Drag Queens in Paris

To Be A Drag Queen in Paris: In Talks with Three Drag Artists

We take a walk in the high heels of three drag artists in Paris. The number of Parisian drag queens has increased threefold in two years; in a context where benevolence is not always a guarantee.

The art of the drag and queer world has recently taken centre stage and is gaining media attention at a dizzying rate. In two years, the Parisian drag scene has skyrocketed, the number of drag queens multiplies week by week, and so do the number of parties celebrating queerness. But benevolence and acceptance are not always granted; from the outside world or from the queer world itself.

The media coverage of the queer scene does not in any way mean its democratization or acceptance. Today, drag seems to have outgrown the LGBTQ+ scene and seeped its way into mainstream culture. Adore Delano, one of the most popular RuPaul’s Drag Race queens, tweeted on January 7th that “drag is officially mainstream”. But “drag mainstream” is an oxymoron. The mainstream refers to trends consumed by the majority, but RuPaul says that “drag is the antithesis of the matrix” — so how can those two come together? This means that we are witnessing the spotlight shining on the radiant LGBTQ+ culture, among a patriarchal and heteronormative society, and it is only just beginning.

@adoredelano's tweet regarding Drag Race's popularity and what it means for contestants such as Manila Luzon whose maxi-pad dress was banned from television

@adoredelano’s tweet regarding Drag Race’s popularity and what it means for contestants such as Manila Luzon whose maxi-pad dress was banned from television

Today, RuPaul’s Drag Race’s fame suggests that the mainstream has accepted drag queens are performers. But it is as if the industry does not know what to do with them, leaving RuPaul with a monopoly on media coverage. However, RuPaul is not the only reference. When he says, for instance, that a (trans)woman cannot do drag, that is not true. We must remember to support our local queens and enjoy their diversity.

I had the opportunity to meet three drag artists, Dolly Page, Ghōst and Thonya de La Vega and speak to them about their lives as drag queens in Paris.

 

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Raphaël (Dolly Page) graduated top of his class from the Make Up Forever Academy in 2017. Raphaël defines himself as “passionate by the art of femininity.”  The art of drag entered his life by chance, but his eight years of theatre, nine years of dance and his expert makeup skills all converged to its inevitable goal; to birth the beautiful Dolly Page.

Ghōst, 29 years old, has been working in the queer world for many years. Make-up artist for queens in Brooklyn clubs, club kid, then drag queen in New York, Paris, Berlin, London. Today she is a renowned drag queen and lives from her passion for performing on stage. She and her team also celebrated the two years of existence of her event,Tech Noire in Paris in January 2019. Activism against non-inclusiveness and LGBTQphobia are values that she defends and claims through the art of drag: “The only reason I can do drag is because others fought before me.”

Thonya de la Vega is a baby drag queen: it has been 8 months since makeup and wigs entered her apartment. Thony, a 22-year-old young man, grew up near Bordeaux and came to Paris to study model making. A friend, interested in RuPaul’s Drag Race, introduced him to the other side of the story. During gay pride in Paris, Thonya came out for the first time and reminisces, “With growing homophobia, I had so much hate in me. It was my way of expressing myself”. Drag also allows Thony to fight against his shyness, especially by exploring his creativity.

With Dolly Page, Ghöst and Thonya de la Vega, we talked about:
* The emergence of drag in Paris
* First times performing drag
* Inclusivity of the queer scene in Paris
* The origins of their drag identity
* Safety for drag queens in Paris

THE EMERGENCE OF DRAG IN PARIS

Dolly Page in elegant drag

Dolly Page in elegant drag

RuPaul’s Drag Race was the catalyst of the phenomenon that is happening in the world and in Paris. The queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race have become stars and the art of drag has become trendy. But don’t reduce an art to what you see on Netflix. It can be argued that a drag queen is inherently militant. An individual caricaturing gender codes is an affront to a society where norms and uniformity are queens.

For Ghōst “The problem with the “Instagram queens”, those who are only there to be beautiful and not to perform, is that they have no idea of the queer fight”. The idea is not necessarily to be extremely committed but to be aware of belonging to a community. “You owe it to your community, it is thanks to them that you can go on stage.”

Thonya shares the same opinion but she nuances, “There is always an activist dimension when I am in drag, but everyone finds what they want or need.”

For three years and the because of the overexposure of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the Parisian drag scene has been transformed.

FIRST TIMES PERFORMING DRAG

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Poster for Paris’ upcoming Drag Festival called SNATCHED!

Baby drag queens with emerging careers like Thonya or Dolly, makes their entry every week in Paris. La Tech Noire, la Madame Klaude, la Jeudi Barré, la Kindergarten, there are now drag evenings every night of the week in the capital. Most of these evenings have set up open stages, which allow the babies to get started.

