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In conversation with Alfie Ordinary and Baby at The Glitter Ball

During the course of the night, I managed to sit down with Alfie and Baby to interview them about their start in drag, how LGBTQ+ students should navigate university life and what shows like Drag Race do for the queer community.

Interview: Alfie Ordinary

So, to start off slightly simply, how did you get into drag originally?

Alfie: Ummmm, I [chuckles] was doing singer-songwriter stuff – I was really inspired by Kate Nash – and so I was sort of always performing a little bit. And then I just sort of found cabaret and drag. I went to see Joe Black’s House of Burlesque and it’s sort of everything. I went to uni and did theatre and was really into visual arts, costume making and makeup. I loved fancy dress; any themed party I would be there. And then suddenly it all fell together and I was like ‘oh cabaret, and I can do music, I can do theatre, performance’. It’s all in there.

What does drag personally mean to you?

A: Oh my gosh! That’s a big question. I got into it because I was attracted by the dressing up. I just really enjoyed that escapism, creating something visual. But the more I looked into it the more I sort of discovered what drag was saying, what it was discussing a lot of the time. Which is obviously like toxic masculinity and femininity and you are sort of playing with those. So, it’s been really interesting exploring those parts of society through wearing sequins. [Alfie laughs – side note: it’s the most endearing, heart-warming laugh]

Obviously, we’re a university in the middle of freshers week so we’ve got a lot of new students, what would be your message for any new LGBTQ+ students being exposed to a lot of this for the first time?

A: [huge gasp] Get stuck in! Get involved. It’s fun. I think one of the most important parts of drag is that it’s approachable and, you know, we can discuss some pretty strong topics and politics but its always done with a bit of a wink and a nudge. The energy in that room [points to Mandela Hall] is already huge and it’s amazing that a bunch of queer people can come together and just celebrate each other and yeah it just feels like a good space to be in.

Why should people of all backgrounds, of all genders, sexualities and races embrace drag culture?

A: There’s no rules. Drag started from marginalised communities and like I said it’s a celebration of that. And although its, you know, in the mainstream a lot more now its roots are still in oppression. And, um, what am I talking about. [laughs] Its roots are still in oppression and so regardless of your background, who you are, what you do, you’ll still be welcomed in any drag space because the whole point of it is inclusivity.

We’ve talked about mainstream so bringing it kind of back to Drag Race, the most mainstream outpouring of drag at the moment, how do you think shows like Drag Race or Dragula or popular queens like Courtney [Act], especially in the UK, help and hinder the drag community?

A: Courtney is doing amazing things at the moment. We haven’t seen drag on British TV since Lily Savage, maybe 20 years ago. So, it’s great she’s got a tv show coming out which is amazing.

Chris: Two TV shows!

A: Is it two??

C: She’s got The

A: The Bi Life

C: and The Courtney Act Show on Channel 4. They are doing a kind of cabaret chat show.

A: YES! Thank god!

C: And then obviously The Bi Life as well.

A: I’m going to be ringing her up like ‘Hey I want to come on your show!’

C: Honestly, you probably could.

A: Maybe, maybe. I don’t know. We’ll see. So, she’s doing amazing things which is great. She uses her platform really positively to raise awareness and just kind of educate people. Her videos that she did with MTV were incredible talking about PrEP and consent and all these important issues. I think that always has been the job of the drag queen within the community. She’s taking that and really rolling with it. And yeah, it’s great. I’m really excited about that. Drag Race has created like an almost cardboard cut out drag queen. Which is fine. It’s fine. I f*cking love Drag Race. I’m sad there’s not more sewing challenges. They always seem the best ones. That’s what I like about drag and the making. I can’t sew but I really enjoy watching people make all these outfits. You have that sort of cardboard cut-out queen but it created a whole new movement. I think it empowered a lot of people. It definitely empowered me. I was suddenly like ‘Oh my god, this is great! There’s all these queer people on TV and they’re living their best lives.’

C: I mean they just won two Emmys.

A: Exactly! And it’s wonderful that it is opening a lot of conversations for people. You see kids going to drag shows with their parents and it’s like this is incredible.

C: That would never have happened before Drag Race.

