Exclusive Interview with Alice Rabbit: The Rabbit Hole and the Drag Queen Movement in Edinburgh
Raising awareness for the queer community and the diversity of the various communities out there is one of WomenBeing’s goals as an inclusive international feminist organisation from Edinburgh. We do believe feminism is for everyone who wants to be part of the progress towards more integration, acceptance, inclusion and equality.
Discussions around gender are becoming increasingly more important and the search for a more gender inclusive world is growing stronger and stronger nowadays. One aspect of the gender debate that we want to explore more is gender expression and its role in individual liberation. WomenBeing’s team decided to review one of the biggest anti-heteronormative protest in our society: a Drag Queen Show.
Just in time for LGBT History Month, WomenBeing went out to collect a true testimony from the incredible and fascinating Alice Rabbit, host of The Rabbit Hole Drag Show at CC Blooms every Tuesday. Get to know Alice Rabbit a little more with this exclusive interview on prejudice, acceptance and new projects.
Tell us a little about yourself
As a performer or myself: My real name is John, I’m from Scotland, Edinburgh. I go by the stage as Alice Rabbit. I run a drag show called The Rabbit Hole which is every Tuesday night at CC Blooms and we’ve been doing it for two years. Basically, I’m someone who dropped out of high school, didn’t go to college, didn’t go to university, worked in a lot of food chains thinking I would never be good at anything, and I found drag and it made me feel like I could do something serious and make a profession out of it. We are still working towards that goal, and yes that is pretty much my story at the moment. More to come…
How did you first got into performing drag?
It wasn’t by choice. I didn’t walk in drag wanting to be a drag queen. I was really influenced by the new romantics, androgynous fashion and that’s how I got my first step into the make-up and hair, wearing man and woman’s clothes. Eventually, a friend showed me RuPaul’s Drag Race and I thought it was cool to watch but I didn’t think it was for me. And then a competition came around and I needed the money so I made it to the top 2: didn’t win but to me that was enough reassurance to say that I’ve got something.
“Drag queens are the knight in shining armours to the gay community”
What would you say your biggest influences are in term of creating looks and performances?
When it comes to influences, I would say I’ve been really influenced by the new romantics, inspired by the 80’s fashion boom. I’ve had phases in fashion, everyone has a phase. I’ve done the glamour, the rock and roll, I’ve done a mixture. I have played a lot of things, but I’m still kind of searching. I think you should never settle in regards of fashion and looks. If I have to say people in terms of influence, I would say Beth Ditto and Adele were a big influence in fashion, for me, since they made it available for someone who is bigger to feel that they can wear whatever they want and still look chic.
What has drag meant to you over the years?
I’ve been doing drag for 5 years now and what’s good about Scotland is how it is resurgent in drag. Drag wasn’t very popular here for a long time, and I think I was at the right place, at the right time, and I have accomplished a lot in a very short amount of time. Basically, it’s the first thing that makes me feel I’m good at something, and that’s the most important part for me.
How is your drag different from your daily self?
A lot more makeup, a wig and a heel. I wear the same fashion then and now, sometimes I wear boy clothes, sometimes I wear mixed, I don’t know if I’m embracing it more by getting a big coat and this is very interesting to people. But I think confidence is key, I wouldn’t say that Alice and John are not that different though. If anything, I am just louder as Alice. Same attitude, same thoughts, louder!
What are, in your opinion, the biggest challenges facing drag today?
I would say, especially in the UK, the biggest challenge is to compete with the show of RuPaul’s Drag Race. The good thing about that show is that it opened this door for a lot of people like myself: to find that influence and see something and say ‘I can do that’, and make something out of it has given a lot of people, not only in gay society, queer or straight society, the opportunity to find something to connect with through something that isn’t necessary the norm.
And I think that’s a really good thing, not only for television, but for pop culture. What I would say is the struggle with that is not like the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where there is only one Golden Ticket in order for you to be a star. I disagree with that because I don’t need a TV show to say I am a star. But club promoters would say it’s much easier to pay a lot of money to get someone who is a drag queen from television and you’ve seen what they can do, and know that’s going to bring hundreds of people into the club. When I started there were comments like: “We’ve never seen you before, we don’t know who you are, you are not known, you are not going to fill the seats”. So that was a big harsh part of what Drag is like for us.
I’ve been very persistent ever since I’ve started doing it. In my show you pay a performer, even if it’s the lowest amount of money, that money matters because it’s a catalyst to something greater, hopefully in the long run. That’s the biggest struggle for drag today – competing with what’s popular. In London or Manchester, where drag culture is known and appreciated, it might be a little easier. But I think a place like Edinburgh where Drag is kind of new to people, and it’s not even known all over the city; it’s a lot harder for you to put yourself out there to work.
How do you think drag can help to doing a political change?
I’m kind of weird when it comes to the art of politics. I am one of those people who thinks I should save my opinion for the voting booth really. It’s quite uncomfortable for me when it’s a debate constantly. You are having a good day and all of the sudden you have a disagreement or a debate, can become quite intense. That is why I choose not to speak too much about politics. But seeing the Drag involvement in politics would be “if any politicians could learn something from a Drag Queen: be fearless, stand by your opinion – they do that anyway –”. But the edge in our community is there are these people fighting us, and even when you are caught doing something wrong, they still keep going and when people try to claim they are villains, but they keep going.
