Rise of the Female Drag Queens

Sydney female drag performers Barbi Ghanoush and Spacehorse. Photos: Instagram

QNews speaks to two Sydney performers about the growing phenomenon of cis women performing as drag queens.

Trans women have been integral to the story of drag in Australia since the very beginning but there has been a notable increase in cis women performing as drag queens in Sydney and in other cities across the country over the last five years.

Sydney queens Barbi Ghanoush and Spacehorse are two women who are public faces of this trend.

Both are 26 but they’ve had very different paths to reach where they are as performers.

Barbi has been performing for less than two years but had a viral moment in March when her drag parody of British anti-trans activist Posie Parker at Sydney’s Ching-a-lings bar made headlines around the world.

Spacehorse began performing in Wollongong while still at uni in 2017 and is more established in earning an income as a performer.

Early days

Both women say they became aware of drag at an early age.

“My first experience was when I was only nine or ten years old and there was a drag queen performing at my grandfather’s birthday,” Ghanoush says.

“I saw this incredible, glamorous figure who was not like anything I had reference for. It was only years later in my teens that it clicked that she had been a drag queen.”

“I feel like I’ve always been aware of it in the background but when I studied performing arts at uni we had a movement class that was all about drag,” Spacehorse says.

“In that course you had to be a drag king if you were a cis-woman. But I was always more drawn to and interested in the glamour and glitz of drag queens.

“I remember googling this performer named Lucy Garland and seeing that there were assigned female at birth people performing in drag queen makeup for the first time and thinking holy shit that’s exactly what I want to do!”

For Barbi, it was seeing other women like Spacehorse performing as drag queens on the Sydney scene that made her realise that this was something she could do.

“I saw that engaging in this performance of femininity was something that was available to me,” Ghanoush says.

RuPaul’s casting of Victoria Scone as the first cis woman to compete on Drag Race in 2021 was also inspirational.

“Drag Race platforms some of the most incredible drag talents out there,” Ghanoush says.

“But up to then I never saw the kind of drag that I like to see when I am out with friends in lesbian spaces. To see Victoria Scone cast on the show, that really opened minds to the diversity of drag and the ways that queer women play around with femininity.”

Women in drag

Barbi says that drag has helped her reclaim her femininity on her own terms as a queer woman.

“Growing up, coming to terms with my sexuality and living as a woman in a world that’s full of sexism and misogyny, there was so much femininity that I rejected because I felt like I couldn’t engage with what I then viewed as frivolous things like makeup,” Ghanoush says.

“Being a drag queen is how I get to reclaim those elements of femininity on my own terms. It’s a way for me to redefine womanhood and take the pieces that I like, and play around with them and make it this fun and exciting game.”

Because of that, Barbi feels that she approaches drag differently to male drag queens, even if the end result appears the same.

“A lot of gay men have been attacked for being feminine when they’re growing up so they reclaim that through drag. But I do think there is something very unique about approaching this play of gender and exaggeration of femininity as a woman,” Ghanoush says.

Spacehorse stresses that drag requires the same tool set as a performer whether you were assigned male or female at birth.

“Drag is really a craft and an artform and I feel like if you are dedicated to the craft then all of the steps that you’re taking are the exact same,” Spacehorse says.

“All of those really fabulous things about drag, the sewing, the makeup and being able to style wigs and being able to host. All of those bones are the same. There isn’t any difference to what I do.”

“Perhaps I pose a few more questions or raise a few eyebrows when I step on stage but most people don’t even notice until I open my mouth and start talking.”

Both women feel that there is a wider definition of drag that transcends cross-gendered performance that is more about finding yourself in an alter-ego.

“Drag is about playing around with these things we were taught about gender, about what a man is or a woman is, and turning that on its head,” Ghanoush says.

“I love performers who you couldn’t quite define as a king or a queen but what they are doing is still drag because it’s about finding the real you in the most bizarre ways possible.”

“Drag in the last few years has really flourished into something that is much more than just ‘cross dressing’,” Spacehorse says.

“I feel like it’s any sort of any gender expression whether that be the most glamorous way down to the most masculine. I feel the evolution of drag has allowed people to try everything which is fabulous.”

Return of the Kings

Both women support Victoria Scone’s recent call for drag kings to be included in RuPaul’s Drag Race.

“I’d love to see drag kings on Drag Race,” Ghanoush says.

“I’d love to see more drag kings in general. Drag kings are some of the most creative, groundbreaking performers out there at the moment and I would love to see them have more of a platform.”

If an Australian drag king was to go on Drag Race, then Spacehorse nominates Sexy Galexy.

“If you’re talking about assigned female at birth drag performers in this country then not talking about someone like Sexy Galexy is just ridiculous,” Spacehorse says.

“Sexy has been working longer than most people on the strip and facing real hardship as a woman in drag. It would be insane for someone like that to not be on Drag Race when their skill surpases many of the drag queens I know.”

So is there room in this world for cis-male drag kings?

“I think there already is,” Ghanoush says.

“In Sydney we have Kevin in the City and I think there are male performers in Melbourne who approach masculinity in the same way that I approach womanhood and femininity.”

“There’s absolutely a place for cis men to explore what performing as a drag king looks like for them and I’d love to see more of that.”

“I already know performers who on occasion put on a typically drag king face who are assigned male at birth people,” Spacehorse says.

“I think that drag allows people to explore all different parts of the gender spectrum so to see more of that would be fantastic. And it’s interesting because we don’t get to see it as often.”

See Barbi Ghanoush as part of the Thursday night rotation of performers at GAWJ at Ching-a-lings.

Spacehorse performs every Thursday at Universal in Intergalactic and can also be seen at The Imperial.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Andrew M Potts

Andrew has been covering LGBTQIA+ issues for a range of publications in Australia over two decades and was the Asia-Pacific correspondent for global LGBTQIA+ news website Gay Star News.

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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