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Gender Fvcker by Kat Hudson
Gender FvckerPhotography Kat Hudson

Drag magazine Louche explores new frontiers in queer performance

Editor and drag king Georgeous Michael shares their drag reading list and reflects on how the UK drag scene can do better

Meet Georgeous Michael, impresario, drag king, and editor of Louche, a new DIY drag magazine. At a time when drag has firmly made its move from the underground to a mainstream form of entertainment, Georgeous Michael has set about creating a publication that aims to relocate the subcultures within drag itself. As a drag king, they are all too aware of the underrepresentation of diversity within the scene, but Louche sticks two fingers up at this, championing drag kings and bringing nonbinary, gender non-conforming, and trans drag artists into the spotlight. 

With its punky, unapologetic aesthetic, the magazine dismisses the polished palatability of ordinary drag representations (hi RuPaul’s Drag Race). In Louche, articles traverse a whole range of topics, from softboys and homecoming queens in drag, to classism within the business, and how drag can dismantle social structures at a politically turbulent time in Britain. The first issue features key names on the UK scene such as drag queen Oozing Gloop, pan-Asian troupe The Bitten Peach, and fountain of wisdom Dragony Aunt Shaz, as well as Dazed contributor Crystal Rasmussen

In light of the very first issue, “Beginnings and Becomings”, we chatted to Georgeous Michael about inspirations for Louche, iconic drag literature, and drag’s renaissance.

Louche is a source of inspiration for those seeking an alternative to the mainstream representations of drag. Tell me why this was important to you.

Georgeous Michael: The UK drag scene is very diverse, being made up of many different styles, political positions, and subcultures, but mainstream representations don’t really reflect this. As a drag king, I’m part of a community too often sidelined or left out of the picture (with very real material and financial implications: for example, drag kings are often paid less and booked less than their queen counterparts). I think this is because it’s actually still taboo to be thinking critically about masculinity, especially when it’s mostly queer women, nonbinary, or trans people doing it. So I’m acutely aware of how much more there is to drag than what gets picked up. If you look at RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, for example, it’s very shiny and polished. It’s also pretty samey (sorry!). I’m more interested in the side of drag that is super punk. I hope that Louche – a DIY publication emerging directly out of a thriving UK scene of drag kings, queens, and in-betweens – reflects the more audacious and radical parts of drag culture.  

What’s the theme of the first issue, and why? 

Georgeous Michael: The theme is “Beginnings and Becomings”. This feels apt not least because it’s the first issue, but also because every act and every performer starts somewhere! On this theme, we have a piece about coming into femininity as a transmasculine person, a photo essay capturing performers getting into and out of drag in a single long-exposure shot, and a look at histories in queer performance. In the future, the mag will have more specific themes, focusing in on one element of drag, but we decided to keep it fairly broad for Issue One.

How did you choose the kings and queens that feature in this first issue?  

Georgeous Michael: Issue One emerged quite organically out of lots of conversations with performers and artists active on the queer cabaret scene right now (mostly London-based), whose work we were inspired by. With contributions from over 30 writers, performers, and illustrators, Issue One covers a lot of ground. But of course there are still so many more incredible artists out there. Looking ahead, we’d love to reach out to contributors from across the UK. Brighton, Manchester, and Sheffield all have thriving performance communities, for example. Get in touch!

So Google Translate has informed me that ‘louche’ means ‘ladle’ in French. How did you come up with this title and what is its significance?

Georgeous Michael: The name came from an article by the journalist (and Dazed’s LGBTQ+ editor-at-large) Shon Faye, in which she observed: “It is hard to think of a world more louche, of the night, and anarchic than the world of drag”. Here, ‘louche’ is used in the English sense of the word, so to describe something that’s a bit sordid or disreputable, but in a rakish and appealing way. As a title for the magazine, it embraces the abject, the morally dubious, questioning these as value judgements which have historically been used to denigrate queer art and expression. But it is the irreverence of drag which makes it fabulous! So Louche feels like an attitude and a perspective that is inherently unorthodox, challenging, and yet at the same time which draws you in. But now that you mention it, I love the idea of queering the word ladle! 

