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(This story was first published on 26.06.18)
"You're born naked and the rest is drag," is a famous quote by RuPaul, American Drag Queen, and creator of the popular reality show, RuPaul’s drag race. The show which is currently in its 10th season is inspiring a generation in India to pick up drag as an performance art.
Growing up in Ranchi, Ayushman didn’t know about the wide spectrum of sexuality. “These were things one had to come to a big city to learn,” he said. His first introduction to drag was through the American television sitcom Friends.
Friends was something which everyone used to watch back then. I saw Chandler’s dad who was a drag queen and he was always in drag 24x7. That was my idea of a quintessential drag queen. But I never thought I would be that person.Ayushman, Lawyer and Drag Queen
A graduate of National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, the 26-year-old is a human rights lawyer by day and a drag queen by night. He calls himself Lush Monsoon. “As Ayushman, I am very people pleasing. I am always laughing and joking. Making you feel comfortable. As Lush, I am the one feeling comfortable,” he said.
Talking about the influence the show had on him, he said, “RuPaul’s drag race came at the time when I was going through depression. The show had such an empowering message of embracing yourself, embracing your femininity which I sadly hadn’t come across in my day-to-day life.”
One day, my friend and I bought some makeup from Lajpat Nagar and tried it in our room. We looked horrible. But in that moment we were like wow! Look at us, we are so beautiful! We are amazing!Ayushman, Lawyer and Drag Queen
Prateek Sachdeva is a freelance dancer and a drag performer. His drag queen name is Betta Naan Stop. The name is a combination of a vibrant fish and his favourite food. Naan and Stop together said sounds like non stop. It serves as a constant reminder for him to get better.
I am a professionally trained dancer. Facing a lot of rejections in the dance world where the requirement is for a masculine boy, and clearly, I don’t fall into that category. I was experimenting with my sister’s makeup and I decided to combine the two things I like and create something so beautiful that I call drag.Prateek Sachdeva, Freelance Dancer and Drag Queen
At 19, Nitish Anand is the youngest Indian drag queen. When he was 18 and legal to be a drag performer, he decided to call himself Shabnam Bewafa. A lot of the inspiration for Shabnam Bewafa come from Kareena Kapoor’s most iconic onscreen character “Poo”.
The character Poo stayed with me. I wasn’t attracted to Kareena Kapoor like other boys my age. I wanted to be like her. I liked how sassy and fierce she was.Nitish Anand, Male Model and Drag Queen
Nitish was only 5 when he lost his mother. “When I am in drag, I look a lot like her. Maybe that’s is one of the reasons I won't stop doing drag.,” he said.
Being a Drag Queen
Prateek, Ayushman and Nitish said they don’t want to be women, they only like dressing up. “The entire philosophy of drag is that gender is a performance. Don't take it too seriously,” Ayushman said.
The art form is new to India, and the audience is still getting used to it. Drag queens are often confused with trans women, sex workers or escorts.
Prateek and Ayushman spoke about how they have been groped and felt up when they were in drag.
When you are in drag, you are as womanly traditionally as you can be. Then you give up your male privilege. And you get to see how difficult it is for women. You get conscious of the male gaze. The boundaries that existed as a man disappear. People can come and proposition you.Ayushman, Lawyer and Drag Queen
I don’t think people hate femininity. But subconsciously, they think that anything that is masculine is superior and the feminine side of nature is a thing to be suppressed.Prateek Sachdeva, Freelance Dancer and Drag Queen
Currently, there are very few venues that hire them. Kitty Su is among the handful that hosts drag queen performances.
From convincing a tailor to stitch a dress to buying makeup and wigs, from embarrassing oneself in a shoe store for trying female footwear to getting spanx from a high-end mall, being a drag queen isn’t easy. But then, there are fools who dream.