Phoenix Rising: A Concept Queen’s Journey from Trauma to Glamor

By J. C Raw

 I’ve always been different since I was young. I just never realized I was different from everybody else. When I was eight to 10 years old, I thought everyone liked boys and girls. I grew up in a small town in the North of England. People expected you to be “normal” and everything else was seen as different, and that could cause problems. So, for a very long time, I tried my best to hide who I was from everyone. It was just easier than trying to understand why I was hated for something I didn’t understand or have control over. Now I own the fact that I’m different.

“I began to feel the pleasure of the weightless state between here and there.”
― Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues

    I talked to some friends when I was 14 at school and came out to them as Bisexual as I was too scared to come out fully as gay, which then spread to my entire school year and I was heavily bullied for it. I was the weird, fat, gay kid who had already had sex with a guy at 14. A large majority of people at school treated me differently, even my friends as well. I can take harsh comments and words, they don’t hurt. What hurt the most was the looks and stares they gave me. They would look at me like I was a disgusting creature or a piece of dirt stuck to their shoe. I came out to my sister a couple of years later and she accepted me for who I was, which was a great relief. To this day I am yet to say to my father, “Dad, I’m gay.” He knows that I am but we just don’t talk about it. He has commented to other family members about it saying that I’m “not normal”. So, it’s just easier if I keep that side of my life away from him. It’s better for both of us this way.

Dragging the chapter open 

As a child, I had many extra-curricular activities that I would do after school or on the weekends. I would do dance, singing, and acting lessons, as well as some sports activities. My older foster brother has Asperger’s Syndrome and would become very aggressive and violent at times. So, my parents just wanted me out of the house as much as possible to keep me safe and not upset my brother. I started loving my extra-curricular activities every day and didn’t mind having lots of classes and always being busy. My family supported me in doing my extra-curricular activities to keep me safe, not because it was something I was passionate about.

“I felt as though I was rushing into a burning building to discover the ideas I needed for my own life.”
― Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues

 However, with them pushing me to do all these activities, I started to realize and understand more about myself. I hated playing rugby and cricket and would rather be in tights dancing and on the stage singing. Fast forward to around 10 years later and here I am being my most authentic self as a drag queen. Using all these skills my parents helped me develop, by making me participate in all these activities. My father doesn’t encourage or support me being gay, but he does encourage and support me when it comes to my talent and my craft.

In England, we have stage productions called Pantomimes. A Pantomime is traditionally a fairy tale, or a Disney movie made to be a family-style show for the stage. In a pantomime, the main actor’s mother would always be portrayed by a man in women’s clothing. This was my first experience when it came to drag. I had always been interested in drag, but being a broad stocky guy, I just thought I wouldn’t look good in drag or look remotely like a woman. A friend of mine asked me 3 years ago to help her with a viewing party for a RuPaul’s drag race. I agreed and that was when Slayme Winehaus was born. 

Anyone that knows me knows I am a huge horror movie fanatic. I love anything creepy, spooky, and weird. So, I first started exploring these topics within my drag. Eventually, I branched out and tried many different styles of looks and makeup. Today I call myself a performance concept queen. This means that I like each of my looks to have a clear concept or story and I focus more on performance during my shows than fashion or comedy.

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From the ashes  

When I was born, I was adopted at the age of one into the family I have today. When I was 16 my mother passed away from cancer. I cannot put into words how much this broke me. She was my everything and not a day goes by when I don’t think about her or miss her dearly. We did everything together and even when she was sick and was weak from her chemotherapy, she still tried her best to come to see me in competitions and shows. She is the only person in my entire life that has ever made me feel like I was a gold medalist. I was her gold medal. 

After her death, I just stopped caring about myself. I didn’t care what happened to me anymore. I essentially started looking after my alcoholic older brother and father. I became a person who put everyone else’s needs before my own. However, when I finally started doing drag, I feel like I gained back my self-worth. Drag helped me to discover who I was. It taught me to love parts of myself that I hated, that being the weird kid wasn’t a curse but a blessing. I learned that If I don’t put myself first and treat myself like the boss-ass diva I portray in my shows, the diva that everyone loves, then I’ll never move forward in life and never be able to love myself and be truly happy. 