I think politicians kind of gave up on that, and someone who is really interested in politics is kind of ashamed to see the new generation fade away from the fight.
Do you think there is still a lot of prejudice against drag queens and kings in Scotland?
Definitely yes. There’s a lot of people that praise it, there’s a lot of people that find it entertaining but at the same time there is a lot of people that still see it as a joke, and some make fun of (it). And I’m not going to say that it isn’t funny, that it isn’t comedy, but there is a certain amount of respect, as someone to spend their time to entertain you. It’s not like I’m going to show up at your job and treat you badly, so don’t come to my job and say that I’m not like that girl from that TV show, or that I am not this or that. If you don’t like it you don’t need to stay, you can leave.
And when it comes to people on the street, I would say yes: it’s quite intense. I used to get the bus all the time, in Drag, from my house here. I’ve been jumped at a few times. Some really shady stuff happened to me to the point I get a taxi just because it feels a little safer: just get in the car, you don’t have to deal with anybody, and I really wish it wasn’t like that, but it’s something I’m going through at the moment.
I would say it’s slowly been praised, especially when Courtney Act went to Big Brother, that was a step stone for Drag Queens and Kings in the UK, but at a mainstream level because you have someone out there who was really smart, and it wasn’t like other shows that showcase Drag Queens and it’s usually when they are drunk fallen out of a car, or trying to strip a man. I think Courtney Act was a good example, I think there is definitely some people that have a problem with that, but you have to stick to your guns. I had to fight so many people because I’d rather go down swinging than go down scared.
“It is really important for drag queens to remain political”
Do you think drag is still a form of subversion and protest of heteronormative society?
To a degree yes. I think there are aspects in Drag that are really political, it just being integrated – what is intimidating and what is political. That’s the hard part when you try to put politics in Drags: a lot of performances are being watched and in some forms, they are messages and sometimes they’re not because it is a show.
I think it’s really important for drag queens to remain political, in a lot of ways. I think drag queens are still the knights in shining armours for the gay community. We are the people who go out there. Marsha P. Johnson was a Drag Queen and a trans woman and started this liberation. I think it’s really important that we keep that up. So, when you are seeing someone who is gay, or even not gay, and they are getting bad comments, you know for a fact that you got the nerve to say something about it. And I think that’s really important on being a Drag, and that’s sort of what matters.
Do you think people are becoming more open minded towards expressing gender?
Yes, I mean I’ve done it. I think that expressing gender is like being an adolescent again: you get to have that trial and error in fashion and not only with your clothes but also with how you feel as a person. I’ve had a point in my life when I felt like I was a woman and I was trying to get some hormones. I was looking into transition, and I got to a point when I was “well, no”. If you are going to play with gender, you should be very careful and sure on your decision and really think hard about it cause I kind of just felt “ok this is who I am”.
And when I got to a certain point when I started to think about surgery I realised I didn’t want any of that. I would say that inside, and in my heart, I feel like I’m everything. I’m not man, I’m not a woman, I was born male, and that’s cool. And I like the male aspects of life, and I like the female aspects of life. To me, I think that is a really good balance. It is exciting, it’s just you have to take that step. Once you get passed that step it’s all clean slate, and then you can decide what you want to do form there – nothing can stop you.
We know the Rabbit Hole is going to be the open act for Sasha Velour. Congratulations! Are you excited?
I mean I’m not going to say we deserve it (laughing). Yeah of course I am excited. It is an amazing opportunity to be seen by a lot of people, like in a space for 150 people, it’s a bigger stage of more opportunity to go on bigger production in your number and really set an impression to people. In order to do better in this business, you’ve got to put yourself out there and for RuPaul’s girls who go to each city, it’s a little easier to go to the local queens, and include them, because it’s very important.
What’s good about this opportunity is again more people, I get to meet someone who is a very talented artist and is quite good to rub shoulders with the Elite. It’s weird because I kind of hate the hierarchy in drag because I think we are all equals: we all faced the same hard problems doing the same thing, but they are famous for a reason, and that’s great. So yes, I’m excited.
It’s LGTB History Month. Do you have any message for kids and people who would like to drag?
Because there is still many of us I’m going to tell you to quit (laughs). But jokes aside, if you feel that’s something you want to do and you feel like you can bring something to the table, I support you: if you are of age, you can come to our club. You can get me at firstname.lastname@example.org and pitch your performance and meet me. If you are good, I will include you in our show and I think it’s really important to do your thing. Yeah, do your thing, kid!
It’s quite interesting, I went to schools in Drag to talk to the LGBT groups and we never got that when I was in high school, and it’s so good that you put these things here, and have that platform. So yes, definitely I think these kids that are growing up know what’s going on, what’s happening, so: do your thing, kid!
Check out the Rabbit Hole’s facebook page for more information: https://www.facebook.com/TheRabbitHoleDragShow/
The Womenbeing’s Team would like to thank Alice Rabbit for this incredible interview and the Rabbit Hole’s team for the amazing show.
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