A: No, not at all! Think about that relationship between a parent and a child that can go to a drag show and it be this incredible place. Imagine being entertained by this live performance rather than sitting at home on a Playstation or something. What a great way to spend your teenage years. It’s great. So, I appreciate it for that.

Thank you very much for this.

A: Sorry for waffling on like ‘blah, blah, blah’.

C: No, no, no. It’s fascinating talking to you all.

Follow Alfie on Instagram @alfieordinary

Interview: Baby

So, to start off, how did you get into drag?

Baby: Right so I was studying music and I graduated last year. I graduated with my music degree so obviously I was broke.

Chris: English and film here. I can imagine.

B: Right! There was Lip Sync For Your Life at Bar Revenge and I entered it and then won it. Then I was like ‘Oh people want to start paying me to do this? And I like it?’ so I thought ‘Let’s start taking it seriously’. When I did Lip Sync For Your Life, I didn’t wear wigs, I didn’t wear heels, I didn’t tuck; nothing. I was just some androgynous kid in a leotard and some underwear.

C: And you’ve turned into a glamazon.

B: A beautiful butterfly! So, yeah, I’ve only been doing drag for about a year now.

C: Yeah, you won in 2017?

B: Yes, that was last summer.

C: That’s insane that you’ve had this huge transformation.

B: Yeah, obviously, I’m one of those people that when I like something I just want to get really good at it. So, I learnt to sew. I style my wigs. I do so much stuff that is so interesting to me.

C: And how did you form all those skills quite quickly?

B: I did a little bit of sewing in secondary school in textiles class. I understood roughly how it works. I done a little bit. I made a teddy bear and stuff. Little things like that. But yeah, mainly with YouTube. Anything else like makeup? YouTube. Wig styling? YouTube. If I struggled sewing the seams on sleeves or something? YouTube.

What does drag mean personally to you?

B: Oooh, drag is all the fun parts of myself, for me anyway. Obviously, people have different characters and have different things they want to put out with their personas. For me, it’s an extension of myself in the sense that Baby is me if I was a girl. There isn’t a whole different character. It’s just me with some makeup on and a wig and some nice clothes. I like looking like real girls with a slightly more fashion look.

C: With lots of jewels [reference to her face makeup]

B: Yeah but still very realistic. Do you know what I mean? Because I’m terrible at stage makeup. When I look at my face I don’t like looking at all the harsh lines on my face because my features are quite soft and quite round. I’d rather just paint quite normally and to make my eyes look huge. Rather than [makes gestures of jagged lines on face] because it just doesn’t work for me [laughs].

So, why do you think people, of all backgrounds, should embrace drag?

B: Because it’s a skill. I think before Drag Race and that, people just thought that drag was just ‘that guy just dresses up as a woman and goes and moves his face to song. Awesome, whatever’. But drag is so many different things. Especially when taken to a higher level. With me, I’m choreographing all my routines, I’m styling all the dancers as well, I’m styling myself, I’m sewing my costumes. There’s so much more involved and it should be treated like any other art form. It’s an amalgamation of art forms.

What’s your message for any new LGBTQ+ students coming to university for the first time and seeing and being exposed to drag?

B: Just keep an open mind. Go and support local drag. If you are interested in it, there’s space for it. The fact that you guys have a Drag Society here.

C: The first in the UK.

B: That’s what I mean. That’s f*cking amazing. There’s more a sisterhood. With me, I kind of did everything by myself. I didn’t know many other drag queens. I knew Lydia [L’Scabies] and Alfie [Ordinary] but I thought they were too cool for school to talk to but now we’re friends. At the time, I had to figure things out by myself and they’d say ‘Aw you look cute today’ but as I’ve gotten better they say ‘No you actually look good’.

How do you think shows like Drag Race and Dragula or queens that have gained popularity like Courtney Act, especially in the UK, help and hinder the community?

B: They help in the way of giving exposure. Before, drag queens were seen as clowns but now people take drag seriously and see it more as an art form. So, those people are opening up pathways so for little drag queens like me. I haven’t been on a TV show but because you’re popular and people like me in this town, they can support me and that’s money. So, that’s great but at the same time, I feel Drag Race has – I don’t want to get really political but I do –

C: Go ahead!

