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Verve People
October 01, 2018

Being A Drag Queen In India: Lush Monsoon

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

They are frequently mistaken for crossdressers or trans people and are accustomed to police humiliation while travelling in their drag avatars. In a post section 377 world, our series explores the impact on drag culture and performance in the country through the eyes of 5 queens.

A human rights lawyer from Delhi, Ayushmaan’s initiation into drag took place in early 2017 in the confines of his room with his friend and drag sister Kushboo. They would experiment with the limited make-up products they had access to and would dance their hearts out to pop music. It was their little secret and they’d never imagined that they would be doing it publicly someday and getting applauded for it. When Ayushmaan watched international drag superstar Violet Chachki perform at Kitty Su in the August of 2017, it ignited a fire in him that wouldn’t die down and he eventually made his debut as Lush Monsoon at the Delhi International Queer Theatre and Film Festival later that year. Nervous and shaking in her six-inch heels, Lush’s first-ever performance was a far cry from her glorious, post-verdict rendition of Gloria Raynor’s I am what I am, a line which was also quoted in the judgement that decriminalised section 377.

Humble beginnings…
“My initial knowledge of drag was based on ancient cultures like Jatra in West Bengal and people who performed in Hindi movies. I first spoke about my interest in the medium to only my close friends and they were very encouraging. As we got more media coverage, my batch mates from school and college, and my colleagues got to know about my alter ego. Most of them were very supportive, but there were a few who got very confused at my choice of pursuing drag and passed some demeaning comments.

Kushboo and I were amongst the first few people to start doing drag as a form of art in Delhi, so we had to build our own community. Soon after, we met Prateek Sachdeva A.K.A Betta Naan Stop. We helped each other grow and introduced drag to as many people as we could. Now, we have an ever-increasing circle of drag queens, each with their own individual styles.”

Talking style…
“Each performance of mine is infused with a feeling of pride. My aim is to let you feel a sense of happiness and belonging. I also try to convey subliminal messages which I feel passionate about through my performances. My USP is to weave my storytelling skills and theatrical background with drag to produce a seamless experience.”

Making strides…
“India’s drag culture is in its nascent stage and is constantly evolving. We started doing drag when being queer was illegal and that context sets it apart from how drag is perceived in the West. Moreover, we do not have an established drag community so we have to learn everything on our own. We have had to deal with misconceptions where people think that only men who dress up as women can do drag, whereas in reality, anybody, regardless of their gender and sexuality, can do drag if they break gender rules. People equate drag with being trans and while drag culture has a very close association with the trans movement, not all drag performers are trans people. Drag is for the stage only.

Before the ruling, the community was always shrouded in a cloud of illegality. Venues would not even consider featuring drag performances. Moreover, we were scared of being in drag in public for fear of being harassed in the name of law. Once we were stopped and interrogated by the police only because we were travelling in full drag from one event to another. It was very limiting and humiliating. The decriminalisation of section 377 has certainly given us the confidence to embrace our queerness and that conviction automatically manifests itself in our performances.”

Follow Lush Monsoon on Instagram at @lushmonsoon

Read Part 4 with Kushboo here.

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