I first did drag for a cabaret show I was hosting last December, where I needed to differentiate between this event and the spoken word night I hosted (as a boy) at the same venue. It seemed an easy, interesting and fun alternative: invent a character, give her a name and style, play the game for a night. But it was always just that for me; simply taking on a role, like an actor would do in the theatre. I would never introduce myself, or think of myself, as 'a drag queen'.
My character was named Patricia Primarché, the cheap drag queen, which separated her from most other drag artistes on the scene who would never dream of describing themselves as cheap, and meant that I could clothe her completely in Primark. Wandering the women's aisles of the flagship Oxford Street store was a fairly mortifying experience, but eventually I found what I didn't know I'd been looking for in the lingerie department - a playboy bunny outfit for £10. Leaving the price tag on, Patricia was born and the show was a success.
But it was when the pictures from the night appeared online that the first cons apparently laced to my new altar ego also surfaced. I'd just started seeing a boy named Tommy in Peckham who was cute and sexy, but also uber-masculine. We met in a club as boys, we definitely had sex as boys, we engaged in all our methods of communication as boys, so I saw no reason to mention that I was doing this one-off performance as a (quite grotesque) girl. But when those photos of Patricia in all her Playboy glory went up, suddenly Tommy wasn't replying to my texts.
Perhaps that's why many drag queens have separate profiles for their public performance personas and their private gay lives as men. It can also potentially play havoc with the essential roles that gay men take in bed, with some drag queens complaining that guys they were having great sex with before will suddenly no longer let them take the active role in bed, when they find out about 'the other woman'. Is this a quasi-misogynistic hangover of sexual shame from patriarchal culture to do with passive anal sex? Yes, I will let you fuck me, but only if you're a real man. And 'real men' don't wear stilettos.
Personally, I don't fancy drag queens. At the risk of sounding like a Grindr twat, I am gay because I fancy men and therefore men disguised as women, however obviously, don't do anything for me erotically. But if there was a boy I fancied who happened to do drag on the side, I feel it'd be quite easy to distinguish between who he really is as a boy with me, and who he pretends to be in the mask of makeup upon the stage. Indeed, some gay men create this mask to deal with things they couldn't immediately process in their own lives; David Hodge has spoken before in interview how the fabulous Dusty O, in part, stems from the homophobic bullying he endured at school.
After all, what is this 'real man' we are supposedly searching for now? It seems to be a very specifically crafted sort of man, a man with all the surface trappings of masculinity: muscles, stubble, a rugged jaw-line, no gesticulation too far flung, a deep voice. The kind of impossibly 'big, strong, real man' that all men, gay or straight, are compared against when growing up. The patriarchal pinnacle of a real man that makes the very idea of a gay man so hated, sidelined and ridiculed.
To me, the idea of a 'real man', is simply a man who's brave. And sometimes, as a man in our modern culture, there is nothing braver than to don some eyeliner, a weave and a feather boa, and go out and strut down the street.
• Patricia Primarché will be hosting her third event of Dark Fabrics Cabaret on Saturday 26th April at Vogue Fabrics (66 Stoke Newington Road, Dalston, N16 7XB), doors 7pm. £5.