Skip links

Etcetera Etcetera: non-binary finery

Share This Post

Born in Canberra to a Lebanese, Irish and Chinese mother and an Italian, French and Welsh father, Oliver Levi-Malouf aka Etcetera Etcetera is Canberra’s most high-profile drag export. Eliminated from the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under in episode 5, Etcetera Etcetera has continued to evolve since going on the show and refuses to be defined by it – or by anything else. Interview by Danny Corvini.

What year did you move to Sydney?

I moved in December 2015 when I was 17 and I went out and did drag for the first time on New Year’s Eve 2016/2017. I’d never done drag in Canberra.

Was that part of the reason for the move?

No, I moved up to go to film school as I’d gotten into AFTRS. In my mind, there was something in me that was just like, I need to explore something. I really enjoyed growing up in Canberra and going to school there and I had a good friendship group. I grew up in Evatt and then we moved to Hackett when I was 13 or 14 and I started going to Darramalan. I genuinely had a really good quality of teenage years in Canberra. I don’t think there was any point where I was like, ‘Oh, this sucks, I need to get out of Canberra’. I’d seen through my delving deeper into film, culture and art that there was a world out there that potentially didn’t exist in Canberra. I just felt like there was a connection somewhere out there that I needed to make and I found it pretty quickly when I moved to Sydney because I think I was sniffing it out. I remember going out to Oxford Street for the first time. I just turned 18 and I downloaded Grindr on my birthday. Within two days I was on a date with someone and he was like, ‘Do you want to go out? We can go out to Oxford Street’. And I was like, ‘Oh, absolutely’. He took me out to Stonewall and a switch flipped in my head. It was like, ‘Oh my god, this resonates with me deeper than anything has resonated with me before’ and that night I saw my first drag queens in person. I was sitting outside of Arq waiting for a bus home and I watched Coco Jumbo, Ivy Leaguee and one other unidentified queen – maybe Decoda Secret –  walk out and smoke a cigarette and I was like, ‘Oh, my God!’ It was it was a real big, cinematic moment; a really, really intense instant self-realisation. I talk to a lot of people who come from Canberra to Sydney who moved at a young age and hadn’t really been exposed to anything queer before that and they describe very similar light bulb moments; and I think it just comes down to the ability. I think it’s so great that Canberra has that now and that every time I go back to Canberra, there’s almost like a new wave, a new rennaissance of queer culture. To be honest, I think if that was there when I was there, I probably wouldn’t have had that desire or urge to go explore. Who knows what my life would have been like? It probably would have been just as amazing because Canberra is an amazing place to live. It just turned out that at that time, the right place for me to be was Sydney. I’m more of a Sydney-sider in like my mind but I’m a Canberra person person in the heart. If someone asked me ‘Where do you live?’ I’d say Sydney. But if they asked me ‘Where’s home?’ I’d always say Canberra because my family is still there. I have more of a deep emotional connection in Canberra. I like how Canberra always feels like home every time I go back.

How do you feel about your adopted home?

I like Sydney because I like the challenge, I think. I like the passion for drag that exists here and the history. There’s some kind of magic in the drag community here in terms of how much how much we’re preserving and how much it feels like we’re stewards of a history and we’re carrying it forward. I have a personal connection to the Sydney drag story; the story of the Cross and the DIVA Awards and all of these iconic kind of Sydney institutions and drag that’s been passed down from generations of drag queens. I feel like I have an obligation to preserve some of this culture and history in the way that I perform and do drag.

How long did it take you to get established there?

I went to film school for three-and-a-bit years and I was dabbling in drag while I was there. I didn’t really see it as a viable career option, ever, more so as something to get free drinks in clubs! Also, I had a stalker for a bit of my time and I decided if I was going to run into him in clubs and I was wearing drag, he probably wouldn’t be able to tell who I was. I felt a little bit safer going into clubs knowing that no one had any idea who I was. I think it was also the gender thing: there was something bubbling up inside me about my gender and about who I was as a person. I think drag was drip-feeding me the dopamine that I needed that I wasn’t able to give myself because of my internalised transphobia and you know, queer phobia that was making me fit into a box every day to go to film school. I think I finished film school in my mind before I actually did because I stopped enjoying it. I think I stopped enjoying it because I realised that there was something else that I enjoyed more; and that was drag. I was down in Melbourne for a weekend of performing and doing some gigs down there and I was on the dance floor of Sircuit at about 2am I was I dressed as the cockroach character that I used to do. I was blacked out. My friend told me the next morning that at about 2am, I pulled out my phone and called my boss from Napoleon Perdis up here in Sydney where I worked and I quit on the spot. I woke her up in the middle of the night and said, ‘I quit my job, I’m not coming back in, forget it’. And from that moment, I was determined to make it as a full time drag performer.

