I can't recall when I first became aware of my disability. I have Thrombocytopenia Absent Radius which means I have no forearm bones and also a blood disorder. I have vivid memories of being in hospital for platelet infusions from a young age but not seeing it as unusual. I can remember having a very naïve idea of how my arms were just growing slowly, but that obviously wasn't the case.
As I grew up I was never really insecure about my arms. I decided that I must have been given this body for a reason; that I was strong enough to cope. Even when kids made fun of me, I was still happy with how I am.
Whilst in university I thought I had life figured out. I'd be a graphic designer and focus on that. I didn't have many friends and I'd never been in a relationship, so I would concentrate on being successful.
After I had graduated I started going on nights out with my best friend, who was pretty much my only friend at that point. We'd go to the gay scene where I first met the queens who eventually became my family.
It wasn't long before they took me under their wing and I eventually decided I wanted to do drag as well. With their help and support I chose the name Venus Dimilo after the statue with no arms and started the occasional promotion shift handing out flyers. The fact that I wanted to drag queen rather than king wasn't an issue with most people, but I still appreciated they took what I was doing seriously.
Like most queens I was terrible at doing makeup and the thought of performing terrified me. As I'd gotten older I had become a lot less confident and thought if people saw me dancing or performing I'd be judged or mocked. However the alternative drag queens started a monthly night, Shade, which I was included in and once I saw them perform I eventually wanted to as well. My first performance was Freddy Krueger themed and once it was over I knew it wouldn't be my last time on stage.
Since my first performance I went on to do a few gigs and enter Drag Idol; a local competition. Even though I didn't go all the way to the end I realised people appreciated what I did, that they weren't actually laughing at me but respected how I embraced my arms.
In 2015 I was approached by two film students who wanted to make a documentary about my drag. It went on to win awards at multiple Queer film festivals. Since then I have travelled to Colorado, Bristol and toured with Klub Kids around the country. It always amazes me when people say they follow my drag or are inspired by what I do. I still get strangers asking if my arms are real, if I do my makeup myself (which I do) or if I have been effected by Thalidomide but drag has taught me how to talk about it in a humorous way as a lot of people seem to feel bad about asking questions. That is what I want though, I want people to ask and learn. It's the only way disabled people can be treat normally, through awareness.
I'm not going to lie and say life is easy - as it's not. I've taught myself how to do everything in my own way, and I'm still learning. I get frustrated when I can't do something or when I need to ask for help. But I will say that I am proud to be how I am and this is the reason I have this body; to educate, inspire and grow. A lot of people think having a disability is worthy of sympathy but I'm so lucky to be how I am. Drag gave me my confidence, my friends and my life. But it also lets me spread the knowledge that disabilities are not a bad thing, and that you should embrace and own everything about you.
You can follow Venus Dimilo on Facebook here.
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