OPINION: Queer I Come – The C.U.N.T Of Brighton’s Drag Scene

Besi Besemar February 25, 2019

Exploring the diverse and supportive drag scene in Brighton, by Violet Valentine (Zoe Anslow-Gwilliam) @zoe_ag

BRIGHTON is generally known as being one of Britain’s quirkiest cities with eccentricities like independent queer events and independent fashion companies on every street. Brighton is a brilliant place to let your pride and freak flag fly. It’s the perfect example of colliding British subcultures from old school skate culture, the hippy movement, unavoidable modern lad culture, the prominent gay scene and the queer punk revolt.

Brighton’s unique and diverse styling remains a significant influence on the type of drag that comes out of Brighton. Brighton has everything: traditional drag queens, club kids and drag kings of all gender expressions. Exploring gender in drag is a pleasant experience in Brighton with AFAB, trans and non-binary performers being aplenty. Apart from snide remarks from some public, I’m supported by fellow performers around me that my drag is indeed very valid.

Brighton seems to produce some of the weirdest and notably, creepiest, drag on the UK scene. With performers such as Dick Day, the winner of London competition, Gold Rush, opting for an eclectic, bold style with the silliest of gags. He is a brilliant example of Brighton’s unapologetic comedic approach to performance, with no drops or splits necessary. He stated; “Within Brighton, there’s undoubtedly a more immense comedic value to performers’ viewpoints on performance.” Brighton is where he started his drag journey and he commented there is; “A very accepting and cohesive community.” Despite very few venues for the sheer amount of talent Brighton has to offer, he thinks; “On the most part we support each other and book a broad range of performers, some of the best the UK has to offer.”

Dick tends to base his looks on specific acts however comments he isn’t “a very femme presenting queen,” despite the fact he does pad and cinch he “still rocks a moustache and body hair, which is another thing we don’t consistently see on more ‘famous’ queens” a lot of the scene also “follows this mantra.”

Alike to others, I get my inspiration from everywhere; from the runway, current music and popular films to name a few. I draw my most recent inspiration from fantasy art and games such as League of Legends and Magic: The Gathering. But I’m obviously influenced by other drag artists that employ an alternative style, on Brighton drag scene, notably, Lydia L’Scabies for her combination of glamour and gore with use of prosthetics and pout, and Nosferatu for his brilliant concepts and the fact that he has big pointy ears too.

Brighton has allowed me to be more unapologetic with my drag style with reduced worry. I continue to be comfortable with exploring my style of cartoon-like and eccentric drag with prosthetics and a multitude of coloured face paints. Some of my recent styling and performances have been made easier to explore by the welcoming nature towards alternative drag.

I have the pleasure of being best friends with up and coming successes on the Brighton circuit: Electra, best described as a vintage c**k destroyer (an aesthetic), and Calypso, best described by the word ‘spoopy’ (sorry, Joshua). We often function as a dysfunctional group, which means stealing each other’s wigs and Kryolan sticks but more importantly our closeness has resulted in dramatic personal development within our drag over the past year helped by the fact we’ve all been doing drag for about two years. We learn from each other’s styles, such as trying different looks that encourage us out of our comfort zones, and in turn discover alternative assets to use in our drag whether it’s something as simple as a new colour combination or a new performance trick.

I chatted with Electra, Connor Harriott, about how her drag has developed because of Brighton. Connor spent his childhood in Newcastle, miles away from this seaside town, then moved down to Brighton to study Law. Electra was created in Newcastle but wasn’t truly actualised until Brighton. Connor commented that; “Coming from a smaller scene, I was given the foundations of drag but Brighton has developed me hugely as a queen and performer because it’s allowed me opportunities that more intimate scenes just don’t have.” He also stated the cabaret scene allows him to explore new performance areas. “The close group of friends I’ve made through drag have allowed me to improve and develop my drag character massively to what it is today.”

From our recent conversations about progress and motivation, we have discovered some of our motivation is drawn from our support for each other. It is comforting to be able to express mutual support at shows and even perform all together on multiple line-ups such as the most recent final of Lip Sync for Your Life at Club Revenge. These shared experiences help us to critique and praise each other’s work to then develop new acts and looks.

Electra, Violet and Calypso
Electra, Violet and Calypso

I knew that Calypso would want in on the discussion, so I asked about her development on the local scene. Calypso, Joshua Hughes-Davies, made his way down to Brighton from what I like to refer to as ‘The Shire’, Welwyn Garden City. Josh arrived in Brighton about a year ago with Calypso in tow. Calypso was never truly realised until she started performing in Brighton, namely at Sussex Drag Soc, where she is media and promotions manager.

Joshua explained; “I spent my entire A-Levels dreaming of Brighton and becoming part of its scene. I wanted the challenge of a saturated and diverse scene after having been exposed to drag through Live Action Role Play and things like Rocky Horror as a child.” He expresses a distinct impression that drag requires; “Creativity, a fiery devotion, passion and a sense of fun.”

He continued further; “Being accepted with open arms when you aren’t necessarily a mainstream kind of drag performer was unexpected and appreciated. You nonetheless have to work hard as there’s so much drag representation; you have to work just as hard to get recognised.”

We all agree that Brighton is a pleasant place to start out with drag and feel it sets an example for the UK in terms of offering opportunities for drag artists to perform or partake in events, with the willingness to help each other grow.