“Gender is very complicated. I’m still trying to figure it out” 🌈
BY ELEANOR NOYCE, IMAGE VIA TETE BANG ON INSTAGRAM
Drag performer TeTe Bang is the queen of camp. Taking inspiration from everything from old musicians to movies to art, TeTe is rewiring the parallels of British drag. Appearing on Channel 4’s Drag SOS and ITV’s Karaoke Club: Drag Edition, she’s bringing lesbian drag representation to UK television screens, opening up the eyes of the British public to drag performers of all kinds.
Moving to London at 19 fresh from the Lake District, TeTe started to hang around her local LGBTQI venues in the hopes of finding community. In many ways, she fell into drag organically. Dressing up excited her, and for a long time, that’s what she perceived she was doing: “It was two years before I started to claim the term drag queen or drag performer and it was because other people started calling me it. I didn’t go out being like ‘I’m a drag queen now!’”
TeTe has been disrupting the patriarchy with her drag ever since. Her appearance on Channel 4’s Drag SOS alongside the Family Gorgeous was a watershed moment for drag representation in the media, but as TeTe expresses, it wasn’t an easy ride: “I was very lucky in that the Family Gorgeous are very focused on what they want and what they believe in. I didn’t get on the show easily. Cheddar Gorgeous really had to fight for me to be on there – there wasn’t an understanding that women were also within these spaces”.
“On a personal level, it gave me a lot of validation in what I was doing. Growing up as women, we’re not encouraged to speak our truth or to feel the value in our stories or experiences. As queer women we’re often playing second fiddle to the cis gay men and that’s evident in the amount of venues we have and the amount that are male-focused spaces”, TeTe continues.
Indeed, the legacy of gentrification transpires that spaces for LGBTQI women and non-binary people are on the decline, and with She in Soho representing the last physical venue of its kind in London, it’s difficult to remain optimistic. The parallels of queer nightlife are altering in favour of LGBTQI specific nights at regular venues, but that’s not to say that TeTe’s experiences in these spaces have always been perfect: “I personally have had negative experiences with female-only queer spaces. I felt that I wasn’t butch enough or I didn’t present lesbian enough”. For TeTe, venues like Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, Dalston Superstore and the Royal Vauxhall Tavern were critical in helping her find her queer family. “We have to keep fighting for LGBT spaces and remember what they’ve given us.”
Addressing the elephant in the room, Victoria Scone’s debut on the runway of Drag Race UK has renewed discussions surrounding inclusivity. Whilst this is a pivotal moment for representation, TeTe has concerns that these barriers should have been lifted long ago. “A lot of us within the community are frustrated that it’s taken this long. Victoria is an incredible performer but I really feel for her that she has to carry an entire community on her shoulders. I’m really happy, but it’s still not equality”. In many ways, the expectations for women and non-binary people in drag spaces are higher. Drag performers like TeTe are working overtime to ensure that they get the recognition that they deserve: “On Drag SOS, I made everything I wore and I styled all my own wigs. A lot of the cis gay men within the industry don’t do that and they get twice as much validation. As women, we get ‘read’”.
As TeTe recognises, language is important. Whilst Drag Race UK has encouraged discussions around the inclusion of women and non-binary people, it’s also revived some tensions surrounding terminology. The term AFAB queen, denoting a drag performer assigned female at birth, has been thrown around left right and centre, but as TeTe recognises, it wields transphobic undertones. “Some people don’t really like the word AFAB because they find it trans exclusionary. I’m having a bit of inner dialogue at the moment about it. Language changes – we haven’t necessarily had words to describe ourselves, or we’ve had to over describe ourselves to people. I don’t think we’ve perfected the terminology yet, and I don’t think I need to proclaim my gender at this point. That’s changing too”, she states.
What’s clear is that drag is a spectrum, and whilst the visibility of drag performers in all their forms is improving, there’s still a hell of a lot of progress to be made. Drag isn’t just “gays in wigs”: it’s a political artform, a livelihood and a party all at once. Without performers like TeTe Bang, the British drag scene would have a gaping hole.
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