Dolly performed for the first time at La Jeudi Barré, “It was awesome, I felt beautiful and where I was supposed to be.”

Thonya performed for the first time at the Drag Me party. “I was so stressed the first time.” The shy young man reveals himself as a drag queen but it is always complicated to appear in front of a crowd. Thonya reminds us all the same, “It’s a caring environment, we’re all here for the same reason.”

Dolly remarks that sometimes the spaces can not be as welcoming. “There are criticisms, you feel some competition. But there’s room for everyone and most of people are benevolent.”

Ghōst hosts and produces Tech Noire, a queer evening in Paris. Benevolence is one of Ghōst’s core values, “We do prevention. I remind people during the evening that you should not hesitate to come to see us if you feel unsafe.”

INCLUSIVITY OF THE QUEER SCENE IN PARIS

 

Photograph from Ghōst's Tech Noire Party

Photograph from Ghōst’s Tech Noire Party

Ghōst, as a producer explains, “I have already been asked not to let straight cisgender people in. But I do not want to make generalizations. But for example, one evening, a group of men came in after work by chance. They knew nothing about the drag scene and they were curious. And after a while they finally allowed themselves to enjoy a good evening.”

Dolly distinguishes the gay community from the queer community in Paris. The gay community would be much less welcoming than the queer community. “They are all similar and exclusive.”

Thonya confirms that. She tells me when she went once in drag at a gay party, “I was looked at as if I shouldn’t have be there. We need to support each other.”

Since the Parisian scene has become so multifaceted, we need to embrace every aspect of the queer identity.

THE ORIGINS OF THEIR DRAG IDENTITY

 

Dolly Page Paris

 

Drag is a theatrical performance. Each drag queen thus creates her character, composes her costumes, chooses the name and attitude of a self-assigned role.

For Thonya, the name came up spontaneously. “Friends told me I needed a name and I answered promptly “Thonya de la Vega””.  Thonya as the female version of Thony and the family name has no specific reasons, except that it was instinctual. “It was obvious, I couldn’t explain it”.

Ghōst took back her club-kid name, “I was starting to get known and between my first name, the name my friends call me and my clubkid name, I didn’t want to add anything more. “ Ghōst chose his name over the character of Matrix, “I really liked gender neutrality, a ghost can be a man or a woman.”

For Dolly Page, the name was also obvious. “Dolly” because her aesthetics are very feminine and polished, and “Page” in reference to Betty Page, who inspires her a lot.

SAFETY FOR DRAG QUEENS IN PARIS

 

 

The rest of the world is not necessarily benevolent towards the queer world in Paris. To get to the parties, the three drag queens only travel by Uber.

Ghōst tells us her requirements. “No way I’m taking the subway when I am in drag in Paris, I know I will be insulted or even worse. The taxi journey must be taken into account during his bookings otherwise I do not go out.” It is not a whim but a necessity for safety. “I’ve never been attacked while being in drag in New York, Berlin or London, but in Paris, it happens regularly.”

For Thonya, this is a reality that must be recognized. “Once I was in drag with friends and a car stopped, the guys insulted us. So I never travel alone.” It should be pointed out that even some Uber drivers refuse them.

I wanted to write this article, not because I love watching RuPaul’s Drag Race but because when I was interviewing Ghōst in a café in Paris, a man came to insult us and then threw a table at us screaming “faggot”.

Even if Paris remains a pleasant city to live in compared to many other places; homophobia, transphobia and queerphobia are still present and the militant dimension is therefore still inherent in the art of drag. It takes courage to defy norms and be oneself in a closed society. It is easy to understand the need to encourage and respect drag queens, their presence and their work.

 

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Hateful people are roaming around and waiting for one thing: to expel their malevolence and stupidity. During our attack, no one got up, not even the waiters at the café or someone sitting on the terrace, crowded. Nobody moved. We took refuge inside the café and he was staring at us from the outside, waiting for us to come out. The servers were not responding. I had never felt so unsafe as in that café in Montmartre near the Abbesses station in Paris. Ghōst and I waited until he turned around to run away.  We were constantly looking back.

The fight is far from over. Some of us battle by going on stage and flouting the norms of gender, and exulting in the freedom of being.

This fear is still a reality for queer individuals in Paris, even in 2019. React in groups, if you can, when you witness attacks. Protect each other. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the drag queens and queers who dare to be themselves today; you represent freedom for those who will follow us.

 

All photos courtesy of Tech Noire, Jeudi Barre’s Facebook pages and Dolly Page, Thonya de la Vega and Ghōst‘s Instagrams. Follow them to keep up with the drag events happening around Paris.

Reuben Attia is a baby journalist with fingers full of ink. Still a student, always a notebook and a pen in my hand to reflect the realities of the queer world, to give a voice to the individuals concerned, to share information.
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