What age would you have been at this point? 

That’s 2017 so I would have been 19. At that point, I was just like, I’m gonna get to the end of Film School; I’m gonna not fail, but it takes a backseat. All of my energy and passion was directed into doing drag. The first year of being in Sydney was kind of just playing around with my own queerness and being like, ‘Who even am I out of home?’ The second year was me getting into drag and finding an affinity to the community. And then once I hit that third year, I was like, ‘I’m gonna take this really seriously’. And I’ve been paid to do drag since 2017 so five years now.

Was there a performance where everything fell into place?

Actually, there were a few where it kind of switched in my brain that this is going to be the rest of my life. My first paid drag performance was actually in Canberra. I did an Art Not Apart and I did music by Mama Cass and I had this big moment. It was a very club-kiddie kind of queer performance, super draggy. That was my first paid performance billed as Etcetera Etcetera. I think the first performance in Sydney that I felt like ‘This is going to be the rest of my life’ was at a party called Honcho Disko where they asked me to host. I remember feeling like it was a really big deal for me. I did this performance, which was really personal. I made an outfit out of hundreds of pairs of nude stockings that I’ve worn so that it formed almost like a wrapping paper all over me. I had a bucket of clothes pegs in front of me and said to the audience, ‘I invite all of you to come up and place a peg on me’. The whole performance was about queer bodies and consent and the issues of being touched and felt. I remember people coming up and feeling moved into this emotional space. I performed Untouched by The Veronicas and was like, ‘Why is it that the queer body is always inflicted with violence instead of love?’. I remember looking out and seeing the whole room radiating joy and feeling that I’d taken them on in this narrative. In that moment I was like, all of the things I always wanted to do with film, I’m doing now with my drag; but it’s immediate and I can do it without the ridiculous budget that film expects of you. I’m not just standing to the side directing an actor to do a performance.. I am the performance. I think from then on I was like, ‘I’ve got it. I understand what I’m trying to do here’.

So from there on, everything started to flow?

Yeah. I just started working really hard and I think from then onwards I was doing almost five days of drag a week. Even if it wasn’t paid, I was just going out in drag every night to other people’s shows, doing photo shoots, visiting friends in drag and going to house parties.. just so people knew who I was. I feel like the number one step to succeeding in this city is people knowing your name… even if they haven’t met you. I was a little bit, you know, I was very rebellious and anti the drag establishment. I ruffled a lot of feathers and said a lot of things that were very antagonistic, probably just so people would be talking about me. I was really drunk one night and I was on a friend’s Instagram story in an alleyway off Oxford Street shouting about all of the drag queens in the scene and bitching about them and they uploaded that story. The next day I had all these people in my DM’s and following me and paying attention to me and I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I do have to cause a bit of a scene?’ In my mind I was like, ‘This is bad, this is bad’ but then I realised that half of that is all the drama of it anyway. You can’t just be quiet and peaceful and not call out things that you think are problematic in the scene or causing issues. So I kind of developed a reputation in that way of being someone who would have a big mouth and talk about political and social issues.

Do you ever feel like you’ve been a bit of a lone voice?

At the start, yeah, because I hadn’t found my tribe. I think from speaking up that I found so many people that felt similarly and now my group is comprised of amazing trans people and so many amazing burlesque and AFAB performers and artists of colour. I feel like my clique and that of the people I operate with is we are all people that feel the same way about being pushed to the side. It’s nice to be able to stand there sometimes and be like, ‘Well, now I’ve got a platform. We can do things together and bring us all to the front’. Sydney drag has had a huge renaissance of that philosophy in the last few years. I remember one of my nights on Oxford Street that I started called Sideshow Alley. I’d always been called a freak and they say that drag queens are freaks and I was like, ‘Well, if I’m a freak I’m gonna do a show where I’m a sideshow freak’ and I booked all circus performers and burlesque artists. I was told that I was the first person to book a woman on a main Oxford Street stage for the first time in 5-10 years that wasn’t just a supporting act. I remember people were tearing down my posters outside the venue and the venue got sent messages being saying ‘You’re destroying drag in the city. You’re letting a nobody bring women onto the stage’ or ‘This is this used to be a space for gay men and now blah, blah, blah…’ I remember seeing all that and being like, ‘Oh, it’s working. I’m obviously making an impact and ruffling feathers’. Now on Oxford Street my friend Spacey, an amazing AFAB performer, runs every Thursday night at Universal. It’s her night, she hosts, she books; it’s just like a snowball effect. It’s nice to have been part of the the push, working together with a community of people to achieve a goal of opening up spaces. When I first starting going out on Oxford Street, it felt like a very exclusionary space for people that didn’t fit what was shown as like the Go-Go dancers or the boys behind the bar or the drag queens that were in the spotlight. I was like, ‘That doesn’t feel like me’.

