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Quit Your Shit Job and Become... a Professional Drag King!

Meet Chiyo Gomes – a former head chef who quit the prejudice of the service industry to become a globetrotting drag performer.

by Rose Stokes
13 December 2019, 9:30am

Photo by Bruce Wang

This week, Quit Your Shit Job speaks to Chiyo Gomes, 23, from London. He quit the exhausting transphobia and prejudice of the restaurant industry to become a drag king.

VICE: Hi Chiyo! What did you do previously?
Chiyo Gomes: I worked as a head chef in a restaurant chain.

Why did it suck?
Being trans in a corporate workplace is a very difficult thing. I felt my sense of identity was constantly being questioned by colleagues and customers. Male colleagues would refuse to respect my pronouns, or make a big show about me “not being able to lift heavy things”, and it was just quite exhausting – especially when I was promoted and became their manager.

When you work in the service industry there’s a revolving door of different people you interact with every day. And when you’re a trans person of colour, your likelihood of being mistreated is much, much higher. People say “the customer is always right”, but I learned pretty quickly that actually, sometimes the customer is a dickhead!

What did you switch to instead?
I’m a professional drag king. I do some sex work on the side to help pay the bills, mainly dancing in London’s first LGBTQIA+ strip club, Harpies, and some camming.

Was there a lightbulb moment?
That moment came a little earlier. I was at uni studying linguistics and international relations, and it just got to the point where I knew I wanted to be a performer, and it didn’t make sense to waste all that money studying. But obviously it’s never just as simple as quitting your job and walking out on stage to packed audiences. So I took the job in the kitchen to pay the bills while I started building my profile.

A year into juggling both, life was a bit chaotic and I’d reached a point where I was getting enough drag bookings to support myself, and I just thought “fuck it, let’s go”.

Drag king Chiyo Gomes
Photo by Bruce Wang

What do you love most about your job?
Travelling – I’ve been to so many new places! In 2019, I’ve been to Amsterdam, Slovenia, Brussels and all over the UK. I love exploring new places and seeing how queer people live in other parts of the world. There’s something very cool about meeting other people like you, sometimes in more hostile environments who are standing up and fighting to be themselves. I think us Western queers often fall into the trap of thinking “no one else is as woke as us”, but that’s not the case at all! I find it so inspiring.

What is the most common misconception about drag kings?
That there aren’t many of us! I think people also usually assume that most drag kings are cis women, but I would say the majority – or at least of the ones I know – are trans men, non-binary or bio kings (cis men who perform their own gender in drag).

Another thing that gets on my nerves is that people always say that drag queens have to invest so much more time and effort into their look. It undermines how much work I – and other prinxes and kings – put into our acts. For instance, I spend 2.5 hours on my make up before going on stage. I don’t wear a wig but many kings do, and just on a practical level, it costs £7 for a roll of binding tape, and I have to use one for every performance. To put that into perspective, I’m spending £35 on tape every week, which is more than I spend on food.

Are there any downsides?
Drag is having a moment globally, because of shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, and is now considered by most to be the number one queer art form. In theory, this should mean that all drag artists can benefit – but it’s not always the case. As a drag king, you can often feel invisible, because drag queens get all the attention. That’s no shade to drag queens, it’s just that as usual, it’s become another space where cis white men tend to dominate, and often, as drag kings, we only get recognition if a queen throws attention our way.

It’s wild because this is supposed to be a world where gender doesn’t matter, and yet somehow there’s still a double standard when it comes to pay, opportunities and respect. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve responded to casting calls for drag performers and – despite being able to do my own vocals, dance and perform better than other people auditioning – have lost out to a drag queen with a month’s experience.

What do you wish you'd known about your new job before you started?
My worth as a drag performer. It was only really by working alongside renowned drag queens that I understood how much more money I could be earning and how to ask for it.

Drag king Chiyo Gomes
Photo by Tasha Doughty

What can drag queens do to better support drag kings?
Book them on your platforms! If you need supporting acts, don’t book white cis male drag queens because they can operate in any space. Book people of colour! Book trans people! Book non-binary people! We need your support.

Rate your life out of 10 before, and now:
Before I’d say it was a 3.5 I was stuck within a structure and in a world I knew I didn’t want to be a part of. I found the relentless march of capitalism suffocating, and it kept me in a cycle of depression. These days I know I’m a badass bitch, so I’d say it’s more like an 8.5!

What advice would you give other people who hate their jobs?
Save, save, save! If you want to be a performer, build your platform, enter competitions, build a name for yourself, show up to spaces… be visible! If you’re good, people will soon start asking you to perform, and then eventually you can quit your day job!

Finally, in the name of visibility, who are some drag kings we should all watch out for?
There are so many! But some favourites are Benjamin Butch, Indy Nile, Romeo de la Cruz and Clay Taurus.

@RoseStokes

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