“Who was I now—woman or man? That question could never be answered as long as those were the only choices; it could never be answered if it had to be asked.”
― Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues

Drag gave me my life back. It gave me back that younger version of myself who was hopeful and loved his life and the people in it. I wish every day that my mother would have been able to meet Slayme Winehaus. But because I know she can’t, every time I get into drag, I present myself to the world as a person she would have been proud to have seen. I would always give a 110% whenever I knew my parents were watching me in a competition or a show. So, for every show I do I give 110 percent like she is there at the front watching me. This helps me cope with her loss. By keeping a part of her alive and by doing this I believe it has allowed me to become the performer I am today.

A hop, skip and plane away

     I honestly moved to China on a whim. I wasn’t in an environment back in England where I felt happy or myself. I was a recluse; I didn’t go out much at all. I would work to survive, living from paycheck to paycheck. I didn’t have many close friends I could talk to. I virtually had no gay friends. The first gay friend I made was 4 years ago here in China. I still find it bizarre how much my life has transformed since coming to China. I went from being a person who didn’t have many friends, didn’t go out, and just worked, to a person who is now being their authentic genuine self and is loved for it. 

“Surrendering is unimaginably more dangerous than struggling for survival.”
― Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues

Everyone that I have met here in China has helped influence and change me a little day by day. Words will never be enough to express how thankful I am for everyone’s encouragement in helping me become the person I am today. Even just having a conversation or a drink together I cherish. I never really had these opportunities in England to just be me. Here in China, I feel accepted by a large number of people. I’m very glad that I started my drag career here in China rather than in England. In China, I have people I have learned from to improve my craft. I feel like Slayme is just a crazier version of myself. If I wasn’t here in China finally just being me, I don’t think she would have ever surfaced in the first place.

Thy name is trauma

     I’ve been through a lot in my life, more than I would wish on any person. I’m a survivor of physical and sexual abuse and rape. The darkest period of my life was probably when I was 16 to18. I went off the deep end after my mother’s death. I became a toy used by many older men for their satisfaction. At first, I did this just because I wanted to feel something. I wanted to feel important to someone again; loved by someone again. I was young, stupid, and naïve to believe that this would help. 

“Strength, like height, is measured by who you’re standing next to.”
― Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues

This led to years of abuse, pain, and depression. I became an alcoholic to help me cope with my family and these men. I felt trapped with no one to talk to or turn to. So, I became very suicidal and attempted to end my life twice. When I eventually got the opportunity to leave England at 19 to go work in America, I took it and ran as fast as I could away from all of it. I buried everything for years, but it left so many emotional and mental scars that I don’t think will ever fully heal. I’m slowly trying to become a better person every day, but it’s hard. 

Some days I still get incredibly depressed, but I try to push through it the best way I can. Drag has helped me greatly. It helped me to become more confident in myself and my appearance. Slayme will talk to any person in a bar and flirt with whoever the hell she wants and not apologize for it. Whereas JC still finds it hard to talk to guys in bars that he likes or finds attractive. I’ve started becoming more confident as my boy self recently. 

Also, drag has helped me gain a platform to tell people about my story and show them that they aren’t alone. No one is perfect in this world, and if you believe that you are, then honey you need a reality check and pronto. Everybody hurts, everybody has issues, and everybody has problems they don’t want to deal with. The reason I decided to tell people about my story last year, was a way for me to move on from the past and also a way to show people that you aren’t alone. I may not know what you have been through, I may never understand. However, I am here to listen and show you we can get stronger by going through trauma and terrible things.

“Gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught.”
― Leslie Feinberg, Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue

 I want as many people as possible to experience Slayme Winehaus. I want to be a role model within our community for people who may not have as much confidence in themselves or have been through awful stuff. I want to be the person they look at and say “If that big bitch can do it and get through it, then so can I!” 

My dream for identity is a very simple one; I dream of a world where it doesn’t matter who you are or what your identity is. A place where everyone is treated fairly and respected regardless of age, sex, race, gender, or identity. I know we are many years away from having a world like this but it shouldn’t stop us from dreaming about a better world right.

 I’m going to leave you with one last thought. Life is shit, the world is shit, life doesn’t get easier, we get stronger. Every day it gives us an increasing amount of strength to be ourselves. If you have no one to help guide you through the darkness of life itself and you feel stuck, just reach out your hand and someone will grab and pull you out of the darkness. If you have no one to grab your hand, well you’ll always have me to help pull you out of the darkness.

Photos: Unsplash

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