Do you feel like the Sydney queer scene has changed?

It’s not so much that I think it’s changed but I think I think people have just found the right spaces in the city to align queer nightlife with. It’s really nice to see people have a bit of a different idea about what’s a safe space and what’s not a safe space. There’s lots of conversations about who runs parties and who’s booking parties. What are they trying to say with that? Where’s the money going? And I’ve been a part of a lot of those conversations. So I wouldn’t even say the city’s changed, I just think people have changed their minds about what they want their queer scene to be like. I think it’s meant that a lot of people feel a lot more included in a lot of different spaces. I think we still have a huge way to go but that’s obviously always the starting point: Are people feeling safe? Because once they feel safe, then they have the roots to succeed and explore every facet of their personalities and identities and that’s really special to see.

Who were the performers that you looked up to growing up?

Well, I was very scared of drag when I was a kid. I remember seeing Drag Race was on SBS at one point and being like a little bit weirded out by it. My parents are very open-minded and accepting people; I was very lucky to have parents that raised me in the way that they did. I was raised listening to music of David Bowie and Prince; my mom’s a huge David Bowie fan and would always have photos of him around the house. So I never clocked into like a toxic masculinity of, ‘Men can’t wear that’. My mum also loves Grace Jones and all of these incredible artists who bend gender and play with the fabric of what a woman or a man is meant to look like. It was in an environment where I felt like I didn’t have to align either way. I came out when I was 13 and mum was like, ‘Don’t ever feel like you have to put a label on yourself. You can just be you.’ I think that has always stuck with me and let me explore a freer sense of identity where I didn’t have to narrow myself down and be like, ‘This is exactly who I am and I can’t move outside of that’. So that’s why I think I exist, drifting across so many different binaries of sexuality and gender. I just disregard the idea that anyone has to fit themselves into a box to be happy. I’m very glad that I was raised that way and was given that kind of education. When I first moved to Sydney, the drag performers that I most looked up to were people that were super, super alternative and the Inner West drag scene where people were kind of on the boundary of doing drag; they’re in makeup or they wearing almost nothing and they’re doing a rock or punk song and they’re pouring beer all over themselves. That excited me way more than going to Oxford Street and seeing a queen do perfect choreography in a perfect outfit because I felt that they were trying to tell you more about their identity and who they are.

Who stood out?

Oh my god, there’s so many people! I remember the first time I saw Dallas Dellaforce perform. I was like, ‘Oh, wow! That’s playing with masculinity and femininity and the idea of beauty and glamour’. I remember the first time I saw the video of her doing her number at the Opera House where she just walks on the treadmill and strips off. So many people that inspired me early on, though, were my friends; all people that I didn’t have much to work with and were making the most out of it. I suppose we all felt in that space together, we were part of like a little collective where we were putting on shows and creating stuff for no money whatsoever. It would be like, ‘We are going to do a Christmas show and we’re going to make it the most stupid Christmas show we’ve ever done’. Then we’d spent weeks finding fabric in bins outside venues and sewing it together and making shitty outfits.. then doing the show and earning like 100 bucks each and spending that all on drinks at the bar and being like ‘Let’s plan another one’. That was the start of my drag journey; being part of that kind of frenetic energy of being like, ‘Let’s just make stuff and not worry about it having to be perfect’.

Was the non-binary thing a separate journey to drag, or were they tied in together?

If I look back as far as I can remember, I never really explicitly gendered myself. I think the only point that I did was when I first moved to Sydney when I was you know, fresh 17 or 18 years old and encountered the gay scene. The aggressive toxic masculinity of that scene made me feel like I had to align myself through my birth gender more. And so in that year, I was very much like, ‘I have to be a man for any of these people to find me attractive’. Then once I got over the initial culture shock of that, I was like, ‘Actually no, I’ll just be myself’. I think drag definitely helped me free-up that part of me. It was like a chisel that took the lid off a can of non-binary paint.

Are you one of the only Sydney drag queens that identifies as non-binary?  

No, in fact, the first drag performer I’d ever met who identified as non-binary was Marlena Dali, a drag king up here. They ran a club night called the Oyster Club and they booked me very early on in my drag career. I remember talking to them about being non-binary and I hadn’t ever put that label to myself at that point. Now it’s like, ‘I so resonate with this’. Then I started dating a fellow drag performer who now identifies as a trans woman, but at the time, we were both non-binary and we both came out to each other and went through that journey. And in that way, we collected more and more friends who identified on the gender-diverse spectrum because we all felt safe and confided in each other. That was a really special time in my life because I was surrounded – for the first time – with people who didn’t judge me for wanting to be free from expectations or labels. And now it’s so wonderful to come across so many amazing non-binary people. And I feel like it’s starting to hit mainstream media and start conversations.

