RuPaul’s Drag Race UK starts tonight, so we’re looking at the secret world of cisgender female drag queens, a growing phenomenon called Bio Queens
Many of you will already be familiar with what a Drag Queen is: a performer or artist who adopts the exaggerated appearance of a female to dance, act, sing, lip-sync or otherwise entertain. But when most of us think of drag, the image that is most easily conjured to mind is that of a man who has contoured, padded and tucked their way into a fabulous wig, gown and heels. And who could blame you?
In fact, as tonight sees the premiere of Ru Paul’s UK Drag Race on BBC One – and with entire weeks planned in homage to Lady Diana (week one) and soap stars (week two) – we can’t wait.
But it may surprise you to learn that there are in fact many different types of drag performer.
A Bio Queen (also known as a Hyper Queen, False Queen or True Queen) is a Drag performer/artist who is AFAB- that’s assigned female at birth. There are plenty of incredible performers out there just waiting to be discovered, but it’d be a safe bet to say that many of you have never heard of them.
‘But wait a moment, doesn’t ‘drag’ usually refer to cross-dressing?‘ I hear you ask.
The term ‘drag’ comes from the old British slang to describe a man who dresses as a woman for performance, referring then to the long skirts worn by performers, that would catch on the floor.
It’s little wonder then, that when we think of drag, we tend to think of male performers.
In more recent memory, some have re-purposed the term as ‘Dressed Resembling A Girl’. However, this fails to take into account Drag Kings, who are cisgender female performers who dress as men in an exaggerated or comical fashion. It also fails to encompass other types of drag such as androgynous drag, where the lines between male and female are intentionally blurred.
Modern day drag is a highly expressive art form, viewed as a way to poke fun at gender roles, societal expectations and issue or express femininity without fear.
With the release of the UK version of award winning reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race tonight, many of us are excited to finally see Britain join the US and Thailand in hosting its very own version of the Drag Olympics (showcasing it’s ‘Charisma, Uniqueness Nerve and Talent’ as RuPaul puts it).
View this post on Instagram
Disappointingly however, all of our UK queens are of a very specific type. Cisgender males. (At least as far as we’re aware.)
Drag Race US has a long history of excluding non-cis male performers from their roster. While the show has hosted several trans, genderfluid etc.. queens, so far not a single one of them was ‘out’ publicly before their time on the show. When you consider that there have been over 140 queens stomping down the runway, that’s quite remarkable.
But all hope is not lost. Even if its taking longer than we’d like, Bio Queens are slowly gaining the recognition that they deserve. In fact, Season 3 of the hit Drag queen web-series Dragula just debuted their first ever Bio Queen and while Drag Race UK, hasn’t cast a Bio Queen, they have cast the boyfriend of one (yup, straight guys and bisexuals can do drag too!) and no doubt Scardy Kat will have a thing or two to say about his Bio Queen girlfriend when the show launches.
View this post on Instagram
So who knows? Maybe we’ll end up with our own show some day soon, where drag performers of all varieties can showcase their own… U T I ? (I might need to work on that one.) I’d even be happy with a spin off hosted by fan favourite judge Michelle Visage, who herself is often referred to as a ‘female drag queen’ by Drag Race fans. They could call it: RuPaul’s Best Friend’s Race.
So, in my own personal bid to drag Bio Queens a little closer to that spotlight, I contacted a few (hundred) to get their insights and perspective on this hidden side of drag culture.
Here’s what they had to say about their experiences:
Saint Valentine is an Aussie-based Queen, who regularly performs across Wollongong, Sydney and Canberra. Her style takes influence from a mix of modern and classical romance. In particular, she emulates old Hollywood glamour and the opulence of that time period.
Love theatre? You’ll love drag
‘I’ve always loved being on stage, ever since I was a drama kid in school. I’m not a singer, or an actor, but drag kind of lets you explore an enormous range of talents. It’s really pushed me to venture into new things, create new things, and realised that I had talents I didn’t even know I had.
‘Other than the classic examples of queer influences when I was younger (like Priscilla and Drag Race), I’ve been lucky enough to have a best friend that runs drag events in a few cities in Australia. It’s allowed me to explore my drag and has exposed me to the community in ways that I didn’t even think were possible!’