B: With race in Drag Race you see some very interesting things happen.

C: Yeah, I know. It’s horrible.

B: People will be like ‘If Drag Race came to the UK would you go on it?’ and that sounds awesome but at the same time I don’t want 13-year olds calling me the n-word on the internet. It’s a thing where every time its addressed by a black queen its met with a ‘Nooooo’

C: Yeah by a ‘Noooo, but that’s not me’

B: Yeah a ‘But we like Latrice Royale!’ And the thing is Latrice is lovely. Latrice is great. But look at like Shea Coulee. She realistically should have won Season 9 and as soon as Season 9 finished…

C: People just kind of stopped caring.

B: Yeah!

C: Even though she released ‘Crème Brulee’ and all the amazing things.

B: The amazing music! See ‘Cocky’ was on MTV and got around 2 million views and that’s f*cking sick. But realistically if she was a white queen at the same standard she would have been perceived in such a different way.

C: And yeah, Sasha [Velour] is absolutely amazing and deserves everything she’s gotten.

B: Yeah, of course. The roses in the wig were iconic.

C: But people give her a lot more focus than they would for Shea.

B: Yeah, and really everyone thought Shea was going to win until she didn’t. She won 4 challenges and the only other people to do that are Sharon Needles and Alaska [and BenDeLaCreme]. Shea Coulee dominated the competition. Sh*t like that. That’s where I start to see an issue with it. And with me, sometimes I only get booked for RuGirls if it’s a black girl being booked. I don’t get booked for certain things, though I’m just as good.

C: Really?

B: Yeah! And it’s not a thing of ‘I’m good too’. No, I am very f*cking good at what I do. I don’t have any issue saying that.

C: You prove yourself constantly on stage.

B: Yeah exactly. That’s the one frustrating thing. But it’s one of those things you can’t really do anything about other then just get on with it and make it work. So, obviously, you have to be twice as good to get half the recognition but at the same time I’m progressing at such an accelerated rate because of that. If I didn’t have the pressure to be a certain level, I wouldn’t look like this.

C: I mean good job.

B: Right? Thank you! If I felt like it was ok, I could just comb some boy hair out and just go.

C: Yeah, some people can get away with sloppiness or things because they’re a fan favourite. I’ve definitely noticed.

B: Yeah, that’s favouritism. But that’s not really anyone on Drag Race’s fault.

C: It’s society’s fault.

B: It’s society’s fault! That’s the way we perceive whiteness and how we perceive certain things in our culture. I can’t be mad at those guys they’re making their f*cking money. If people like me and people want to like me more than other people and pay me more than other people, I’m not going to be like ‘Pay that b*tch more!’ No! I’m going to take my f*cking money! So, well done to those guys for doing their thing. Kudos.

Thank you very much!

B: No worries, gorgeous.

Follow Baby on Instagram @babyxroh

Photo Credit: Chris Ahjem

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Small Scale/Big Heart – Shazam! Film Review

Ali Wakelin - April 17, 2019

The semi-officially titled DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has gotten off to a bumpy start ever since 2013’s painfully average Man of Steel, ultimately deriving into downright painful…

News
213 views

Valley Gardens designs get final approval

joelrenoufc - April 16, 2019

Final designs for the Valley Gardens regeneration scheme have been approved by Brighton and Hove city councillors, in a meeting last month. Valley Gardens – the green…

Jordan Peele doubles down on satirical horror-comedy with US
Arts
165 views
Arts
165 views

Jordan Peele doubles down on satirical horror-comedy with US

Jake Abatan - April 16, 2019

Two years after Jordan Peele’s Oscar winning breakthrough, Get Out, expectations were high for the writer/producer/director’s follow up. Whilst Us falls short of the bar set by…

Campus News
302 views

Sussex plastic-free referendum approved by Students’ Union

Matthew Nicholls - April 15, 2019

On April 1, the University of Sussex Students’ Union Council voted in favour of holding a referendum on adopting a plastic-free policy initiative. The referendum was called…

Couples wanted for ‘kinky’ TV show
News
161 views
News
161 views

Couples wanted for ‘kinky’ TV show

Charmaine Jacob - April 14, 2019

Fans of lifestyle and reality TV rejoice. Brighton television company Crackit Productions, has announced that they are looking for participants for a new TV series. They are…

News
160 views

Saltdean Brexit S.O.S.

