Sink The Pink are a drag troupe known for their wild parties in a Bethnal Green working men’s club – here we travel with them and learn about their personal journeys to creative freedom
Drag is loads of fucking fun, but the club closure epidemic infecting London is putting the city’s scene at risk. At the heart of London’s drag community is Sink The Pink, a genderfucking collective of performers, serving androgyny and sexual promiscuity in the legendary parties they host. Their monthly residency at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club attracts hoards of devoted clubbers without fail.
Our love affair with drag is deepening, busting down the rigid doors to some mainstream cultural acceptance. What was once a nefarious and shadowy subculture, is now on our TVs. Yes, we had Lily Savage in the 90's, but these queens are taking gender bending to as yet unknown heights. It’s not just female mimicry on the menu.
Between performing in Marseilles and Ibizia, I caught up with some of the girls, the self-labelled ringmasters of this “tranny circus”, to find out how they ended up gurning their faces off while slut dropping in a boob-tube onstage, for cash.
I travelled with them to Bestival and partied – drenched in glitter and sweat – at the festival’s infamously queer Palace of Grand Entertainment. I waded through various powders and jock straps, with stilettos and hot pants akimbo, to find out who these shimmering queens are underneath the slap, day to day, and how they fell in love with drag.
FINN LOVE, 21
"I spent my entire life feeling “other” in some way, spent a childhood dealing with the ideas of “the straight man” and “the gay man”. Shows like Ugly Betty taught me what a “gay man” should be like. Then I went to university. Suddenly the notion that you don’t have to be a man or a woman, a “this” or a “that”, came onto the scene. It’s understanding there are moments of transgression, which can be beautiful and relevant to our lives. I discovered Sink The Pink.
I had time to work out who and what I am. It’s strange. I don’t do “drag” as most people might expect it. I normally have a stark white face, and rarely wear a wig. I wear bondage, leather and studs. Dressed in heels, stockings, harnesses; I’m rejecting the idea of gender.
It doesn’t read as male or female, you know? The first time I felt truly myself; my friend and I went to a Sink The Pink night. I came in a pair of 50s vintage high-waisted sailor trousers. It comes from a place of expressing parts of yourself that you don’t think you can.
For me, when I’m walking in the street, I wear kilts, trousers, shorts, and skirts, whatever. I don’t care if I look like a boy or a girl, that’s not how I identify now. Nights like Sink The Pink, they push you, encourage you, and commend you to put yourself out there. Going out for the first time, as this sailor person, this thing, it’s what encouraged me to realise I’m not this weird, freakish boy.
I can be an interesting, desirable and dynamic creature. I just need to engage with what I care about. I’ve learned to embrace the parts of me that I hated, labelled different. What made me feel a freak is what makes me who I am, it’s what people respond to, and it’s what they love. It’s a torrent of encouragement and positivity, into a world that doesn’t have any of that outside.
SHAY SHAY, 24
I’m Shane, or Shay Shay, but really we’re one in the same. My performance persona is not that different from the average, normal me. Originally I tired to come up with all these names that were different, but they each ended up feeling a little too much like a character. Shay Shay is a name I’d been using for a long time, my little crazy me.
I came to London at the beginning of 2014. I was living with some family outside of the city, it wasn’t ideal. I had to get my shit together: get a job, get a flat, move into the city. I got a job. Like a job job. I had to sit at an office, looking at a computer. It was all very good. I had a good salary. People thought it was interesting. I wanted to die.
It’s hard to say when I first dabbled with drag, but this tranny style and gender expression only started when I headed down to Sink the Pink, at the end of 2014. I went to the summer ball, and I could see this was it, I knew, I just knew, I wanted to be up on stage. I’ve always been the girlie boy, you know, the one who played with Barbies before he had a sister, the one who wanted to do theatre and wear makeup, big hats and heels.
I don’t think the gender roles of boy or girl work for me. I like pulling from whichever one that I want to. I think what’s best about Shay Shay is the feeling of living, you know living. The most important thing is to fucking live. It’s always how we should feel, whatever we’re wearing, whatever we’re doing; we should feel like we’re living all the time. There are so many people who can’t face breaking the black and white boundaries of our everyday lives. Just throw some fucking glitter on that shitter and trust me, you’ll start to feel alive.