It’s about growth
‘When I first started drag I was worried that I wouldn’t really find my place in the community. To me, drag is a sacred sub-culture, so I was a bit weary to jump into it. But when I started coming to events in drag, posting my makeup looks and meeting local drag artists, I realised that the community is so welcoming and is thriving, and that I in fact did have a place within the community, just as anyone else would.
‘I’m still finding my aesthetic, just like a lot of my drag artist friends are. I think we’re all constantly changing and inspired by new things daily.
‘Drag has given me so much confidence. I literally have people cheering for me!‘
Women can be proud
‘For me, drag has allowed me to feel/express myself like an opulent being, and has allowed me to feel proud of the skin that I’m in. There’s something really freeing and liberating about owning my own femininity, and drag has really helped me to express that.
‘Drag has given me so much confidence. As a plus-sized woman, drag has really allowed me to celebrate my body even more when I’m not in drag too. I literally have people cheering for me when I’m on stage, and in full drag, and as a #thiccer woman, that’s so liberating.
A self described ‘AFABulous Queen’, Anne M Plloyd’s drag expression shows us just how powerful a make up brush can be when applied expertly and with free creativity.
It expands your imagination
‘No one really knows what drag is so a lot of people think I’m just a makeup artist.
‘Before I stared, I had a different idea of what drag was. I’d seen it mostly on LGBT Tumblr sites but I also saw a lot of queens on Instagram, and was inspired by how diverse and unique the community is so I wanted to try it myself. I really got into it after watching RPDR which was a very random decision but I’m glad it was made.
‘I’ve always been a creative person and I have a lot of experience in art and design so I thought it could be a new medium for me to express my vision. My main thought when starting out was, ‘finally I can have some lips now’ because out of drag I have white paper cut lips I’m insecure about.
You learn a lot about style
‘Own your pussy power is my advice. Wear blue eye shadow with a bright red lip. Don’t be afraid to be a clown.
‘The thing about me is that I’m very inconsistent and moody (thanks to my Gemini rising) and it used to be a struggle for me to figure out my own sense of style and I was concerned about that. But now I just do whatever feels right not worrying about describing it.
Something that’s really helped is collecting more ‘capsule wardrobe’ items. A capsule wardrobe is made up of pieces of clothing that don’t go out of fashion; skirts, trousers, and such, that you can incorporate into each seasonal trend. If you’re interested in drag, use this concept to start your makeup/wig/costume collection. A pink-yellow ombre wig might be very cute indeed but think about how many looks can you incorporate it into before buying. The same thing applies to your everyday fashion choices.
Maggie Vandeveer is an American queen based in Richmond, Virginia. She specialises in live performance drag.
She describes her Drag persona as ‘a sad, heartbroken housewife with an addiction to pills’. She draws her inspiration for female leads in horror movies and other such women: the villains, the ‘hysterical’, the hidden gems, giving them each her own unique twist.
‘Don’t let anybody’s expectations of you hold you back from being exactly who you are’.
It’s helped my mental health
‘Drag has cost me sooo much money and given me many sleepless nights, but has also given me a purpose and drive I haven’t known in years.
‘I want to entertain people more than anything and look beautiful in my own way while doing so.
‘It has also made me confront many demons such as my insecurities with myself and my own anxiety and mental health issues.
‘It’s a way to escape from my day to day life and has made me confront everything I hate about myself but also grab everything I love about myself and squeeze it and hold It tight.
‘I have learned more about myself doing drag then I have doing anything else.
We need more Queens – from all genders
‘Within the community there are tons of well-respected non cis–male performers. I could name countless performers who I adore and take inspiration from.
‘As far as mainstream representation goes I think we are severely lacking. While there have been trans women on Drag Dace, they often get bad edits or do not come out as trans until after the show. I want to see AFAB performers on the same pedestal because so many of them are just as, if not more talented.
‘We’ve already got some awesome representation on Dragula which makes me so happy – Landon and Hollow are both incredible performers. But I want more. Don’t let anybody’s expectations of you hold you back from being exactly who you are.
Anyone can try it
‘Go to shows, tip the queens, tip the bartenders, be a friendly face, stay out of drama that doesn’t involve you, and come out to shows in drag.
‘Show that this is something you are passionate about and interested in doing and have fun with it. You don’t have to look perfect, just enjoy yourself.