Has it influenced the mainstream Oxford Street scene?

Yeah, I would say so. I think it’s interesting to look also at how certain people from different generations define themselves in terms of gender. I know a lot of people that do drag in their 50’s and 60’s and say, ‘This was never a thing when I was growing up but if it was, I probably would have identified like that. I just always thought that I was a sissy, or flamboyant, or a crossdresser’. It’s interesting to see.

Is there a lag with the older generations getting it?

Honestly, I haven’t found much pushback from older generations because I think that a lot of older queer people, they know the struggle that they went through to define themselves and to have the space and get the rights and the freedoms that they fought for and stood up for. So they’re happy that people can express themselves and be in a space where they feel free enough to be who they are. I also sometimes look at younger generations of queer people – and I think it’s because I was raised by so many older drag mentors – I sometimes look at them and go, ‘You don’t realise number one, how good you’ve got it; and number two, how much you need to respect the history and stories that have come before us. So before you start thinking that, you know, your pronouns deserve the most respect out of anything in the room, take a step back and realise that’s part of you, that’s your identity but you don’t need to make that such a such a central part of who you are. Instead, you should make should make who you are just be supported by these fabulous parts of your identity’. I sometimes worry that identity politics and you know, this whole culture around, you can’t say this and you can’t say that have stripped away some of the things that make us inherently human, which is to make mistakes. And I think it’s also co-opted by people who are bigots, racists and transphobes to shield their own behaviour. They call out cancel culture when they’re actually being held accountable. So I think it’s important for young people to realise that the joy of being queer, that I’ve discovered from talking to older generations, is community. Isolating yourself or setting up divides in the community is only going to make you unhappy in the long run. Some of the best friendships I have are when people have completely different walks of life to me; and that’s the joy of sharing stories and life with other people.

How much easier do you think it is for queer youths these days as a result?

Well, I can only speak from what I’ve heard, but I think a lot is a lot easier. And I mean, there’s different things, you know, queer youth have to deal with the digital landscape and all the hate that that brings; the return of conservative right-wing politics and and things like that. But I think every generation goes through a struggle and no one struggle is is greater than another. You have to remember this: Everyone’s standing on the shoulders of giants and if you discount that you kind of lose your way in the struggle and you start to think that yours is more important than anyone else’s.

The older need to learn from the young and the other way around..

Yeah, absolutely and I think some times it gets lost. I think it’s because there’s a gap of people that we lost in the HIV epidemic; we don’t have those stories to pass down. We’ve lost so much culture and stories to pass down and that’s sad. I sometimes see young gay people that don’t know much about the history of queer people in this country. Drag has been the thing that’s gifted me that knowledge because I get to work with people who are much older than me on a regular basis and hear those stories first-hand. And that’s one of my favourite things about my job.

The loss of venues along Oxford St and the digitisation of our social lives cannot have helped. There’s a loss of actual face to face conversations and the nuances they reveal..

And drag for me was the tool that allowed me to access that. I think without being part of the community of drag queens here in Sydney and around Australia, I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to widen my perspective and understand that people are different everywhere. It’s amazing how quickly drag gives you a lot of life experience. We’re in clubs with thousands of people every night talking to people consistently, hearing different stories, having to interact and engage with lots of different kinds of people. Some that you like, some that you definitely don’t like.. You have to find a way to talk to everyone, be friendly and open and personable. That teaches you a lot of life skills very quickly, and you hear a lot of stories.

Onto RuPaul..

Yes, my favourite topic of conversation!

What’s something that you’ve learned about yourself from the whole experience that you didn’t know before?

That’s a good question. I think I learned that I was a lot more intuitive than I thought. I think before that I was maybe trying to shut down some of my instincts because I saw them as not necessarily mature. But I was like, ‘I know better than this’; I learned to trust my gut. I’ve got experience, I can follow that. I think after doing Drag Race I’ve been like, my intuition is the number one thing I have as an artist and as a performer and as a human being and I need to follow it more. So after I came off the show, I was like ‘I’m just going to trust my gut’. And if I feel like I’m going to do something, I’ll do it. If I feel like I want to follow an opportunity, I will. And I think that show is just like a rewiring machine for your brain. It’s like this high-pressure cooker that basically forces you to doubt every decision you’ve ever made. And then afterwards, you have to sit there for months and watch the world analyse your behaviour. And you either crack and burn under the pressure or you go, ‘You know, what? Actually, I do have something special about me that I can use’.

How did you cope with pressure?