What prompted you to launch a magazine as opposed to another form of media? 

Georgeous Michael: A printed magazine feels really special and unique as a format for celebrating drag, this is because it gives literal weight to an art form which is so often ephemeral, fleeting, and momentary (materialising spectre-like onstage for a matter of minutes). High quality, gorgeous print offers something tangible you can hold and feels genuinely different to on-screen consumption too. It’s something to caress, muse over, and impress people with when displayed on your bookshelf.  

Who are your ultimate drag king or queen inspirations?

Georgeous Michael: The local drag scenes in London and across the UK are an endless source of inspiration. Where else can you see a performer lip sync upside down while spinning around a pole (That Ray), angle grind their own metal-plated crotch (Crystal of Drag Race UK), or effortlessly compose a live number about Big Dyke Energy (Mr Wesley Dykes)? Victoria Sin is another very exciting contemporary artist. More historical influences include Bloolips, Leigh Bowery, Klaus Nomi (who, to my embarrassment, I only just found out about, but who is totally amazing), and the legend that is Stormé DeLarverie.

Is there a political aspect to this magazine?

Georgeous Michael: In today’s context, it feels political to actively work against the binaries of king and queen when these two camps can feel quite separate and entrenched. Louche aims to celebrate the entire spectrum of drag in all its messiness, and boundary-pushing, disruptive splendour. It also asks tough questions of the scene, and platforms underrepresented voices within it. There’s a whole feature in Issue One about the legacy of drag as political action in homage to pioneers of the LGBTQ+ community, such as trans activists and self-identified “street queens” Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson, both pivotal figures in the Stonewall Riots. 

You mention in your editor’s letter that over the past few years drag has seen a renaissance in the media “for better and for worse”. What’s the better and what’s the worse?

Georgeous Michael: The increased popularity of drag among mainstream audiences represents a huge opportunity, and yet also the potential to solidify existing hierarchies, like the tendency to put drag queens first, as I previously mentioned. If you look at America, for example, you hear about variety nights where the crowd only stays for the Drag Race stars on the line-up, and there’s also a huge disparity in how much local performers earn by contrast. In an interview for Louche mag Issue One, drag queen Oozing Gloop observes there is perhaps a danger in the mainstreaming of drag, where it dilutes the potency of this art form as critique, and its vital role for queer communities, through corporatisation. But at the same time, the increased popularity of drag also brings important messages about gender and identity to people who otherwise might not have been exposed to these ideas.

The Ask Shaz Dragony Aunt column gives some sterling advice on all things self-care, sex, and how to sever structures. What advice would you give for all blossoming drag kings and queens out there?

Georgeous Michael: I would always encourage anyone wanting to get into drag to get yourself onto as many open mic slots as possible. Nothing beats trying out new material or your character onstage and getting a sense of how different audiences respond. There are also loads of great tutorials on YouTube, from how to do make-up, to tucking and binding. Watch lots of local, live drag shows too, and speak to the performers after the show if you have questions or enjoyed their act. Don’t be shy! 

The article, Now you Wanna Talk About Reading flags the importance of literature in the drag community. What texts do you recommend for becoming better informed about drag and queer performance (other than Louche, obviously)?

Georgeous Michael: I’m actually a bookworm so I love this question! The Drag King Book was published in the late 90s, but remains a fundamental text on performing masculinity, which has otherwise been sorely under-documented. It’s a collaboration between the artist Del LaGrace Volcano and queer theorist Jack Halberstam – both of whom were part of the flourishing drag king scenes in London, Paris, and New York at that time. Marlon Bailey’s book about Ballroom culture in the US, Butch Queens Up in Pumps, is also excellent. If you want to go deep, the Bishopsgate Institute in London has incredible archival material on drag. 

Where can people buy Louche?

Georgeous Michael: On the website here, or at the following bookshops IRL: Gay’s The Word, Hausmans, magCulture, and Category Is Books in Glasgow, with more soon.