I’m a fashion photographer primarily, but as you can see, I’m a part time drag queen. When I started getting involved in the drag scene, I had people whispering down my ear about my image as a professional fashion photographer. People said I should be careful not to, you know, dilute that professionalism. At the least they said I should get a pseudonym. But you know, the problem is, this isn’t an alter ego. This is me, having some fun, so I’m Louie.
Words can’t describe the feeling of pride I get from drag, each time we do a show I come away feeling unreal. It’s fun, but there’s more, we create a haven in which people can express themselves. I’ve always had a non-traditional idea of gender, as a kid I was a proper tranny child, from age 4-10 I wore girls clothes everyday. My mum let me do that, whilst I’d cry to her and ask her to let me be a woman, be a girl. As a teenager I got over that, and on my birthday do a drag look, but there was something about it that kept pulling me back.
It’s freeing. I always dress up, but in drag you can get away with murder, and I love that. Give me a fag, give me your drink, pick me up, carry me up the hill. People do it, because, well they do. You say the things you couldn’t otherwise. There’s a shell, and it’s empowering.
It’s really catching on right now, drag, and it might be a bit fickle, a bit shallow, everyone’s selling out and cashing in on the scene. But it’s good; you’re all loving trannies. We’re aiming to challenge the norm, to break down social barriers that are constructed. Everything we do turns peoples eyes, and if it rubs you the wrong way then that’s fine.
RODENT DECAY, 21
As someone who identifies as being non-binary, gender fluid, drag is a really encouraging space to present myself in an illusionary way. Even when I was really young, I was always the female characters; Xena Warrior Princess, you know, or just wearing my mum’s shoes. I never wanted to decide one way or another when it comes to gender, and drag has let me realise I just don’t fit comfortably into either camp. It’s been a steady progression of a liberating realisation, but the signs were there from a young age.
Drag is about an illusion. The chance to reshape your face, your body, become almost a chameleon for these fleeting moments, it’s a powerful idea to get involved with. I was able to present myself as a conventional boy for so long, because I didn’t even know there was an alternative.
Looking back, I’d tell myself there is this other option. "You don’t have to carry on presenting yourself as this thing others want you to be. There’s an alternative, standards and norms can be set by yourself,” I’d say. There are so many trans teens coming out now, being vocal about their experiences. It’s amazing they have that courage, to openly differ in the hostile environment of a high school.
Having the opportunity to pretend to be a better person than you are, it lets you develop yourself in a way that I really can’t explain. Learning from it, and blending it back into your life. A lot more queens are motivated today by political issues, mental health issues, these are drivers more than ever before.
Our art isn’t given credence in a political discourse, so it’s hard, as always, to really change things. What we can do is harness our power as a cultural product, and spread information and ideas to whoever comes to see. So many performances now explore what it’s like to have anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, trans matters and race. Queens are fighting back, in way you’ll have never seen before.
JONBENET BLONDE, 27
I started doing drag at 17 in Belfast, and it was hard. My parents threw me out our house because I was gay. Now, thankfully, our relationship is going strong, but back then it really wasn’t the same. I was finishing college, kicked out my home, so moved in with my cousin who took me in.
I lived in his bedroom for a while. Soon he made it clear I needed to get a job and make my own way, and his flatmate sorted me a gig at a hairdressers down the road. Through that I met one of the main drag queens in Belfast, she was running a competition, with a prize of £500. I’d been interested in drag anyway, and I needed that money, so I entered and thought fuck it, who knows? I won.
One of the prizes was to do your own night, and it pretty much escalated from there. Looking back, I probably would have ended up doing drag, but the catalyst at the time was cold hard cash. Gender fluidity doesn’t really apply to me. Growing up until now, I feel male; I don’t feel like a woman somewhere inside. My drag is very feminine, I make myself look like a woman, but it’s not how I identify at all. It’s visceral fun.
If you’re going to do drag, it needs to be on your own terms, gender fuck or feminine, there’s a spectrum from which you’ve got to pick. If you want to have a beard in drag then just do it. That’s exactly what we’re about. It’s about creativity, for me, and doing what makes you happy. If you want to put on a dress and make a show, then it’s a win.
I think it’s about opening up, and showing people conformity doesn’t equate to fulfilment.