I think the main thing that is I just remind myself of why I do it; why it’s important to me, why it’s special, who inspired me, who made me feel at home. All of my outfits on the show, all of my stuff was made for me. I reached out to the people that started with me and helped build me up, I approached all Australian queer designers and makers and artists, so that when I was on the runway or doing a challenge or wearing something, I felt like I was carrying that community with me. So points where I don’t feel like I can do this on my own, I was like, ‘But someone else has made this costume or put in this work or helped me prepare this’. So I felt like I had someone else with me collaborating. That’s how I always work from now on. I think I’ve really switched into that mindset where it’s not a shameful thing to admit that you’re not doing it on your own. It’s actually a joyful thing to be working with other people and my work is better.

So you switch into that mindset, even on stage?

Yeah. I mean, the tour with Art was a great example of that. Initially, I wanted to do a solo tour and then in my mind, something was like, ‘You should do it with someone else so you have the joy of sharing that with someone’. I contacted Art and there was not a single moment in the entire tour where we had an argument or fought. It was because both of us have learned from the show and we have enough that it’s almost embarrassing to kind of be possessive of it. And it’s more fun and you get more out of it in the long run if you share it. And so we both we both believe that a lot in sharing, because the people that gave us a chance when we first started were doing the same thing. No-one needs to take a chance on a young drag when they could just take the gig themselves but there’s people that when we started out who were like, ‘have this gig, have this opportunity. wear this costume, borrow my wig’. And that kind of community support is the thing that lent us a career and now it feels nice to be able to give it back and when we’re touring around, give away tickets or invite people to the show or, or just have a deeper connection to community where we’re not just there talking to people, but we understand that we’re all working together to make the spaces more exciting.

What do you think is the thing about it that makes Drag Race so compelling?

I think it really is because drag has so much involved in its DNA makeup. Drag isn’t just one thing. You know, when people watch Project Runway, it’s like it’s people getting stressed about making clothes. Or if they’re watching MasterChef, it’s people getting stressed about making food and they put in the emotional storyline, that’s the core thing. With Drag Race, it’s people being stressed about making clothes, doing wigs, doing makeup, dancing, putting together comedy challenges, dealing with their emotions, dealing with their trauma, creating conflict. There’s so much in it that it almost becomes like when you were a kid and you had little ant farms, when you’ve watched them all run around; it’s like you feel like you’re watching like a microcosm of humanity, there’s something really human about it. I think they cracked the code by putting people that have so many diverse, intense stories in such a high-pressure cooker environment that becomes really compelling to watch. And I also think drag is just so visually stimulating that people just find it really easy to watch as well. But I also think Drag Race has kind of hit this point where I feel like they need to push it into new directions. A couple of years ago, they started casting trans people and then they started casting a AFAB performers on the show. Hopefully in the future, they’ll cast drag kings. I feel like it needs to start diversifying and showing off the whole community. Because I think that’s the most powerful thing about it, is its tool in representation not just to our community, but to the world.

In a sense, it’s a formula…

It’s nice to shake it up a little bit. But I definitely, I mean, I used to watch drag race. I wouldn’t say that I was like a rabid fan. But I appreciated it and now after being on the show, I watch it but in a different way. I watch it and I can kind of see the cogs working! I think being on a reality show you kind of lose the excitement that you may have seen. It’s kind of like the curtain disappears, the The Wizard of Oz, is no longer as exciting once you see a..

Sausage factory!

Sausage Factory, that is is literally exactly what Drag Race is! But I’m still very grateful for the opportunity. And I think it gave me both the emotional and physical resources to take my drag from little club freak in the inner west into, you know who I am today, which is a much more equipped club freak in the US.

Do you have any sort of like ongoing relationship with RuPaul or Michelle Visage?

Michelle and I have a chat now and then. We follow each other on Instagram and she replies to my stories and I reply to hers. She’s so sweet and warm and so friendly. She genuinely has this uncanny ability to remember everyone’s names and remember who they are. I believe that she just does genuinely care. RuPaul, I don’t think I’ll ever get to talk to! I don’t even think I talked to her on the show really, apart from our filmed camera one-on-ones. I think she has to keep that distance because she’s otherwise she’d have emotional connections with 800 million drag queens, and I don’t think that’d be healthy for her and I don’t blame her for that. Honestly, she is so professional and she runs such a tight ship. She just nails it every single time in terms of her ability in spearheading this global phenomenon across the world. Just knowing that she she watched my audition tape and said, ‘I want that one’, that’s kind of enough for me. Even if she didn’t think that I was the winner of the show or didn’t have the potential to take out the crown. I know that there was at least something about who I am that made her go, ‘Oh, that one’s interesting’. And that’s enough for me. I don’t really need other people’s approval but it’s nice to know that someone saw something special in me. And that’s someone who’s seen a lot of audition tapes. So yeah it was nice.

Did you find your dingo?

