IN RIGA, THE DRAG SCENE IS STILL YOUNG, WITH ONLY A HANDFUL OF PERFORMERS. A CONVERSATION WITH THE LATVIAN QUEENS ROY ROGERS (20) AND KOURTNEY X MODNAYA (19) - THE YOUNGEST QUEENS OF OUR PROJECT, TO DISCUSS CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT, FAME, GENDER, THE MAKING OF A CREATIVE CAREER AND THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THEIR CHOICES.
What´s the most annoying question you get asked?
R: "How long does it take to do your make-up?"
K: Oh God, everything annoys me!
R: "Is that your natural hair?"
K: Yeah, that one is the most annoying one!
K: Well, first comes the question and than the movement...
R: Oh yes, that's always part of it! I usually say "How about your hair?! Is it natural?" and reach for their hair as well. What else?
K: Are you a boy or a girl? (Both laugh)
What if the question comes from a place of genuine curiosity?
K: I understand that it might, but it just annoys me. Because, well, I don't want to be a girl. (Both laugh)
People not familiar with the scene might have a seemingly simple question: Why drag?
R: Well, its fun! There is a lot of freedom in drag culture. You can talk about anything and make jokes about everything.
K: You can say a lot of things you wouldn't be able to say otherwise, do a lot of things you wouldn't otherwise get away with.
R: You can go to a club and joke about someone being ugly and fat, which isn't really something one should normally do. Since a drag queen´s persona is very much based on the visual, it´s easy for everyone to see that you are in character and whatever you are doing isn't the real you. Another good thing about it is that if someone gives you`lot of shit, you understand that they're not actually shitting on you, they're shitting on you character, so you don't have to be affected by it.
K: As a drag queen you can be anything, you can be a singer, an actor, and if you sing you don't even have to do it well!
So would you say your drag persona is a construct? Is there a deliberate difference between yourself and your character?
K: There are people who are the same both on stage and in real life...
R: But those are the boring people! I don't believe its good for performers to be the same on stage as in real life. There has to be a clear line between what's you and what's the character you've created.
K: If someone went to the bank going "Yes queen! Give me those cheques, give me those, yaaaas!" that would be a clear sign of sociopathic tendencies in my opinion!
R: But, just because the character is a contract doesn't mean its fake. Its more like the best part of your personality amped up. Its your best jokes showcased, your talents highlighted. I am calm and gathered most of the week, and than there's that one day when I just let it all out.
K: Sometimes during performances my character can be super dark, and people might think that off-stage I'm slitting my wrists on a daily basis. Of course I'm not. I'm a quiet, introverted person. In a social setting I might even just sit there quietly, but during a performance I'm able to jump into the crowd with ease.
When did you guys start performing?
R: About a year ago. I've always used elements from drag culture in my aesthetics though.
K: Ive been a drag queen for almost a year, ten months maybe? I lived in Copenhagen for a summer and didn't use social media, just marinated in my own juice, enjoyed everything, partied every other day. When I returned home I found Latvia to be really boring. One night I didn't have anything to do , actually it was New Years Eve, I got my self ready and decided to head to Golden Bar.
R: You were at Golden on New Years Eve!? What where you doing there?
K: Well, what does everyone do at Golden?! I was drinking of course!
R: On New Year Eve?!
K: Yes, first of January, I woke up at 1am...
R: You missed New Years?!
K: Yes, anyways - I had already gone to bed and had a dream where I was in some kind of club. I wake up and I check the time, it´s 1am, I go on instagram, come across a photo of a drag queen and just immediately think: New Year, New Me! I hadn't been on stage yet at that point, so I didn't have a lot of makeup, but I put on every little thing I had, found a suitable outfit and was immediately like...."Queen!". I got a taxi to Golden, only to find that no-one was there so I went to TOP Klubs instead. Almost immediately , I was approached by the owner who told me I was beautiful and asked me if I would like to perform one day. A week later I was on stage, initially just for fun, but later it developed into something more serious.
Does a performance take a lot of preparation, or can you just show up and be like "Here I AM"?
K: Well, it has happened! But normally we would need at least a week.
