In the latest season of Rupaul’s Drag Race, Bob The Drag Queen commented that there are two types of drag queens: Halloween Queens and Pride Queens. And this holy season of Halloween, I thought I’d have a look at drag, the horror of subversion, and the freedom of letting your freak flag fly. I’ve been lucky to be joined by Plymouth’s Premier Drag Queen Stevie Knicks, a queen on the rise and a bitch to look out for. Sashay on in and come on Boshemians, let’s get sickening!
Drag has been an art form for centuries, with young men playing female roles in Shakespearean and Elizabethan theatre and Opera. Men dressing up as women has also been used for comedic effect in just about every sketch show known to man – because get it, it’s funny when men dress up as women because, you know… comedy. But there’s a whole other specimen of men dressing up as women; Drag Queens. First described in print in 1941, the drag queen exaggerates and embraces every aspect of femininity and wears it proudly. We are talking full contour, several pairs of lashes and high heels tall enough to kill a man. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly some shady aspects of the drag movement (including transphobic language and occasional misogyny), but for the most part, drag is a wholehearted embrace of femininity that allows LGBTQ men to let their freak flags fly and to fuck with the typical gender norms to both entertain and educate. Werk.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Stevie Knickers, That Trash Queen With The Beard, and the man behind with woman Tom Holmes. (NB: Interview was done before Halloween)
What will you be wearing this Halloween?
Tom Holmes: I’m going out as Finn Bálor, he’s a wrestler with a great look.
Stevie Knickers: And you’re using my makeup too, you devious git. I’m not going out. Tom won’t let me this time. Says I was a bit too much last year. I mean really, some people just don’t know a lady when they see one.
TH: You woke up in a skip with Tom Daley last Halloween.
SK: You’re just jealous.
What made you start drag and why?
TH: I started drag for a friend’s birthday, funnily enough. I had recently got into RuPaul’s Drag Race and it inspired me greatly, although watching Paul O’Grady probably first put the thought in my head. Actually come to think of it, I also wore a dress and fake boobs at the age of 9 in a school play as one of the ugly sisters.
SK: Since when do you do drag?!
And on that note, tell me about your drag aesthetic.
SK: I’m all about getting a great look on the cheap—
TH: She’s trashy.
SK: Rude. What he’s trying to say is that I adhere to the sort of rock/heavy metal chick thing pretty rigidly, and reuse and repurpose stuff to make it look good on me. Mostly it’s leather and band shirts.
TH: –and a LOT of makeup. That’s my job.
SK: Shhh!! You’ll reveal all the secrets!
Who are your drag icons? And actually who are your female icons?
TH: Drag icons for me are Lily Savage, Tandi Iman Dupree and the American Apparel Ad Girls. I come from a pretty maternal family, so my female icons start with my Mum and my Grandma. They are and were the strongest people I’ve ever known.
If we’re talking celebrities I’d have to go with the likes of Michelle Obama and J.K. Rowling for being hugely inspirational and successful, Amy Winehouse and Stevie Knicks for their voices, as well as Björk, Paloma Faith, Mamrie Hart and Natalia Tena. They’re just great people, and they don’t care what anyone thinks of them, which is a good way to live.
So judging by this interview, there’s clearly a bit of a clash of personalities I guess? What characteristics does Stevie bring out in Tom?
TH: Usually anger, frustration—
SK: Quiet, monkey. He’s kidding of course! I bring out the entertainter in Tom. There’s a side to him that really enjoys making people laugh and be able to sing along for just a little while.
So what Stevie’s story?
SK: Well, I was born in Liverpool near the jam butty mines, and somehow ended up piggybacking on Tom all the way down to Plymouth. God knows why we ended up here, but we did, and honestly it’s great. I’ve always been a rock girl, I was listening to Metallica in my crib, I grew up singing Whitesnake and stuff, so it just never left me!
TH: She tried to pull me.
SK: Hahahahahaha. You wish.
And what’s it like being Stevie? Could you describe the experience?
SK: Here in Plymouth no-one bats an eyelid. It’s great. I go to my local fairly often, and a lot of people know me there so it’s nice to have that community. I was in London this year and a fella on the street tried to surreptitiously take a photo of me, but I clocked him, so I just stopped still, and struck some poses. *tongue pop*
Werk. When out in drag, what kind of reactions do you get from the straights? How do these reactions make you feel?
SK: I think mostly they’re scared of me so they don’t bother talking to me!
TH: That’s because you’ve got a giant beard on your face, you daft cow.
SK: Do you hear this one? I don’t even know why I keep you around, to be honest.
TH: Really though, I think mostly they leave us alone because even if it’s not their cup of tea, it’s not affecting their lives.
SK: At Pride we met a bunch of cool people of all genders and sexualities though, and a few have asked for pictures with me before, and that’s always really nice.
That’s too cute. I met some of the nicest drag queens at Nottingham Pride – sometimes it’s just nice to say that you like their boots or makeup or whatever. Support your local drag queens! So, do your family support your burgeoning drag career?
TH: God yeah. When my Mum found out I was hanging around with a drag queen she gave me a bunch of makeup, and a case to keep it all in for Christmas.
SK: Nice lady, your mum. Good taste in leather jackets.
That’s utterly adorable. I can’t wait to meet your mum at one of your shows and share leather jacket secrets. For some people, Halloween is the first time they can go out in drag with it being a bit more acceptable – what’s your experience of this?
SK: I never usually remember Halloween, so I couldn’t tell ya.
TH: I suppose a lot of people are a bit scared of their partners, parents, families or friends thinking it’s something that’s going to be a regular occurrence, because of the stigma that may come with that fact, and while it’s a shame that people feel they have to hide what they want to do for fun in their spare time, I just love that people are still trying it. Some of them end up doing it full time, some of them just tick that item off the bucket list and they’ve given it a go. That’s great too.
What would you say to anyone who’s considering dragging up this Halloween?
SK: Mine’s a whiskey and coke.
TH: You’re shameless, you. My advice to everyone? Do it! It’ll be fun, and you’ll get that experience of trying makeup, if you never have before. Even if you’re worried what people might think, everyone’ll really appreciate the guts it takes, no matter your gender identity and/or sexuality. It’s drag, it’s not meant to be serious, so enjoy yourself!
So even though you literally just said it’s not that serious, drag can be a subversion of femininity and female gender roles – how have you found people reacting to this? With horror or glee?
TH: I don’t know if glee is the right word, but I think most people see the fun side of it. It’s not meant to be serious. It’s drag. It can be used to drive for awesome change in the community, but at the end of the day it’s fun. It’s a silly, campy thing that’s been around for ages, and in a world where comedy and live entertainment is changing, it’s important to look back sometimes and realise there is a place for everyone, especially in the drag community.
What’s the future for you and drag?
SK: I just want to drink and sing, and have fun.
TH: What’s new? I can see Stevie on stage. She’s tried out for a few competitions and things but honestly I think she really just does it because it’s fun. Why else do we do anything?
SK: Because you pay the bar tab.
TH: Aye, that too…
And finally, do you have any idea what a Rectangle Girl of the World is?
SK: Not a frigging clue luv.
TH: Not sure anyone does.
Photos of Stevie taken by Luke Stratta