by Jessie Nash
When British visual artist Victoria Gugenheim told me she was performing as a female drag queen in a show called “Kinky Salon” at the London venue, The Resistance Gallery, my first image was that of a drag king. It took me a few seconds to extract the real meaning from the term ‘female drag queen’ and ask “Wait, what?”
“Female drag queens” are sometimes described by the LGBT community – according to the LGBT Info Wiki – as “Faux Queens.” I was embarrassed to admit this concept was unfamiliar to me. I’ve known about drag kings and queens since my teen experiences with the LGBT scene. I learned quickly not make assumptions about the sexuality or identity of those performing. Yet I could not recall ever seeing a female drag queen show. In simple terms, a female drag queen is a biological female performing in the traditional drag queen style usually employed by men. For Victoria there is also an element of her sexuality and gender identity involved. She describes herself as: “A riot grrrl who’s a gay man, who’s a drag queen, trapped in a woman’s body.” Of course it made perfect sense after that, and I wondered how the whole thing had passed me by.
In Victoria’s omni-gendered, angle-grinding drag show she performs a choreographed mime to Anthony Stewart Head’s version of Sweet Transvestite while shooting sparks into the audience. Her show is not intended to threaten the drag king concept nor is it merely an opportunity to play dress-up. For Victoria, it is a way of life. I interviewed Victoria to find out more about the subversive sexuality and gender-bending ideas at the core of her show.
Jessie Nash: What role does your sex play in your performance?
Victoria Gugenheim: I’ve never really seen myself as just a girl, ever, I’ve always felt there’s a boy element to me. When I was wearing make up it was drag. RuPaul is right – people should be able to adapt their gender. The characters I embody are always drag, always.
When I’m on stage doing my shows I’m not so much a female drag queen, in the drag sense. I’m a girl dressing as a boy dressing as a drag queen, but I don’t start off as a girl, because in my mind I’m not a girl.
JN: You mentioned characters – tell me more about that.
VG: Even if I’m just being myself on stage there’s always a drag element to it, there’s a butch element if it’s angle grinding, or if it’s the trans show I’m a mixture of the phallic woman, to being a guy as parodied and pomp as can be when it comes to the feminine form.
The pomp, bravado, and exaggerated movements are important to the process as you are parodying everything. When I do traditional drag which is miming, its drag-plus, because there’s always choreo, always costumes, always something extra, not just from the gender perspective but from the performance perspective. Recent work has included turning myself into an android, a warrior, and a geisha.
JN: The photo of you angle-grinding is pretty impressive! Is it dangerous?
VG: When I’m angle-grinding I love adding a masculine element to the drag, so I can shoot a 20-foot stream of sparks from my crotch, which is pretty awesome! I like the element of danger, it makes the shows more enjoyable.
In the show I just did, the platform boots I wore were seven and a half inches high so I could have fallen at any moment while spinning and twirling, so I felt there was realism in that. I didn’t know what was going to happen. Like life – it could fuck up in front of everyone. If it’s just a run-through mime it’s going to look flat. If there’s something to fear it will be vibrant.
JN: Hyper-feminism seems an important part of the drag queen act. How do people react when the wig comes off and they see your shaved head?
VG: I like playing around with accentuated feminine archetypes, like when I wear a wig that’s 47 inches long, conical boobs, brash coloured fishnets, even geisha make up I do brashly. When people think of female drag queens they always think of someone with long hair in real life, so I’ll walk around in a wig and then when I do a costume change and people see I’m bald they gasp. Also when I change the wigs it’s like a rite of passage, from drag princess to drag queen.
I don’t do it for shock value, its part of my gender and it always will be. If I could look totally androgynous I would reach my ideal.
JN: I couldn’t find much online about female drag queen shows in London, although I discovered that a Faux Queen pageant had been held in San Francisco between 1996 – 2005. Do you know a lot of people doing similar work?
VG: I know of only two other girls in the London circuit who do the female drag queen thing, who do it with conviction at least.
JN: When did your explorations with gender identity begin?
VG: My dad caught me cross-dressing when I was 11 in his clothes and told me I watch too many movies. I wore the boys’ uniform at school and it was always a drag thing at a young age, because even then I was making characters. If I had to be fem I was the queen of the universe. I used to take boys home and put nail varnish on them and face paint from about 7 or 8. I’ve always been a very visual person. I’m all girl plus extra boy. The way I feel fluctuates, but mostly I feel more masculine and take a dominant role.
There’s a lot of traps in stereotypical gender which people fall into and it makes them unhappy.
The way I feel with my gender has transpired to my love life, I always knew I was bisexual, or omnisexual. I had a crush on a girl at 3 – She Ra, and I also liked Venger from Dungeons and Dragons. I love the idea of a part of me being totally androgynous so that I can cross every gender boundary, but I adore people not knowing which gender I am and that’s why I shaved my head, because when I had long hair people knew.
JN: Who, or what, are some of your icons or influences?
VG: Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes in To Wong Foo, Guy Pearce in Priscilla, Marnie Scarlet, who is a good friend of mine and female drag performer. Most of my idols growing up have been men in dresses. Artistically: Kane from Blood Omen 2 (computer game), yaoi porn, Eddie Izzard, Anthony Stewart Head, the people of Tranny Shack in San Fran, and Party Monster with its’ darkness and decadence, blood and glitter.
JN: I’m sensing a preference here…?
VG: Frank N. Furter is an iconic character for me. I saw him and I thought “Ah, that’s what’s missing”. Growing up I liked boys who cross-dressed, were drag queens, or trannies. And the girls I like have a masculine side.
If a guy isn’t wearing lipstick I’m not interested. Men in makeup are far more approachable to me, and I find it fabulous that they are able to express themselves like that.
JN: Do you think of yourself as a feminist?
VG: I do classify myself as a feminist. It doesn’t matter if you’re being andro or butch or anything, but the status quo in western society is that they will force people into boxes and oppress the hyper-feminised. Feminism is the radical notion that woman are people. It’s like 3rd or 4th wave feminism. We are human beings first and foremost.
JN: I’ve seen photos from your show in which you’re wearing a strap-on dildo. How does that relate to the female drag queen aesthetic?
VG: They are in my sex life, in the characters, and part of me. When I’m on stage and flaunting a cock, yeah, it’s a drag queen thing, but I’m being a multilayered gender. A drag queen has a cock, even a female drag queen has a cock. Even if it’s the angle-grinder, that’s still the cock on stage and I’d feel naked without it. I have different dildos for different occasions as well because different characters have different cocks. A penis doesn’t make the man, but at the same time it’s a nice accessory.
JN: It’s been fantastic talking to you, Victoria! Anything else you’d like to add?
VG: I’ve never felt worried if people would accept me because this is exactly who I am. ▢
Note: Click here to check out selections of Victoria’s photography and body art on her Facebook fan page.
Jessie Nash is a British writer, currently studying and teaching writing in Ohio. She earned her BA at Middlesex University, London, and her published work includes poetry, reviews, and articles.