magazine?
Georgeous Michael: Our hope for Louche is that it grows and adapts with the scene, constantly asking questions of itself and the community as well as celebrating and archiving. For now, Issue 2 is the next step, but you may also see us at different pop-up events over the next few months. There’s always the Instagram account as well which posts sporadically in mini-series of three, aiming to give a little ‘taste’ of the mag for those who need their fill on a more regular basis than the timelines of print allow! You can currently buy Issue 1 via the website (www.louchemag.com) or at the following bookshops irl: Gay’s The Word, Housmans, magCulture, Books Peckham, South London Gallery, Burley Fisher Books, and Category Is Books in Glasgow!
Follow Louche and purchase a copy if you wanna smash the patriarchy!