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Comfort Zone film Georgian Tbilisi drag Emma Swanson 11
Photography Emma Louise Swanson

How the art of drag helped one young Georgian accept his truth

Short film Comfort Zone trains its lens on one of Tbilisi’s brightest performers and highlights the challenges faced by the city’s queer community

Where Drag Race offers us a glossy, perfectly packaged, commercialised vision of drag, what’s going on beyond RuPaul’s workroom in the wider world is often very different. Though the show has propelled the art of drag to mainstream consciousness, in many countries drag performers and the queer communities they belong to face judgement, persecution, and sometimes even violence from more conservative members of society. 

One such place is Tbilisi, where a vibrant drag scene is blossoming in the back rooms and basements of the city’s nightclubs and bars. At Bassiani, Cafe Gallery, and original gay bar Success (which is tragically at risk of closure due to the coronavirus), the LGBTQ+ community converges on the dancefloor, as drag queens, DJs, and dancers put on subversive, DIY shows that highlight the talent and creativity of a new generation of queer Georgians. 

Now, filmmaker Jordan Blady presents a short feature, entitled Comfort Zone, which trains its lens on Tbilisi’s blossoming drag ball scene and, more particularly, Matt Shally – an actor and performer integral to its community. 

Beginning with Shally telling the story of how he came to conceptualise a drag alter-ego named Victoria Slutyna, who he describes as ‘an attention whore, emotional, and very aggressive’, he goes on to explain how drag helped him to fully accept and embrace his identity. Leaving Slutyna behind, he is now simply ‘Matt in a dress’, with the looks he wears in Comfort Zone fittingly created by gender-skewing Georgian designer Lavau Shvelidze

With Comfort Zone offering up a powerful message which speaks to Shally’s resilience in the face of opposition when it comes to his identity (notably, he was among those brutalised by Georgian police when Bassiani was raided in 2018), the film also highlights the resilience of queer Georgians as a whole. With 2020 marking the second year in a row the inaugural Tbilisi Pride has been cancelled – first due to violent protests in 2019, and this year thanks to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions – the film demonstrates the LGBTQ+ community of Tbilisi’s refusal to give up in the fight for the acceptance and change they deserve. 

Watch the film below and check out behind-the-scenes photographs in the gallery above.

Donate to the Save Success Bar Gofundme here