Jessica Hubbard - April 13, 2019

Artist Duncan McKellar organised a living art installation  come protest at the end of last month. ‘EU S.O.S.’ saw hundreds of people, brandishing mirrors, gather at White…

‘What Men Want’: The sexual encounter at the film’s heart is rape, not comedy
Comment
485 views
Comment
485 views

‘What Men Want’: The sexual encounter at the film’s heart is rape, not comedy

Ellie Doughty - April 12, 2019

Essentially, What Men Want was a movie following the life of a determined, if a little obnoxious, career woman who prioritises work over everything before learning the real…

News
341 views

Pronoun badges for Brighton school children

joelrenoufc - April 12, 2019

Children in secondary schools across Brighton and Hove have been given the choice to wear pronoun badges for the first time ever. The badges – which can…

Punk Nostalgia: The Stranglers at Brighton Dome
Music
319 views
Music
319 views

Punk Nostalgia: The Stranglers at Brighton Dome

Ryan Bridgewater - April 11, 2019

For someone who believes that music culture must constantly evolve to stay vital, seeing a treasured band whose heyday was the late 1970s and 1980s is potentially…

Sussex Alumni opens ‘pop-up’ barbers
News
172 views
News
172 views

Sussex Alumni opens ‘pop-up’ barbers

joelrenoufc - April 11, 2019

An ingenious new idea sees pop up barbershop on wheels take to the streets of London and Brighton. Two young men from South Norwood, London, are revolutionising…

Brighton Festival: 30 Years Of Mr Bongo preview
Arts
288 views
Arts
288 views

Brighton Festival: 30 Years Of Mr Bongo preview

Alex Leissle - April 11, 2019

Back in the heyday of 1989, when Tina Turner and Kylie Minogue dominated the charts, and Prince was is his Batman-score phase, something else was brewing on…

Mental Health resources
Uncategorized
219 views
Uncategorized
219 views

Mental Health resources

Billie-Jean Johnson - April 10, 2019

This list has been compiled by The Mental Health Project, a student run society dedicated to getting others talking about mental health. Residential Advisors: contact via email…

Crop top unfit to fly on Thomas Cook
Comment
265 views
Comment
265 views

Crop top unfit to fly on Thomas Cook

Jasmine Edmonson - April 10, 2019

The continuous over-sexulisation women face in society is sickening and must end. 21-year-old Emily O’Connor was supposedly targeted by Thomas Cook Airlines for wearing a crop top…

Sussex students talk at European Parliament
News
271 views
News
271 views

Sussex students talk at European Parliament

Matthew Nicholls - April 10, 2019

Four University of Sussex students were invited to the European Parliament in Brussels to meet with Members of European Parliament to discuss Climate Change. Students Mary-Jane Farrell,…

News
306 views

‘We should have roots here’

Jessica Hubbard - April 10, 2019

Sussex University allotment group, Roots, is facing another move; the third in six years. Currently located behind Park Village, student gardeners may have to make way for…

Rhys Lewis Interview: Love songs and political needs
Interview
338 views
Interview
338 views

Rhys Lewis Interview: Love songs and political needs

Rebecca Spencer - April 10, 2019

Rhys Lewis is a 28-year-old singer/song-writer with over 27 million Spotify streams on his song ‘No Right To Love You’. His songs are about heartbreak, anxiety and…

Hyphenated Identities: Internationality in the ‘Hostile Environment’
Features
253 views
Features
253 views

Hyphenated Identities: Internationality in the ‘Hostile Environment’

Alex Leissle - April 10, 2019

If there is anything the last three years of political near-phantasmagoria has proven, it is that British society, whatever or wherever that is, is obsessed with identity.…

Artist Focus: Ella Willson-Smith
Artist Focus
221 views
Artist Focus
221 views

Artist Focus: Ella Willson-Smith

Elizabeth Richardson - April 10, 2019

Ella Willson-Smith is a finalist Illustration student at the University of Brighton. Originally from London, her projects are largely concerned with the relationships between people, objects and…