Drag Queen Candy Warhol talks about growing up 'gay and fabulous' in Ireland and discovering the power of drag
As part of the #BeYourself campaign we have highlight some members of the LGBTQI+ community that give encouragement and strength to #BeYourself and we have opened a dialog for them to share their thoughts and opinions. Candy is one of Ireland's top drag queens and shares her inspirational story below.
''I never knew I was different until I was told I was different.''
I think every member of the LGBT society can agree that growing up gay was not and is not easy. I'm sure every member of the Irish LGBT society can also agree that growing up gay in Ireland was just that extra bit, daunting. Coming out in a pre millennial, social media, 'Vote Yes' society wasn't just nerve wrecking, it was terrifying. And it still can be. Now growing up gay and fabulous? That's another thing...
From an early age, I had no filter whatsoever and openly liked what I liked. What exactly did I like? The Wizard Of Oz for starters covered my bedroom, and every evil fairy-tale villainess and witch caught my eye. Something that would come to play a major part in my later career. What is it with gay men and women in dramatic couture seeking revenge? My father was also obsessed with eighties new romantics and new wave pop and would play music videos for me every Sunday. My first memory is the Shakespeare's Sister 'Stay' music video with the incredible Siobhan Fahey slinking down the stairs in her black catsuit just simply wanting to take a man's life. I was hooked. This would also be the first song I would ever perform.
I never knew I was different until I was told I was different. That's when everything changed for me. When I was eight years old I moved schools and began a long difficult journey of being bullied. The year I changed schools was the height of the nineties. Clueless was the biggest movie around, Sabrina The Teenage Witch and Are You Afraid Of The Dark? were the best television shows and The Spice Girls and Britney Spears were the topic of every lunchroom chat. Albeit for very different reasons than I thought. I would imitate Amber from Clueless as if she was the coolest thing ever. Acting like a rich L.A. Valley girl at eight years of age in middle Ireland of course made me stand out a mile. And it came as a shock. I was called a 'girl' on a daily basis (the precursor to gay which came a few years later) and by the time I got to secondary school the 'F' word was the favorite name to throw my way.
Art class was my haven and after a few very dark years which almost ruined me, getting into art college became my focus, obsession and way out. This is something I have lived by. Goals are an important distraction and focus from negativity. At sixteen I was beginning to accept myself and come out to my friends. I started to care less about what people had to say because my attention was on my art studies. My teacher at the time introduced me to the world of Andy Warhol and I fell in love with the queens that surrounded him. Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn and Jackie Curtis were the biggest queens in New York. This was the height of the Pop Art Movement, the beginning of the Civil Rights moment and it was highly illegal to be in drag. You can't get more punk rock than that. These iconic pioneers not only inspired my name and performances but my entire mindset when in drag. I think about these girls who paved the way every time I get ready. My makeup station is adorned in early drag history because if it wasn't for them, I couldn't do what I do.
But this wasn't my first introduction to drag. When I was seven years old my aunt got me 'To Wong Foo...' on VHS and I used to watch it twice a day. A film about three campy drag queens making over a small 'hic' town? Yes please. A year or two later my father brought me to see one of my grand uncle's shows. This grand uncle just happened to be one of the biggest drag queen's in the world, Danny La Rue. So I guess you could say the glitter was in my blood. This cocktail of love for flamboyant characters, dark villains and the art world all came to play when creating ideas for my drag character. When I was fifteen years old RTE ran a 'Queer Weekend' (I know right?! a whole weekend for us). This included screenings of films like 'Some Like It Hot' (another drag classic), a documentary about Shirley Temple Bar traveling America and a screening of that year's 'Alternative Miss Ireland' (a national pageant celebrating the weird and wonderful and hosted by Panti Bliss, Drag Race Who?). I locked myself in my room to watch it all because at the time it felt...well, wrong.
Watching the 'Alternative Miss Ireland' changed everything for me. I was watching real life Irish gays and flamboyant gender-fuck drag queens dancing on stage and being celebrated in real life Ireland. There were others out there! But how could I meet them? Years later after one or two of my first drag performances in art college, Panti Bliss and her team invited me to compete in The Alternative Miss Ireland. It was a real meta moment and I cried walking into rehearsal realising I had started what I set out to accomplish. I started performing in drag through a fine art project and a performance art work-shop. Rupaul's Drag Race would start airing the following year and change the face of drag forever. There was barley any Youtube videos on drag and I had to research everything through LGBT history books and movies and well, my imagination. But this was exciting and thrilling to do. I would staple dresses together, hope for the best with my makeup and just act like a complete lunatic on stage. I loved it!
Over the years, like any performer, my aesthetic has changed and my skills have grown. The market is now saturated with young gays trying drag or thinking they know it all because of a show they see on television. At times it can be frustrating to see this generation really taking drag for granted, forgetting what its about and how drag queens paved the way for us today. Its's far more than contouring and lace front wigs. We stand on the shoulders of giants and never forget it was a drag queen, Marsha P Johnson, that threw the first brick at Stonewall. Drag is punk, a huge fuck you to rules, society and bullies. Once you own that, you begin to realise that drag is very powerful.
Homophobia is still a very real thing. A phobia of 'The Other' is still a very real thing. Being different still freaks people out and they sometimes feel the need to call you out on it. From sexuality, to race, to different appearance. Not conforming to the norm puzzles people and sometimes they just can't take it.' Who the hell do you think you are to be yourself or try something different'?! It's very important to realise that no matter who or where you are in life, you will face a bully. It's not something that will ever go away. I wish it would, but that is just human nature. However, it is even more important to realise that the more you own who you are and love yourself for it, these bullies begin to fade into the background and seem far less important. Surrounding yourself with positive, supportive friends and family makes the biggest difference and having a focus on what you want to achieve will make every bully, every nasty comment and every doubter fade into obscurity. We get to do this once. Go for it!
Candy Warhol X
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