You know what, I think I found a lot of people who had a lot of opinions about that. I actually had so many people telling me that it was an amazing comedy performance. And I had a lot of people telling me that they found it really insensitive and hurtful. And I believe that two things can be true at once. But I stand by what I did in the moment. Would I go back and do it again? I’d probably spare myself the Instagram DM’s and I’d probably do another another character.

What’s the point of doing drag if you’re always worried about offending someone?

Exactly. And I also think that there’s a big generational divide and the people who are upset by it and people around my generation, I mean, I wasn’t alive when any of this stuff was happening so I wasn’t aware of it. I suppose there’s an emotional connection that a lot of people felt to it and now I’ve been educated and they can fuck off! I think that I my first exposure to Lindy Chamberlain was the Meryl Streep movie so that was the image that I conjured up in my head. The image that I was showing crosses some kind of insane Americanized version of Australian pop culture. You know, it’s just so interesting to me. I also knew it would make Ru laugh.

How can people be offended about something that happened 40 years ago?

I don’t know. I actually saw an interview with Lindy while I was preparing, she was on The Project, and she said, ‘Oh, to be honest, you have to laugh’ about her life. And she was like, ‘at this point, I just have to laugh. Because if I didn’t laugh over these many years, it would have torn me apart inside’. And good on her, she’s obviously a very brave woman who has had a crazy life. But yeah, I’ve just learned that people have on the internet have a lot of opinions about everything, no matter what you do and they’re gonna tell you.

Before the internet, you didn’t have to worry!

I know. More people had negative feelings about me being a bitch on the show than they did about that. So I mean, like, you can never make everyone happy. I could have done the most noncontroversial Snatch Game of all time, and people still would have had an opinion!

So where do you go from here now you’ve done RuPaul?

I’ll make sure to pay all my taxes, because that’s really important from now on. I bet the ATO is staring at me being like, ‘Where’s the money coming from?!’ No, I think I’ve really started to focus inwards more. When I just got off Drag Race and I had all these opportunities being thrown at me and I was being flown around and doing this and that; I’ve done the tour and I had a million different brand deals and I did two big Mardi Gras pride seasons and I was looking outwards for opportunity. I was like, ‘Give me, I need that, I want that, I want to go there’. And now that I’ve gotten through that I’m now looking inside myself and I’m like, ‘What are the deeper goals that I have? What are the things that make me happy? What do I want to be in 5-10 years?’ A lot of that exists around taking drag into spaces where it’s not taken as seriously; taking drag into the fine art space, taking drag into film and not just you know, schlocky low grade comedies, but actual like proper cinema; taking drag into the experimental art space and looking at how drag is a conceptual performance art for where that sits, and also taking drag into politics and using my voice and my platform identity to speak up about important issues. And I think that they’re all spaces that really excite me. I love performing in clubs, I think I’ll probably be performing clubs until my hips give out, you know, I don’t think I’ll ever stop. But that definitely is just like the coal in the engine, and then I’ve got like, I’m laying down tracks to bigger goals and further places.

Are you aware all the time with the cameras on you. And it’s kind of what it’s having to decide what you’re going to say or not?

No, that would drive me crazy. I’m honestly just operate out of 100% authenticity at all times. I told the truth 24/7 I’m not a liar and that’s a real big part of how I was raised, but also my personality. And honestly, if someone pulls me up on something and says, ‘I don’t like that, or you didn’t do this, right, or you didn’t make me feel good there’, I think it’s more valuable to learn and change your behaviour and show that you’re sorry through your actions, then trying to internalise all those feelings, you’ll end up making the same mistakes anyway. Yes, usually in a more like, subconscious way.

Did you feel like the editing gave a true version of yourself on the show or did you feel like it was somewhat skewed?

I think it was fairly accurate because I felt very anxious and insecure and kind of like isolated. Watching the show, I can see that I wasn’t really super happy at that time. But I think it also showed that I was not afraid of putting myself out there, being honest and not afraid of confrontation. You’ve got to remember I was by far the youngest person on that cast and there were industry legends and I was in a room with them as someone who had been doing drag for four or five years at that point and I had to stand up for myself and hold my own. A lot of people would have wilted like a flower in that situation and gone on ‘Oh no, these are icons around me, I can’t stand up for myself’. But I wasn’t worried about that. I wouldn’t have survived if I didn’t have the personality type that I think I do!

I wanted to ask you also about the race stuff. Australia is quite well known for its casual racism and you’ve pulled out the issue twice. Do you feel like this is like an issue that we will be able to improve in your drag lifetime?

