Drag queens are facing financial as well as mental health challenges due to Covid-19.
Kolkata: Most people know Alex as ‘Maya’. He gained recognition after being part of various shows as a drag queen, a journey he started in 2014. But he is among many drag queens, who have been hit financially by the pandemic. “At this point, I am glad that I can pay my rent,” said Alex.
Drag shows became popular in recent years as they were carried out in various parts of the country. But the pandemic induced lockdown posed major challenges for drag queens. “My earnings have reduced a lot. Earlier this year, I was able to perform, but the situation changed very quickly,” said Alex.
For Siddant Kodlekere, known as Lady Bai in the drag world, the emotional impact was more than a financial one. He said, “ I was glad that I had another job to fall back on, but then drag is what kept me sane and happy, along with my other job.”
“With no shows happening due to the pandemic, I feel I’ve lost a part of myself which I associated with my stage life,” he added.
Priya Manna, an English teacher, feels that drag shows are a form of art which have empowered people by allowing them to express their voices to the world.
“I first came across drag culture through social media. I’ve been following some Britain and Australia-based drag queens on Instagram, and these are a treat to the eyes,” said the English teacher.
“Recently drag shows have flourished in India. I’ve heard of shows taking place and there are quite a few names in India who have made their place in the recent years,” she added .
The advent of digital drag shows
Digital drag shows were popular due to the pandemic. Even though these give an opportunity to the drag queens to show their creativity again, it didn’t have the same impact like offline shows. It also didn’t help them much financially.
“Even though people were keen to see us perform, they were not ready to pay. It has been a struggle for us to do these shows,” said Alex.
He added, “Drag shows take a lot of work. That’s why, we wanted them to pay us the amount first, and then we agreed to perform.”
Siddant, on the other hand, enjoyed doing a couple of digital drag shows at first. But those were not enough for him to support financially.
He said, “I have done a couple of online/digital shows. They were fun, but not as great as receiving the energy from the crowd.”
“Online shows are mostly crowd funded and not many people tip or send in money for that. But if it’s by an organisation, most of them are having a crisis of their own so the payment comes in less from there as well. All in all, financially it wasn’t a great time for us stage performers,” he added.
Returning back to the families
Most of the unemployed drag queens had to go back to their families where they had to keep their identities hidden. Alex said many families are transphobic and homophobic who don’t approve or know about their professions, and as a result, these lead to mental health challenges
According to Vinay Chandran, who is the Executive Director of Swabhava, most LGBTQ+ people are locked with their presumably homophobic families due to Covid-19. “Being stuck in a place where you cannot be yourself is incredibly challenging. Many trans men, and trans women, face open threats and violence from their families and are forced to conform in a space where they don’t feel safe.”