Suruj Rajkhowa, an artist, drag performer and model from Mumbai, India, still fondly remembers the first time they met their partner seven years ago.
“It was over one of those video platforms where you can connect with a stranger and talk to them if you wish to,” they said about meeting their 31-year-old partner, a cis gay man from Romanis, who requested anonymity. This was also around the time they were discovering and falling in love with the drag culture.
Their first conversation, which lasted over two hours, spanned topics as diverse as the beauty of the Balkan culture, their mutual love for American pop, and weird beliefs about past lives. “But more than anything, I remember there being lots of laughter.”
The road to finding love for a femme person (a queer person who presents and acts in a traditionally feminine manner) can be a long and arduous one, often fraught with discrimination and femmephobia.
“People want to support you for being femme or doing drag in those woke social media posts, but when it actually comes to loving and going out with you on dates, they hold back,” said Rajkhowa. “I have been burnt in the past, where men have either catfished me or chosen to prefer ‘manly’ individuals over me.”
They recount how they even stopped using queer dating apps because the collective femmephobia even within the queer community was relentless. “These spaces are supposed to be safe. But for those of us who do drag and are femme, it is just one traumatic message after another. Queer folks on these platforms openly declare in their dating profiles how ‘fatties and femmes’ must stay away.”
Being a drag queen refers to the culture of queer people, regardless of gender, wearing feminine makeup and clothing, and performing by singing, dancing or even roasting. Many drag queens do it for entertainment, and it is also their safe space and a form of self-expression, minus any inhibitions.
“When I was studying architecture, my friends and I started this cafe, which was meant to be an inclusive space for all,” Rajkhowa said. “That was the first time I wore a wig and walked around the cafe serving customers.”
Rajkhowa, who performs under the name of “Glorious Luna,” said that they feel most alive when they do drag. And it heartens them to see how their partner supports them in this passion without overstating his support.
“He views my love for drag in a matter-of-fact way,” they explained. “For him, it is not something to be analysed or brooded upon. Whenever we meet, he even playfully wears wigs, and we just laugh and drink for hours on end.”
Rajkhowa attributes this ease to their partner’s acute sense of self-awareness and acceptance. “I have always believed you can truly be capable of loving and accepting someone only after you have accepted and loved yourself first, regardless of how difficult that might seem. With him, I can see that he is capable of holding so much love for me because he treats himself the same way.”
Rajkhowa and their partner will complete eight years of togetherness early next year. Even though the two don’t get to meet often since they are in a long-distance relationship, they cherish every moment of their time together.
Their partner doesn’t get to see them perform drag often because of the distance, but Rajkhowa still remembers the first time their partner saw them in drag over a video. “He had never been in a relationship with someone who was into drag, but when he first saw the clip, he just hugged me tightly. I felt the safest at that moment.”
Rajkhowa explains how they “didn’t have to do any explaining” because their partner understood precisely how much drag meant to them. They credit this to their partner’s own deep sense of self-acceptance.
“It is the most natural thing for him to see me in drag,” they said. “He quietly supports me by motivating me before every performance by making me laugh over goofy jokes and mimicries. He is just the wittiest and the most intelligent man I have ever met. Being together, I have realised the importance of self-acceptance even more deeply, and I will always be grateful to him for that.”
This article is written in partnership with Closeup. VICE and Closeup celebrate love and champion closeness of all forms. For similar articles, check out www.LoveForAll.info
Follow Arman Khan on Instagram.