Meet Amber Cadaverous, one of the faux queens redefining drag
‘You’re not a drag queen, are you sweetie? You’re a lady’
“Faux queens” or “bio-queens” are often perceived to be in the minority within the LGBT and drag communities world-wide. But there is a growing number of young female performers who adopt drag style, so The Tab spoke to two drag queens in Birmingham to learn more about this interesting new rise of faux drag within drag culture and gay nightlife. We spoke to Amber Cadaverous, an up-and-coming student faux drag queen as well as her male drag mother, China Dethcrash about why more and more young women are experimenting with gender and drag looks.
What is faux drag all about and where did your interest in it come from?
Amber: Faux drag is the same as normal drag. I started watching ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ when I was 16/17, and I thought I can do this! I started it as an extension of my art. My studies in fine art led me to discover performance art, queer theory and gender politics which is a big part of why I do drag. A lot of girls see Drag Race and think they can’t get involved because they’re a woman and I never saw it like that. I didn’t think people were going to criticise me and I didn’t think it was necessary to ask for a man’s permission to start out in drag. I didn’t realise people didn’t like or understand bio-queens until I had been doing drag for well over a year. I tend to get online abuse, like comments on photos and tweets, for doing what I do. It doesn’t affect me.
China: I don’t think faux drag is any different from any other kind of drag. The only reason that faux drag exists as a form is because even though drag tries to deviate away from gender, gender is still imposed upon it. So when women enter into it, it becomes politicised because the person who does it is a woman. There’s no difference. I didn’t specifically become interested in faux drag either, it was just because Amber came into the club and she looked better than all the other drag queens. Faux drag is not supposed to be corrective, it’s supposed to be expressive.
Do you think the rise of this form of drag is all about reclaiming femininity? Is this important to you?
Amber: Definitely. Some people argue it appropriates women but I think you can only see it that way if you think drag is only about men dressing as women. Drag is gender-less. Drag is post-gender. Drag is whatever you want it to be. Not everyone wants to dress as a woman, but instead like a “pink blob” or an alien. It transcends gender and it’s about being who you want to be. People find a lot of solace in it: trans kids, non-binary kids, for example.
China: Yes, it’s important to me because I feel like for a long time women have felt excluded from drag. Women are kind of the people who get picked on at drag shows. Often they are subjected to drag instead of being supported or up-lifted by it. But I think recently women have actively voiced that they want to reclaim femininity and I’m all about that.
Do you think faux drag’s rise is simply an extension of the New York ‘club kid’ scene?
Amber: A lot of drag scenes were inspired by the original club kids, but it’s something more now. It’s partying, it’s performance art, it’s whatever you want it to be. American drag is very different to British drag though – as shown by Drag Race and the prominence of club kids in the 90s. A lot of Drag Race fans think there’s just one way of doing drag and it can often by a narrow minded way of viewing drag. Recently on the scene, I’ve noticed that people expect you to be a certain type of drag and look like the people from the TV – it’s not real, it’s a reality TV show. I love the show, but it’s different to Britain. What we do over here is a lot more androgynous. I feel that American bio-queens face a lot more discrimination than those over here.
China: No, I think it was just time. Just as fields like business, law, politics have been dominated by men for centuries and it’s just a natural thing for woman to want to find their place within this. There’s a glass ceiling in drag too. Faux drag is helping to combat that.
What do you say to people who think drag is only for cis men?
Amber: They’re completely wrong, anyone can do drag! It’s simply not a case of “man becomes woman”; people experiment with shapes, some people want to be like club kids, others play with balloons – it’s about discovering and playing with loads of weird and wonderful creations. It’s not about being hyper-feminine unless that is what your drag is trying to exemplify. My drag can be feminine, animalistic, character-based. I like just playing with different contrasting concepts and ideas. You don’t have to be a man to do drag – drag is becoming who you want to be. That isn’t limited to men. However you can face a lot of misogyny within gay clubs because you are a woman doing drag. I don’t know why minorities within this already persecuted community face discrimination by others within it. You see a lot of racism in gay places, but I think the misogyny comes from internalised homophobia and hatred of fem characteristics. A lot of people think bio-drag isn’t valid when it’s still art. Every art is important and everyone who puts effort into their craft is valid.
China: Thinking in that way, it completely defeats the point of drag. I see in the future that everyone will be doing drag, and it won’t be drag anymore. People are just going to realise you can adorn your body however you want. Faux drag has come about because women clocked onto that concept quicker than most other people. Faux drag and drag itself will collapse because it will be realised that it’s fine to wear a wig, fine to wear a dress and people will be reclaiming their bodies a lot more due to this. You see it in culture now with women wanted to take more risks in fashion, more willing to look like drag queens – contouring and highlighting is a really recent phenomenon that directly comes from drag. It all swings in roundabouts, we’ll all be doing drag eventually.
What inspires your look? How influential is your drag family in helping you create your look?
Amber: Sometimes it’s paintings, sometimes it’s people. I try to look other-worldly – as different as I can to my normal self. I like “hag-fish” looks a lot. I did one for a beach party last year where I had fish nets, a hook coming out of my mouth with shells, crustaceans, and other animals on my head as well as a mermaid tail and a bra with loads of seaweed. I get inspired by China also, as her style is very witch-like. She’s crazy. I first started on the scene as just a child, lost in a club. This really tall woman-man came up to me and said “you’re lost”, and took me in. Being part of a drag family is incredible – it’s a support system. When I first started going out on the scene, I was really socially anxious – I couldn’t speak to anyone. Because of the way I look, naturally people want to touch you, come say hi and it was quite scary. I’m a lot more confident than I was when I first started going out. Because I have roots in fine art and make up, I’ve always wanted to play with gender and play with how people perceived me and how I can change my face and body as much as I can.
Some people say that faux drag over-sexualises women, what do you say to that?
China: Every faux queen is different. If a faux-queen is doing it and someone else has said that they are over-sexualised, that’s none of their business. If a woman wants to go out in absolutely nothing, she’s free to do that. It’s society’s responsibility to be able to process that however they will – just don’t be a dick about it.
How long does it take to perfect your faux drag look?
Amber: Two to three hours – so not too bad! I try to make outfits that last though; if I reuse them, I try to make it discrete and completely changeover so it’s not a repeat outfit.
What do your family think of your faux drag?
Amber: They’re really supportive. I don’t think my dad quite gets it and he’ll say things like “Oh but you’re not a drag queen are you sweetie? You’re a lady!” My dad especially doesn’t understand that drag transcends gender and the drag he experienced when he was younger was typically “man dressing as a woman” or old-school Cabaret style. He struggles to see that it can be anything. My mum is great and even helps me create outfits sometimes – things like mermaid tails and wings! However, my drag extended family is just as incredible and they extend to Manchester.