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Drag Queens Are The Toughest Boys Out There

What even is masculinity these days? We've got boys buying bronzer at department stores and and my sister's boyfriend has a favorite RuPaul's Drag Race contestant each season. Some men are in touch with their feminine side, others not so much - and that's fine.
David M. Benett via Getty Images

I'm a boy, and I do drag. It's fun. It provokes. It's punk. It pushes traditions out the window and pushes people's comfort zones. As a queen you can explore aspects of femininity, place yourself wherever you want in the rainbow, and change the gender your sex is 'allowed' to wear, even if you identify as something closer to masculine in the spectrum. And THAT'S fun.

My drag is an exaggeration - not a direct copy or appropriation - of femininity. It's not really gendered, and I always look the same - same hair, same makeup. That's pretty important. I can pick out an outfit, then everything else is uniform. I'm always on the go - so I can whack it all together and get out and do my work. It's practical, and that's a pretty masculine method of dressing I'd say. It's my version of a tailored work suit. We all know a suit is a traditional symbol of power - mine is just a helmet-hard hairdo and a don't-fuck-with-me fringe. I'm partial to a trouser, a bomber jacket and an 80's box shoulder, whereas a floaty floral skirt would feel weird on me. And anyway, I'd have to tuck then - if you see me in a club, my manhood is nestled in the position that god intended.

Willy jokes aside, I wouldn't say I have a comedy thing going on with my look - yes there's a sense of humour and fun in everything I do, but I'm not dressing for laughs or mocking women - I have no time for misogyny. This is just an image I want to present myself in for a work situation. I'd say I'm an exaggerated take on a glamorous woman, part boss-ass-bitch and part good time girl. But I'm not here to pass as a biological female, I don't think there's any doubt on there being an M on my passport. I don't wear fake breasts, I don't change my voice. Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got, I'm still, I'm still Jodie from the block.

I'm no label lover (other than what's sewn into the back of my outfit) and I love the diversity that 'drag' encapsulates - the bio queens, drag kings, trans queens and every other sub-genre of gender presentation and performance that's out there. Drag can be a big fucking 'look at me!!' and it can be a 'I don't want you to see any of the real me under all this makeup'. For me it's both. Speaking of which - I keep my 'day look' pretty under wraps aside from in front of my real friends. I like the separation, the masculine face when I'm at my desk in the office and a more feminine painted mask when I'm on the decks in the club. I guess that might seem a bit Jekyll and Hyde from the outside, but it suits me and I'm pretty comfortable either way, thank you very much. When I'm dressed UP - which is almost as much as I'm dressed down these days - I don't feel less than, I feel empowered. I feel different...alien...other...but I don't feel like a freak, and I'm certainly in tune with who I am and why I do what I do. I've always been an outsider who believes rules are there to be broken and I enjoy the feeling of being about as far away from conventional society's ideas of 'normal' as I can possibly get. There's a strong element of masculine control underlying this pouting mega-babe exterior.

Drag is having a major mainstream moment, spearheaded of course by the incredible royal highness RuPaul, but its roots are firmly planted in gay underground culture. A lot of my work is in gay clubs, and I've noticed that whilst the big gay superbrands, dating apps, porn and and everything else that goes along with the homo-masculine ideologies push a somewhat warped version of bro-culture, there also seems to be a queering of gender that's growing more and more within other sides of the LGBTQ communities. I see it a lot in East London and when I travel around playing at the cooler club dates in my calendar. It's a sort of deconstructing of masculinity - almost as if manliness is an oppressive notion. Masculinity could be tied to violence, anger and lack of emotional closeness. But it can, more traditionally, stand for strength and practicality. I don't know where I stand on this - it's not like 'I'm with her' and that's that...but I also don't fit into the ultra masculine side of gay world either. I'm not masc 4 masc...maybe I'm masc for mascara. I guess I'm just me, and that's where I'm happy. I've never really strived to fit in anywhere, and the spectrum of masculinity and femininity doesn't feel so fixed, but more fluid.

It's obvious that drag is an important part of what I do, and I get asked a lot why I started. It was a happy accident - it looked fun, some of my friends did it, it's creative, you got to skip the line at whichever nightclub you were going to. I didn't grow up wanting to do this and never tried on my mum's dresses. It was a laugh, and it stuck, and then it became my job, part of my career. Fortunately I wasn't bullied at school (I was always the funny one, running with the cool gang, smoking behind the bike sheds with the mouthy girls and playing Cilla Black to the boys who wanted to snog them). So, it's not some angry reaction to anything that early on in life. If you want to play shrink, we can look at my family relationships... I've always been very close to my sister, mother and grandmother - the women ruled the roost in my home and there was always a lot of strong feminine energy around.

My Dad embraced my creative side as a kid, but as I got older I distinctly remember him telling me to 'man-up' all the time, and he certainly called me a poof once or twice. I remember he once caught me lip-syncing in my bedroom to Kylie Minogue's 'Spinning Around' and and pulled me out to the garden to kick a football around - a completely alien thing to me. Perhaps it was a desperate attempt to steer me towards wider society's expectations of a boy, the masculine traits that I apparently needed to develop. Well, that just ain't my story, Daddy. That shoe did not fit - instead I went for a blue and gold suede Versace platform heel, size 8. If your dad isn't someone you can look up to at all then god knows how that'll manifest itself. Perhaps I'm blaming being Jodie Harsh on my now absent father. Thanks Dad! You see, years later, my family kept what I was doing for a job and how I looked when I was doing it hidden away from him. He turned on the telly once and I was on it doing something on MTV, and we haven't spoken since. Maybe he just didn't understand it because of a generational thing, but I guess the sight of his son pushing his feminine side SO far was embarrassing.

Boy, girl, whatever. I don't pay particular attention to what sex someone is assigned at birth, or what pronoun society thinks they should go by. That's all so...irreverent. As a lot of contemporary theorists would say, gender is a performance and masculinity no different (when it's allowed to be a choice of course - not everyone has the luxury of free self expression). It's socialised into you. But the blue / pink labelling system is such a rigid, outdated concept to me. Drag has always fucked with the politics of masculinity and femininity - that's at its core. But anyway, what even IS masculinity these days? We've got boys buying bronzer at department stores and and my sister's boyfriend has a favorite RuPaul's Drag Race contestant each season. Some men are in touch with their feminine side, others not so much - and that's fine. I choose to smack you round the face with mine. And as for the masculinity in my world, let me tell you - you have to be a real man to endure these painful feet, tight wigs and spiky eyelashes. Drag queens are some of the toughest boys out there.

HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around men to highlight the pressures they face around identity and to raise awareness of the epidemic of suicide. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, the difficulty in expressing emotion, the challenges of speaking out, as well as kick starting conversations around male body image, LGBT identity, male friendship and mental health.

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