Oh god I hope so. I hope the drag community can really take steps to support drag artists of colour but also to create more open spaces free of bigotry and exclusion and racist performances. I think the big question, and this is the thing, people always bring it back to individuals. They always go, ‘You have a massive problem with so and so because of them being a racist’. And I always try to say to them, ‘Individuals are one thing but the real big thing that you should focus on is the systemic racism in this community. That person might have done a racist performance but who was the club booker, who booked them to do that? Who were the other queens that stood by in the dressing room and let them perform that racist act? Who were the crowd that clapped and cheered afterwards? Who were their friends that heard about it and laughed and said nothing? Who were the followers on social media that stood by and watched the videos and thought ‘oh that’s funny’. There’s a greater system out there apart from that one person and putting all of our hatred and all of our disdain on that one person just means you flatten one person, but people will keep popping up because the system is broken. So I think in regards to my season and looking at someone like Scarlet, people put so much of their hatred and energy into flattening her as much as possible but didn’t look at the bigger picture, which were the clubs that booked her, the queens that worked with her, the show that cast her, the production company that chooses to take that storyline and the people that stood by her afterwards. Because you need to spread out that solidarity into looking at the whole system. And dropping out of the Drag Race tour this spring was a choice of mine, to look at that greater system and say, ‘Hey, if I’m working with a massive multimillion dollar company that’s coming out from America, putting on a touring company of drag queens, and multiple people in the cast express our concerns and say, ‘I feel like you’re making a bad decision here’ and they don’t listen to us?’ Well, then I’m happy not to work with that company.

That must be an agonising decision to make on a financial and all sorts of other levels?

Yeah, I mean, obviously, I’m losing a lot of money because of that. But I also know that I would lose out on a lot of self respect for myself if I didn’t make that choice. And I think the thing that motivated me to do that most of all, was the fact that I had a lot of conversations with friends of colour, who said to me, ‘I feel really horrible about the fact that Scarlet has been given a platform on a national tour like this’. And they didn’t tell me to quit the tour. But I listened to all of their voices and I said, ‘You know, hearing all of this, I don’t feel right about doing this’. And I would never make this decision just on my own accord to be like, ‘I’m gonna make a stand’. I have these conversations and I go through this process so that I know that I’m platforming voices, not just shouting of my own accord. I feel like more people just need to listen to the people around them that are affected, and then work at doing what they can in their own lives to make a change. And then if we all did that, then the world would be a much better place.

Were the producers shocked by your decision ?

I think sometimes people are a little bit afraid to engage, to be honest. Sometimes I think people in those positions or in those companies aren’t trained or have the enough knowledge to engage in those conversations. So they rather just kind of ignore the issue. I was given a very, very short reply from the company saying you, ‘She’ll be on the tour and if you don’t want to do it, that’s your choice’. Not you know, ‘We understand this is a difficult situation and people might feel uncomfortable, we’d really love to come to a compromise.’ It’s just, ‘she’s on, you’re not.’ And I felt that was copied and pasted to a couple of us that had sent concerns. And I just felt, you know, I just don’t think they’re equipped to deal with that conversation. They’d rather make the money and do it unhindered. But I don’t do this for money, I do this because it’s my life. Doing drag is not just what I do, it’s who I am, and I have to stand for the community that is around me. I think everyone should, I think that it would make the world a lot easier if everyone just stood up. But I think a lot of people have either guilty consciences or they don’t know how to engage with those conversations and they’re afraid of being cancelled or called out, which is the horrible thing about cancel culture. It stops people from actually being good people a lot of the time because they’re scared of saying the wrong thing.

How is the scene at the moment for performers of colour in Sydney?

There’s a lot of work to do but it’s definitely getting better and better all the time. I think the number one thing promoters should do is not look at their lineup and be like, ‘Oh, we don’t have any, you know, indigenous performers, or black people or Asian people on the cast.’ It’s actually just looking at the diversity that’s out there and booking based on talent and who audiences like and going, ‘If I book that performer, this whole subsection of community will want to come along to my event’. I think that as a business person, and booking events of my own, every time I book a diverse lineup, more people turn up. Yeah, that’s literally just what happens. It’s just basic common sense. I mean, you’re going to engage different subsets of the community. So if you’re not going to look at it from a perspective where you’re wanting to make change, or be diverse promoter, look at it from a business perspective, honestly. People want to see themselves on stage and I think they deserve to. In saying that, I know a lot people are like ‘I feel pressured to be woke all the time’. I’m like, ‘If you can’t open your eyes and see the people that actually exist in the world, then maybe that’s the problem’. If you can’t actually see the people who are coming to the clubs and paying your bills, then you should probably do a bit more demographic research because these people deserve to be represented and feel welcome. Being seen on stage is a massive part of that.

You wrapped up at your position as entertainment manager at Sydney’s Imperial Hotel a year or so ago. That was a pretty big posting for someone so young!

Yeah. I felt like I achieved everything I needed to in that chapter. I was getting busier and busier and I wanted to give the next generation of performers and bookers a chance to jump in there. I started in that role when I was 20-21 and so I had a good two and a half years there, just consistently booking people. I also was just exhausted; it was exhausting to be a drag queen and do as much as I was, and also having to book five days a week of entertainment and manage it. It was a lot. But saying that, it was the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had because you were creating space and holding space for community, and also giving people a livelihood and the chance to express themselves.

