Being a drag queen in Russia is not so easy, at least for me. Starting with the fact that the attitude towards LGBT people, in general, is negative, ending with the fact that not everyone understands my style, even in the drag scene. Russia has its own vision of drag culture, but comparing to modern drag from around the world, our current drag scene is stuck somewhere in the 90s or early 2000s. Few artists want to experiment and are interested in some less popular (but no less cool) music, movies and fashion trends. I love that the American LGBT community respects its history, queer art & culture. We don’t have that here, maybe because being gay was always forbidden in Russia.
I’m interested in experimenting with style, mixing drag, street fashion, a bit of chic and glam, adding a bit of avant-garde, brutality, punk or cyberpunk. I collaborate with young and very talented Russian designers and photographers. Each photoshoot generates a new dimension in my look and creates interest in new styles for my image, smoothly flowing into a new image for the next photoshoot – it inspires me! For me, drag is my own bright world, where I can bring to life my most courageous ideas. But I am very rarely invited to perform at gay clubs.
Usually, all the drag queens use mostly the same Russian pop songs in their lip syncs, performing each week the same numbers. It’s so boring and predictable. I can probably count on my fingers about 5 drag queens from all over Russia who are trying to experiment and look modern by showing unique individuality. I try to perform songs by Brooke Candy, MNDR or Vive La Fete, who are not known by the general public in Russia and their music is probably quite unusual for the public. But isn’t it more interesting to discover something new from the place you’re going, I mean that if I’m going to the club, I want to see something new and interesting that can inspire me. I want to discover uniqueness and be unique!
However, in recent years a new generation of advanced, young people have emerged, who create their own fresh culture and community. They are not afraid of experiments, despite all the bans of the authorities and misunderstanding by the general public. I am pleased that I’m merging into this new community, where they understand me. We have quite a lot of fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race on the Russian Internet, but sometimes even they do not know a single Russian drag queen, maybe because of the quality of the image by the Russian queens, that is not so shiny, bright and fashionable as their sisters from the US have.
The first Russian drag queens appeared in the 1990s, mostly in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, because the first gay clubs, as we know it now, appeared in the two biggest & most progressive cities of Russia. Now a couple of the artists who survived from those times continue to perform the same songs as 10 years ago, earning a lot of money from this.
While there are young drag queens who are eager to experiment, they do not have the opportunity to buy at least one decent wig, as the clubs do not pay a lot to young artists. You have to work hard to create a decent image. In Russia, there are no good quality drag wigs, such as the ones that the queens from the US have, no good fabric for costumes and it is also expensive, so most artists order costumes from China or outbid from each other. A few good cosmetic brands have appeared relatively recently, but they are not so cheap either. It is very difficult to live in a place where you have to sweat to realize your ideas.
Another interesting point about drag culture in our country is that you can’t talk about the LGBT or drag world in the press and on TV, as it is considered a perversion. But we have a few artists in pop culture, who use women’s looks (for example Verka Serduchka, who represented Ukraine at the Eurovision song contest some years ago and became popular in Europe), but doing it comically, they act like clowns. And they are normally received by the average public with people laughing at them. But if a man uses makeup or some female elements in their wardrobe in his everyday life he may have problems. You hardly see a guy on the street in makeup, as well as guys walking on the street and holding hands. It’s like double standards in the heads of general Russian people.
I was born in the south of Russia, where it is even more difficult to do drag than in Moscow. I am a hair & fashion stylist, so the love for beauty & creation sits inside of me from my childhood. My drag story began when I came to a gay club one night and saw drag queens on stage – that was a bit scary for me at first. But after that, it became very interesting for me to try makeup on myself and I started self-studying, shaving my eyebrows and learning how to do makeup thanks to YouTube.
With the rising popularity of Instagram and social networks, it has become much easier, because you can order anything from around the world. But some years ago, when Instagram was not yet so popular, it was impossible to buy almost anything in small cities, in some cities there are even no gay clubs. 4 years ago I moved to Moscow, and then my passion for drag increased with new forces. My boyfriend is a fashion designer and we inspire each other, together we bring to life our ideas. Together we discover new music, artists, eras and a lot of ideas for photo shoots. So, Lorina Rey, it’s not only me, it’s our common child!
As for the future of drag culture and the LGBT world in general, the desire of young people to be more open is in the air; LGBT TV channels, online magazines, the visibility of gay bloggers have increased, new interesting LGBT places are opening and cool theme parties are held, – thanks to the Internet we are moving forward. I think very soon everything will change for the better, thanks to the wild desire of people to keep up with the world. Most recently I participated in a reality show for makeup artists – something similar to the show American Beauty Star from the US – where they showed my drag image, which is very rare for Russian TV. After the show, I received only positive feedback from the audience and a large amount of support, so there is hope that drag will be more accepted by the public in Russia in the near future!
Model: Lorina Rey @lorina_rey
Photography: Ilia Zavialov @iliazvv