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Hannah & Joel: Antwerp’s trans scene
Photography Hannah & Joel

The rebellious, ‘no fucks given’ drag house shaking Antwerp

The House of Katoi did away with the pageant approach to drag that once-defined the city’s scene. See how they carved out a new style here

The House of Katoi is only three years old yet it’s already making its mark on the Antwerp drag scene. Disinterested in conforming to the then-state of the Belgian capital’s clubs at the time, where pageant-style drag reigned supreme. Instead, founder Kitty Katoi (Andy), a “gogo-dancer extraordinaire and notorious redhead” – as described by Belgian-French photographer duo Hannah & Joel who captured the house in an ongoing series of black and white images displayed here – shunned ‘etiquette’ by going stocking-less and refusing to cover her legs, stating that they were "simply too fabulous to be covered up", and, perhaps, unintentionally, set the wheels in motion for a new era of drag in the city.

With a decade of experience under her (garter) belt, Katoi’s ‘no fucks given’ approach is captured beside drag daughters, the “unapologetically promiscuous” Gina von Teese (Glenn), 1950s pin-up with a penchant for “clown make-up” Katherine K-hole (Vincent) and 90s club kid glam-goer Lulu Lachapelle (Yves). “We were simply fascinated by the way they moved, transformed, bonded over the ritual of getting dressed, getting high, and spending countless days without sleep. It was a world unfamiliar to us and all we wanted was to join in, observe,” explain the photographers.

Capturing endless nights fuelled by Special K and Liquid X (aka Ketamine and GHB) in what might feel like a never-ending party, the duo were actually enlightened by the experience. “Regardless of who’s in front of us, whatever issues we’re dealing with and whichever means we use to express ourselves, the only thing that is truly ever relevant, is that we are all but human,” they say. “We all love, we all hurt and we are all simply looking for a way to cope. When, finally, we are able to feel this simple truth resonating in our core and let go of the judgement that many of us are conditioned to experience, there is so much beauty to be found in that.”

“The way they switched between femininity and masculinity so fluidly was a thing of beauty to us, something very poetic and worth cherishing” – Hannah & Joel

They add: “We didn't want to picture them the way they were, as photography is always a subjective matter, but the way we saw them, the way we felt them. As men – as women – in a balancing act between a sobering reality and an intoxicated parallel universe in which they seemed free of the conventional, the judgment, the stigmas. The way they switched between femininity and masculinity so fluidly was a thing of beauty to us, something very poetic and worth cherishing. We walked into their lives with the intent of diving into a world unknown to us, with a desire to learn about people and customs we’d otherwise never experience, but we didn’t realise to what extend they would impact us. We didn’t realise we would genuinely grow to care for these people that were – and still are, opening up to us with a fearless vulnerability that we can only describe as humbling.”

Once you push aside all of this, what you’re left with is a family bond who truly love one-another – a “surrogate family” as Hannah & Joel describe it. “Where most drags in Antwerp were bonding over dressing up and the intoxicating allure of nightlife – most didn’t even know their drag friends' real-life names – the boys started sharing everything from their personal issues to their homes, relying on each other for love and support even when the costumes came off,” the duo reveal. “With many of them coming from complex childhoods and broken homes, the way they created a safe haven for one another was something truly special to witness. Not one of them would ever miss a show, no matter how hungover. The house of Katoi shared the good, the bad, and the ugly, hung out mostly every day and never, ever, left someone behind – no matter how sober or intoxicated. Without being aware of it, they have continuously challenged our beliefs and convictions in the best possible way, and have shown us a depth of friendship that is astonishingly rare to come by.”

See more from Hannah & Joel here