R: I have prepared a show in three days as well, but that was crazy. For the first show, I prepared for a month, what to wear, which songs to sing.
To what extent are you inspired by drag culture abroad, Ru Paul and all of that?
R: I watch drag shows and find them interesting, but it´s not a goal of mine to duplicate them. I think drag culture can be so much more than what's shown there. It´s also important to consider the fact that we are in Latvia. I'm not saying that the society as a whole is homophobic, but it´s essential to understand that there wouldn't be many people who would enjoy a lip-sync show here - for example. Of course, there might be 100-odd people on the gay scene here who would enjoy that kind of show, but we want to find bigger audience, and in Latvia the bigger audience is found in a different part of the entertainment business.
K: In reality I'm a guy, a boy, a man, in make up and if I just move to some foreign music, people in Latvia will see me as a "fag who moves his mouth to foreign music".
R: They just won't find it interesting.
K: You have to do somehow intertwine it with the culture that's here, to attract the audience.
R: We can offer something that they haven't seen, and they might be like "What the fuck?", but at the same time, they're quite exited. Its something new.
Do you experience any negativity towards you when being drag, or is it not as bad as one might think:
R: This question often pisses me off, as journalists seem to assume I get shit all the time. The answer is....online, yes. But when you go outside it´s not like you get beaten up.
K: The internet will always be a zoo, but we always make it from one club to the next on foot.
R: No-one is chasing us. After TOP Clubs we would often go to McDonalds. We stand in line like everyone else.
K: People stare wide-eyed, wondering what is happening. But nobody comes up to us.
R: If I was in McDonalds at 6am and saw a drag queen I would also be staring.
K: It´s part of the performance...
R: I remember the time you would call out the numbers for everyone to pick up their food!
K: I was working hard!
In your opinion, what changes that are still needed for the Latvian society to become more accepting and inclusive?
R: I don't know, I think the changes will happen naturally. In my opinion, "coming out videos" are unnecessary. I never made one, because why would you make yourself out to be something special, when the goal is to be no different than other people? Why would you feel the need to "come out"?
K: It´s never been an issue for me. I ´ve never had a "coming out" to anyone. Absolutely no one. I've never felt the need to say the words, "Hey, I'm gay." Everyone figured it out on their own.
R: I´ve been asked "are you gay?" in interviews and it confused me. Not because I was afraid to say that I am, but more that I don't understand wh I am being asked, why is it important? What does it matter to you if I tell you that I am? We don't live in a time where that kind of a statement will make any impact.
K: it´s not like...
R: It´s not like when Ellen Degeneres came out of the closet. Those were different times.
K: Globally, it isn't that groundbreaking, but here in Latvia, if you're gay, it is still very "wrong". Still horribly controversial.
R: Oh god, that word, "controversial". Yeah. Sometimes, when I read what is said about me, people say I'm so "controversial" and I'm like... what am I doing that's controversial? I put on my make-up and wig, and "I'm so fucking controversial right now"?
Are there any downsides in your experience of being a drag queen?
R: What are the negatives? One would be the confidence. When you feel very fierce and strong on stage, with full makeup and wig on, than you have to work a lot with yourself to keep the same level of confidence when you take it all off. That's why I go hip-hop dancing. I realized that I used to dance with force and devotion, but I cannot seem to dance with the same passion as I do on stage. I can imagine this is true for a lot of artists. You have to work a lot on your self-esteem to be able to feel just as confident off stage. When you're all made up, nothing can kill you - throw rocks at me if you want. Nothing hurts. But the question is if you can stay the same after. Thtat´s something that has to be learned.
K: I find this really tricky as well. Honestly, I'm not able to achieve it at the moment. If I go to a club to perform, I know what I'm doing, I'm super confident - but when I go to a regular work meeting and someone asks my opinion I go "What? Who? How much? Why?". But I knew there would be some negatives from the very beginning, from when I walked through that door on New Year Eve. Like with anything you ever do, there's two sides to it.
R: I´ve heard so many people's opinions about myself that I´ve become indifferent, thats why when I'm given a compliment I simply shrug and say thanks. I don't really care. There is a certain loss of emotion. I notice that I'm predominantly apathetic, and people think I'm depressed or something.
