Why Drag Queens Need Big Cities
Richard Peake explores why many young queer people in the UK are ditching their humble, small towns in search for fame in large cities.
It’s probably a familiar story all over the UK.
Growing up in a small suburban town in Somerset, I didn’t always feel comfortable being myself. It has always felt behind the times. I mean, it only just got a Nando’s and people take the Flower Show very seriously. It seems that West Country towns aren’t as homely to feminine boys with long hair as they are to straight, white blokes with bald heads and tribal tattoos who drive white vans. It’s probably a familiar story all over the UK.
Meth is a drag queen created by Ben Giddens. Meth grew up in Taunton, Somerset – the same hometown as me – and our experiences in the semi-rural borough as teens were somewhat similar. Now, Meth lives and performs comfortably in a big cityafter years of being tormented for being different.
‘It’s like the American dream. It’s like all those little kids in the back swamps of Alabama, packing up their things and moving to New York,’ Meth told me. ‘It’s always going to be the way because metropolitan areas are where you find culture.’
Meth told me his style of drag is like if you ‘saw a clown while hallucinating going to the Met Gala’. ‘I like big, ridiculous, clashing colours and oversized makeup but I still like my glamour,’ he boasts.
From, ‘is that a boy or a girl?’ to, ‘Look at that freakshow’, you’ll hear it all.
Speaking with Meth on the eve of his birthday, he told me what it was like growing up in a place with such behind-the-times values. He openly said, ‘I used to get a lot of s**t from walking down the street, and not even in drag; just like this freaky little emo teenage, gender-bending weirdo.’
I could definitely relate to this. Walking down the high street in Taunton is like trying to make your way across a minefield when it comes to comments blurted by strangers. From, ‘is that a boy or a girl?’ to, ‘Look at that freakshow’, you’ll hear it all.
From an early age, Meth was inspired by the music of Evanescence and the Dresden Dolls and ‘all sorts of emo, gothic kinda of stuff’. Being interested in something that the rest of your classmates aren’t can place you low down on the all-important hierarchy of popularity at school and it can make you feel like an outsider. Experimenting with his gender came naturally to him as he grew into adulthood playing around with what gender meant to him, through the clothes he out on his body and the colours dyed into his hair. He’s always been a performer and got his feet on the stage for the first time at four years old.
Many celebrities like Ruby Rose, Jaden Smith and Miley Cyrus are putting positive images of gender fluidity into the media…
Young people openly exploring their gender – whether it be through performing in drag every weekend or playing around with colours and styles in their everyday wardrobe – is visibly on the rise, even though homophobia is still alive and well. Many celebrities like Ruby Rose, Jaden Smith and Miley Cyrus are putting positive images of gender fluidity into the media, allowing young people to feel more comfortable, however LGBT Foundation found that 58% of UK pupils considered their school to be unwelcoming and unsafe for anyone who isn’t straight.
As soon as he got to the city, he knew he was where he was supposed to be.
Meth escaped the treacherous territory of his small town to find his new life in the city when he was 19. He studied at drama school and instantly knew that being in a small town was not for him. As soon as he got to the city, he knew he was where he was supposed to be. All it took was a change of location and many cities, including Bristol, can offer a whole world of opportunity to those feeling suffocated.
But what’s so great about big cities and why are all these young, queer creatives moving there? The answer is simple: ‘There is literally everything here. Anything you could want to do is in London. Any avenue you want to pursue other than farming is right here in London.’
The glittery doors that have opened up for Meth after setting his suitcase down in the city are impressive and never-ending. He started as a burlesque artist under the name Mister Mistress and the rest sprouted from that. Without being in such a connected city, the drag queen probably wouldn’t have achieved any of his current triumphs.
Meth appeared on ‘Drag Queens of London in 2014’ – a reality television show that looked behind-the-scenes at various performers. He runs a club night in Camden called ‘The Meth Lab’, that is known for bringing popular contestants of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ over from America to perform.
Although Meth often looks close to death with his dramatic, bold makeup and on-stage outfits, he is living proof that anyone from places nobody has heard of can live freely in the urban areas of the UK like Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham and London.
All you need to do is escape.
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