‘I started by playing with the makeup and fell head over heels with the way I felt when I put it all on. It was like a mask that let me be who I truly felt like inside.
‘I like to have very traditionally beautiful clothes and hair with clown-like makeup. I love the juxtaposition of being this beautiful strange doll like creature writhing on stage and sobbing on the ground while being in a gorgeous gown’.
Miss Moxie Heart is another Aussie Queen, this time based in Perth, whose drag expression is a celebration of clownery and camp. With over a decade of experience on the stage, she recently joined the world of drag after discovering that anyone can be a queen.
Try it with a friend
‘In 2018 during a discussion with my friend James about Drag Race, I mentioned that I wished women could be drag queens, to which my friend said ‘But you can!’
‘During this time I started experimenting with drag makeup and researching everything I possibly could about female drag queens.
‘James [my boyfriend] and I were regularly going to drag performances in Perth, such as Drag Factory which is like open mic night for queens, and where many baby queens make their first appearance.
‘I admired their fierceness, the confidence, the creativity in their outfits, makeup and performance. The idea that I could develop a drag queen persona was exciting to me, but also nerve wracking because I didn’t see other female queens during this time.
‘James also had his debut as Freya Rocher a month after me, before moving to London, where he lives now!’
Females are rare, but fierce
‘One week at Drag Factory I saw another female queen perform, Cryptika. I absolutely adored her, and I went up to her gushed about how great she was afterwards.
‘Seeing her perform was just that little kick I needed… the next week I went up there and did it! It was so liberating and fun.
‘I did two Drag Factory performances before travelling to New York for a couple of months and returned to Perth inspired and ready to improve and develop my drag. I renamed myself as Moxie Heart and here I am.
Make it your own
‘Personality wise, Moxie is my licence to be bold, silly, creative and sexy. She empowers me to be the performer and person that I’ve been too shy to be in the past.
‘As a female queen I have always felt like my makeup needs to be really out there. I didn’t want to look like a pretty queen. I didn’t want people to be able to identify me as a woma.
‘I adore other Australian female queens such as Prozac and Rosie Faux who wear makeup that is very graphic and creative. I love Bianca Del Rio with her clowny style, but I still think she’s beautiful. She really inspired my makeup when I was starting out.
Luca Sun is an Israeli queen inspired by the Club Kids 80’s and 90’s style, which celebrated the outrageous and flamboyant. She is based in Tel Aviv and refers to herself as a Hyper Queen with a ‘colourful but melancholy’ edge that is clearly reflected in her art.
There’s a lot to learn- even at this level
‘Honestly I feel like I’m still at the beginning of my journey as a drag performer but I have some fun memories of dancing around in my bathroom while putting on makeup when I was just starting out. I loved the name Lucas… but wanted to make it gender neutral.
‘So I came up with Luca. A huge inspiration to me is the the icon Sasha Velour, who is well known for her art and breaking down gender barriers. She is so close to my heart, I learned about her when I was suffering through a really hard time. She was one of the only things that made me interested in moving forward.. and to keep on fighting. I can’t tell you exactly what about her I find so amusing and incredible.. and that’s how I know that what I have for her is true fascination and admiration.
The community is welcoming
‘It started out as a distraction from life and reality… but now it actually helps me cope with life instead of escaping it. Some people are a bit taken aback or confused about how the hell I – as a woman – have the audacity to join a male generated form of expression.
‘But other than that all the reactions are mostly positive. While not everyone is accepting, in our drag community here in TLV there are some incredible kings and queens who love us hyper queens (a woman doing drag) no matter what. All of my confidence as an everyday woman has come from doing drag… and that’s the best gift ever.
‘I’m quite positive that not many places in the US have an equal amount of drag kings as there are Drag queens. In Israel, both groups are celebrated and get almost equal recognition. There is still more room to grow and develop, overall the TLV drag scene is extremely diverse.
Drag is whatever you want it to be
‘Drag is whatever the heck you want it to be. it’s so freeing when you let yourself do whatever comes to mind without judging or analysing yourself too much.. that’s when you truly learn the most about who you actually are. That’s when you feel the most you.
‘You don’t get to choose a lot of things in life.. but drag is 100 per cent built from your choices and feelings.. and there’s not a lot of things like that.
Vaguely relevant Healthista content:
Healthista content you might also like: