Drag as a performance art is still at a super nascent stage in India, where homosexuality—despite gay sex being decriminalised last year—is still met with ridicule, ostracisation, confusion and contempt. In a scenario where donning drag is a distinctly political statement, a bunch of drag queens have brought the fierce and fabulous art form you might have seen on RuPaul’s Drag Race, to the country.
Within this space, it still struggles to be understood in terms of not just what the form means—the closest resemblance to drag in Indian culture is men performing as women in Indian theatre where patriarchy traditionally denied women the stage—but also what it symbolises in a predominantly heteronormative society.
But what happens when the queens who shake up the boundaries of gender and sexuality everyday with their persona and performances, decide to experience love, sex and relationships? As it turns out, dating as a queen can reveal some potent reminders of a country that still hasn’t shaken off the deeply-ingrained toxic masculinity and femmephobia (the fear or hatred of all people and things which are perceived as femme, feminine, effeminate, and/or twink, regardless of their gender). And this oppression is rampant within the queer community, too.
So this week, we reached out to some queens to ask them: Is dating as a queen more difficult than we can ever imagine? Here’s what they had to say:
Marc Mascarenhas/Tropical Marca
VICE: Hey Marc! So, does being a drag queen get you tons of attention?
Marc: I started doing drag two years ago and I get crazy amounts of attention from people. During the first year of being a drag queen, I dated about 12 people because of all the gorgeous attention. And they were good-looking people too! Later I realised that they’re around because of my fame and what I do. I was kind of being used for who I am. I even wrote a song about it, called “FYB”. It went something like this: “Roses are red, violets are blue, you ain’t the one, so fuck you boo.”
How is it dating as a drag queen?
Right now, I’m happily single and not looking for commitment or anything that wouldn’t let me concentrate on myself 100 percent. The dating scene in India is a little fucked up. For me though, I have always been flamboyant so dating was never any different for me in drag. There’s always been an interest in what I do, rather than what I am as a person.
Any unpleasant experiences?
I have come across people who jump straight to, “I want to fuck you in drag”. These are the people you block in life. I’ve made the mistake of falling for them in the past, but I’ve learnt. I also attract a lot of straight crowd that’s very curious, and they’re like, “You like dicks and I have a dick, so let’s see how that goes.”
Prateek Sachdeva/Betta Naan Stop
VICE: Hey Prateek. How has dating been for you ever since you’ve started doing drag?
Prateek: On dating apps, I’ve tried putting my drag pictures on my profile along with my normal pictures, and the responses to the two have been very different. With my drag pictures, people just assume I’m a sex worker. And with my boy pictures, I hardly get responses because I'm not butch enough. This is why I don’t mix my personal life with drag life, especially while dating.
Have you had uncomfortable encounters, especially when you’re performing?
I’ve been approached by men at nightclubs with strange offers, many of who are willing to pay me an obscene amount if I do something they desire. A lot of people who see me in drag want to sleep with me in drag. But first of all, this stuff is expensive! And secondly, I do not get in drag just so that you can get off. Most people with these offers are straight or bicurious men, or married men who’re looking to experiment. The fetish to sleep with a guy dressed in a women's clothing—a crossdresser—is very common. But drag queens are not crossdressers. Drag is donned for the stage, whereas crossdressing in a lifestyle. Most men stop being interested in me as soon as they find out I do drag. There’s definitely femmephobia, or what we call ‘drag phobia’. And all of this stems from toxic masculinity.
VICE: How tough is the dating scene in India, especially once you start doing drag professionally?
Siddhant: I started performing professionally a year and a half ago. Earlier, I would get people asking me out for dates. But after I started performing, I’ve realised that people put me on a pedestal. They tell me, “Oh, you’re Lady Bai. It’s so tough asking you out because you’re a celebrity.” Sometimes, they ask me out only to get free entry into nightclubs. Then there are those with fetishes with the drag get-up, which is honestly, a little creepy. It’s a fetish but they can go ahead with it with someone who’s okay with it; I’m not.
Any uncomfortable encounters?
Some think drag queens are prostitutes, or transgender women who’re sex workers. Then there are those who like a certain idea of masculinity and don’t like the drag queen personality. “Be a man,” they tell me. I’m like, I don’t question your taste, I don’t question what you do. I know you don’t have a life or a career, so stop judging me for what I do! This one time, after a drag performance in a nightclub, I overheard men saying, “Arre dekho, aa gayi chhakko ki paltan (Oh look, the army of eunuchs has arrived).” That’s so offensive! And why are you even here? If a man dressed in drag takes away your masculinity, then please don’t come to me. No matter how much India progresses, I don’t think I’ll ever get a date!
What kind of expectations are forced on you in the dating scene?
Most people are not sure whether I’m going to turn up as Siddhant or Lady Bai on the date. People also get confused between crossdressers or trans women and drag queens. I have to clarify on dating apps that a drag queen is someone who dresses up to entertain people. This is not a lifestyle or my gender identity. I’m an out and proud cis gendered gay man. Then people ask, “Why do you do drag?” I tell them it’s because I’m a good performer, and because I have good make-up skills. Sometimes I have a woman’s dress with a beard on. That’s a different kind of drag called campy drag. Drag is basically playing with gender. So, yes, dating has definitely taken a back seat.
Alex Mathews/ Mayamma/Maya the Drag Queen
VICE: Did your dating scene change after you started doing drag five years ago?
Alex: Before drag, gay men loved the ‘Alex’ side of me. I was this ‘manly’ man, who was also a singer and a guitarist. But the moment I started doing drag, all the gay men just disappeared. They would say, “Oh, we’re just friends.” But they wouldn’t want to date or been seen with a drag queen.
What pattern of discrimination do you see here?
Femme phobia is very evident in the LGBTQ scene, as is toxic masculinity. If you are not seemingly masculine, you’re rejected straightaway. On dating apps, you’ll see descriptions like ‘No femme’ or ‘No fatties’. I’m very sure there are gay men who idolise Kabir Singh/Arjun Reddy! I’ve heard stories of physical and mental abuse too. Actually, my first partner was actually very emotionally abusive to me. I was even told, “I’d rather date a mechanic than a man who does drag.”
Do straight men give you any trouble?
Bisexual and straight men love drag queens because it’s the whole illusion of being a woman, and the fact that we’re OTT and very confident on and off stage. And then there are those who don’t like drag at all. The first guy I dated for almost three years told me he doesn’t want to see me in drag, not even in pictures. He only wanted Alex, refusing to understand that there can be two sides to one persona too. Since then though, I’ve only been meeting men who want Maya and not Alex.
What're the most ridiculous things you’ve been told?
The last guy I dated told me to get top surgery (to enhance the size and shape of the breasts to create a more feminine appearance to the chest). I have, of course, found men who’re okay with both sides of me, but sometimes, they have this guilt of sleeping with a man. People are not always fluid when it comes to sexuality. Then there are assumptions that since I’m a celebrity, I have girlfriends who will join us for threesomes!
Do you think drag will change perceptions in India about being open about sexuality and gender?
I perform in drag to show that we exist, and will not be removed from the society so easily. We show that there should be a balance between masculinity and femininity, irrespective of your gender. So when some men claim that they’re fully masculine, I want to tell them that actually, they’re not.
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This article originally appeared on VICE IN.