Would you do something like that again?

I am! I’m going back to the Imperial for WorldPride to curate the lineup. So for those two weeks, I’m doing all of their parties and booking everything. I’ve just been in the middle of that over the past few weeks doing all the prep and preparation to send it off. But also, I’m really looking forward to potentially in the future, owning my own theatre company, or my own venue or my own, you know, production company where I can do that. Maybe that’s further off. But you know, I would love to own a venue and be able to have my own. I hope I do. It’s something that would be really special for me to be able to create my own world because I believe that’s what queer spaces are: creating a world that people feel safe in because sometimes outside in the real world, it’s not so safe and not so kind. So creating a space where everyone feels really welcome and special is important to me … and entertained.

What advice would you give to people starting out in drag?

Oh, I’ve got a lot of advice to people starting out in drag! Number one is, don’t listen to anyone else about whether what you do is good or not. That’s something that I think people pay too much attention to. When I started in drag, they were like, ‘That’s not good / You can’t do drag that way / You have to wear wigs every time you do drag / You’re not wearing nails, you have to wear nails / You’re you shouldn’t perform that song, that song is boring, you should perform like a more upbeat song / Why aren’t you performing Britney Spears?’ Or when I was wearing wigs or doing more traditional drag, ‘You shouldn’t be doing this / You’re an underground performer / you’re alternative / stick to that kind of stuff’. Don’t listen to it, experiment and find your own niche, that is the best thing. So don’t listen to anyone else. But at same time, Listen to everything everyone says! Like you should be hearing everything; you don’t have to follow it, but use that as free advice. Take one thing out of 10 things that people say and run with it. If something resonates with you, take it. When I started, I spent a lot of time not listening. Then when I started hearing, maybe the one thing out of 100 that people said to me and taking it, my drag started improving. It’s kind of like listening to nothing but also listening to everything. Also, invest your money in things that make you happy. Don’t feel like you have to spend lots of money on expensive dresses if you don’t particularly care about clothes. But if you love makeup, then invest all your time and money and energy into the make up side of it. You find the things about drag that make you happy and follow them and then you’ll end up in a place where your drag speaks to the art that you want to create rather than trying to fit in. And watch less Drag Race! Watch much less Drag Race and watch more classic films and read books. Go out onto the street and watch how people dress and act. Talk to your mom more, or your dad more or your family members. So much of my drag is like a love letter to the women in my family and where I come from in my culture.

Watching you perform is like watching old movie stars sometimes…

Yeah, absolutely. When I was when I was growing up my pop used to show me High Society, Funny Face, Singing in the Rain, My Fair Lady and these classic musicals and I remember that being part of mine and my grandfather’s relationship growing out. I’ve carried it through, that part of that golden age of Hollywood into my drag in this sick subverted way. I think if you find those personal things about yourself that you can translate into drag, you’ll be so much happier, rather than trying to copy drag queen you’ve seen on a reality TV show.

What are some of the practical tips in terms of getting out there and finding opportunities to perform?

Be nice to everyone. Go out and in drag and support other people’s events. I don’t necessarily think drag performers should perform for free but there’s always something to be said about going to an open mic night or getting out there and showing off your skills. Do more off social media than you do on social media; like, go into the real world. Become friends with people that work in different industries. I’ve become friends with DJs and musicians and dancers and because you know that that DJ will cut a track for you and that person that goes to costume design school will make a costume for you…. So many people are just friends with all the drag queens and they’re like, ‘I need to make a costume’ they end up looking the same as every other drag. My costume maker Erin, she was originally a wedding dress designer and so she she has a completely different angle that she comes to a lot of my costumes with. It’s a lot more about fine finishings and about classic dressmaking. And that’s a wonderful collaboration I’ve been able to foster in my drag career. So yeah, just go out there and enjoy life. Don’t worry about impressing people. Just make sure you’re getting out there and like meeting people or being part of the ecosystem.

Favourite songs to perform to?

I love anything that’s a throwback and anything that’s power ballad-y. I love Roxette, Fading like a Flower is one of my favourite songs because it’s so melodramatic and ridiculous. I also love Australian classics like Jackie (by BZ featuring Joanne). I feel like they’re straight out of a soap opera or drama and for me, as a drag performer, you’ve got so much to play with there. I also love I love a lot of vintage stuff that has a lot of feeling to it. I’m not really a Britney Spears or a Beyonce pop queen. That’s not my style. There’s plenty of queens that do that amazingly and I think I’m gonna leave that up to them. I like to kind of go off the beaten track a bit more.