K: When you know Roy for a while you know he has a "default" Roy, a resting mode, a screensaver.
R: In general, I take on most things quite lightly. Even when a family member dies I just cross him or her off the family tree and move on. In my family going to a funeral is the most fun moment, we're just in the car laughing. It´s like a big celebration for us, full of dark humor. When granddad died everyone was a bit shook, as as he was the head of the family and would always tell everyone what to do. Everyone was a bit like "FUCK, what do we do now?!". But than lives goes on, people move on. When you've been through a lot it´s easier to deal with things. Anything that's thrown at you, it´s just like..."Bring it on!"
You both use social media quite actively., in what way does that affect you?
R: It´s divine - YouTube changed my life. Though some people might not see it that way, I try to help popularize LGBT culture. In Latvia one is really familiar with the day experience , they thin we are just weird people partying in weird clubs. They don't take the time to get to know the culture. I want to show people that "he might be a transvistite," but I can still be funny, can still show off some skills, can still have talent. I think it worked - my channel grew very fast, as did my instagram. I wanted to shed a more positive light on it all. Count it as "charity work" for the LGBT community. It´s not an achievement for me personally, but for the community as a whole we are developing this scene so that it can be acknowledged and be something that's accepted in this country.
K: During a recent conversation I was asking Roy what it is that he is really doing, what's his goal? And I really liked his answer, he said: "In Latvia the pop culture is growing..."
R: Not that it´s growing - it´s only now being created.
K: I really like that we're challenging some gender rules. If we were some Latvian girls in YouTube putting on some make-up, nobody would ask why we are doing what we are doing, it would be of no interest to anyone.
R: I do the things I do, so that in 30 years I can look back and see that in this moment in time I helped spark a change.
Bringing it back from the future to today - what are the best parts of life right now?
K: What I do makes me happy. I put my make-up on, put my personality on, and go out amongst people. I'm happy to be where I am, as part of the growing pop-culture in Latvia.
R: And nothing more?
K: Well, we'll just have to see. That depends on whether I´ll end up as something more than that.
R: No, I mean, what makes you happy?
R: Is there nothing else that makes you happy?
K: I find wine tasty. Wine makes me happy.
Wine and drag?
K: Wine and drag.
R: I like to entertain people. I like to make people happy with my presence, especially if I notice that they become more open and comfortable.
K: Like for example, when you do a show and everyones´s happy and in hight spirits.
Sometimes it might be easy to forget that this is actually your job, and you need to make it living. Is it actually possible to make money?
K: If you are doing something well, it will work out, if not then....think about what it is you are doing wrong.
R: People who have their heads on straight will find a way to achieve that. If you are a creative, planning your next steps based on how much you will earn on your way, than the cosmos will block it, because it will see that you're only looking for money, and not enjoyment. It´s like, if you don't get into the Eurovision Song Contest, then maybe it´s not for you. You don't have to return every year, maybe you're just not meant to be there.
Maybe some people believe you have to try relentlessly until you succeed?
R: Well, try two times, but if it doesn't come easy and naturally to you, than it´s not for you. It´s not good to force things too much. Try something different .
K: Just change what you're doing, or how you're doing it.
And how do you keep believing in yourself? What do you say to yourself in the mirror in the morning?
K: I don't look in the mirror, I'm scared!
R: Don´t take anyone's advice. With creative people, everyone has their unique paths and achievements, and you can't take advice from anyone how to do something because you follow instructions, it´s almost like it isn't your own work anymore. Part of the joy is that you're creating something, you're understanding something new.
K: My advice would be; The only way you can get anywhere is by stepping out of your comfort zone, do what you're afraid to do.
R: You know what, about these comfort zones, if you want to step up to the next level, make mistakes on purpose. I´ve made loads of outfits, and realize, "Holy shit, this is an ugly outfit."It doesn't work well together and isn't polished, but I still put it on, and I realize that I'm making a mistake, but it will pay off, as I will bring myself to the next level.
K: To lern from your mistakes.
R: Yes, it´s a way of development. A way forward.