Published 08 Oct 2018
I’m not going to lie, the first time I met a drag queen I was terrified. Whether it was the overt sexual dominance most traditional queens exude, or quite simply… clowns are terrifying. Yes I just described drag queens as clowns, and that was wrong of me, but as a young small town sheltered gay guy that is what they were to me. Bright, colourful, there to entertain, loud, kind of annoying, the “I get it, you’re a man in a dress”… the joke. With this rude and discriminatory view in one pocket and a touch of internalised homophobia in the other off I went to London to study fashion styling and photography!
At one of the many parties and launch nights we were encouraged to attend, I was met by a stranger physically moving their head up and down to take in what I was wearing, punctuated with a short sharp exhale of air from their nostrils teamed with a sneer! I genuinely thought this sort of behaviour was only deemed acceptable in TV shows like Ugly Betty… I guess the stereotype has to come from somewhere. This person judged me in an instant, my presence was annoying, what I was wearing was a joke to them, I was as comical as… as a man in a dress.
RuPaul says you need to find your tribe in life, which I agree with but on a creative level the word tribe can be substituted for muse. The breadcrumbs were there for me to pick up, but I was trying to fit in with the fashion crowd so was on a low carb diet. So I blindly persevered with my degree, feeling a touch unfulfilled and like an imposter, but finished with a respectable 2:1, so not all was lost.
It took a few years after university to finally realise that I was looking in the wrong places for my tribe, for my muse, my niche, my respect, and my acceptance. I’d been ignoring the love of the gay community, the open arms of drag, I’d been ignoring the man with the immaculately painted face, the man in the big dress and the deep voice that said with a smile “Alright Darling?”.
The concept of Alright Darling, began life as a simple Tumblr page, just a place to reblog images I liked, a place to store ideas, and a place to open my eyes to the LGBTQ+ scene around the world. It soon started to get a lot of followers, so I started spotlighting other creatives from the LGBTQ+ community, creating original content, and photographing people I thought would be great online features. I didn’t start to delve into the beautiful world that I’m so happily amerced in now, until a friend of mine David Mason (owner and creator of Slick It Up) blogged about a show that was in its first season, describing it as a crossover of America’s next top model, Project Runway, and America’s got talent... but with Drag Queens. Needless to say, I was hooked from the first episode. It was pure camp. It was the fun I needed, and it was watching artists at work.
The first Drag queen I ever photographed and the first queen associated with Alright Darling, was and still is one of the most controversial contestants from RuPaul’s drag race, Willam Belli . With Willam, I never thought he would respond, but I thank my lucky stars he did, as he became the catalyst for what Alright Darling is today. I contacted numerous publications offering the shoots we’d done together, we did get a couple of features but I was ultimately an unknown photographer and drag wasn’t at the pinnacle in mainstream media as it is today, so we weren’t going to get the cover story we were aiming for. But when the AAA girls formed (a drag girl group consisting of Willam, Courtney Act and Alaska, an abbreviation of The American Apparel Ad girls) I knew I had to try my hardest to get them featured in a predominant UK magazine and aim for a Drag Queen based cover. But even with this exciting group of people being offered up, I still wasn’t getting the positive response I knew I should be met with.
My tutors at University said that as a photographer I would typically struggle for five to ten years before I would start being noticed for what I want to do, apparently this is just the way it is for creative people. I graduated uni in 2007, it was coming up to the ten year mark and I was done waiting for my “big break”, I was completely done with not getting what I wanted, I had found my muse in drag, documenting and playing in the drag scene made me so happy, and I wanted to show that to everyone. If other publications didn’t want to feature a queen on their cover, then I’ll make my own.
From the first issue of the zine I knew what direction I wanted it to go in. From working with the drag racers and hanging out with them back stage at clubs and bars, I admired how they would integrate with the local queens and talent and never use their celebrity as a way to elevate them self above anyone. I wanted the zine to reflect that, to sandwich unknown talent between the popular faces we’re used to seeing, giving everyone a place to share the spot light.
Something that really struck a note with me, was something Lady Gaga said at the start of her music video to Marry The Night; “When I look back at my life it’s not that I don’t want to see things exactly as they happened it’s just that I prefer to remember them in an artistic way, and truthfully the lie of it all is much more honest, because I invented it”. That statement drew parallels to what drag and art is, that man in a dress many years ago was there to show me what art really is at its core, it’s about being your authentic self and decorating it, beatifying it. Amercing myself into the drag scene has opened my eyes greatly. Obviously like all scenes and cultures there are kinks to be ironed out, and hierarchies to some degree, but predominantly I’ve found it’s a very welcoming environment. Elitism isn’t generally accepted, and inclusivity is held high, whether it’s wrapped up in a beautiful piece of fiction or displayed in its raw state… the drag and LGBTQ+ scene is about truth. That ethos is something I want to be a part of and I think something that should be taken on board by the leaders of this world.
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