It’s not just splits, hair spray, and fun – today we get an inside glimpse into queen Stephanie Slackhouse, her experiences with drag, what it was like to evolve her art in China’s less-than-welcoming attitude towards the craft.
SIDE NOTE – apologies on being tucked into the kink category, Stephanie (you’re not a sex toy or a sex tip, so this was the house you landed in for now, but it’s okay we have kinky cookies).
What was the first moment you thought “Hey, this drag queen thing is amazing! I want in on that!”
I’d say that it was years ago. Maybe when I was in my early 20s I would have seen my first Queens performing in South London, many of whom are still performing there today.
They really impressed me. Their voice. Their entertainment value. Their skills in commanding a stage. From there I really took up acting to get on stage.
Once I got to China I was asked to perform once and I’ve enjoyed it ever since. I’ve always wanted to be a star. Drag just seems to be the style that I’ve found. I really like Lily Savage / Paul O Grady who has been able to move from his drag performances into having his own chat shows and being a TV personality without the drag. I’d love that.
“The biggest laugh is that she has taken my photos and videos as Steph into her Church in England”
Does being a drag queen (or king) have to be related to gender identity/roles?
For me no. For others yes. I think it takes all sorts. Look at some of the best queens on RuPaul, some are trans, some aren’t, some are gender fluid, some are manly men.
I think drag is a microscopic look at how life really is. I think as long as you fully accept yourself and who you are, then drag can just be another way of showing that part of you.
What kind of support do you have from your family?
Really great support.
I remember my dad not being so impressed but once he saw my style of comedy, which I hope harked back to comedy he would have watched on British TV, I think he enjoyed it. I had a nice comment from him about his girlfriend watching my show online and pissing herself laughing, so that’s nice.
I really want my sister and mum to come to one of my shows. I think they would get a real kick out of it.
They have watched videos but not live (since I’m in HK and then in the UK). The support is great though. I’ve been dress shopping with my mum and she’s helped sew things for me or sent me hair supplies from eBay that I can’t get here.
The biggest laugh is that she has taken my photos and videos as Steph into her Church in England and shown all her friends. The one continuing comment “Where does he get those legs?”.
How has your style/look developed over the years?
I think it’s still a work in progress. As long as it’s glittery I’m pretty happy.
I try not to be feminine looking. I like being a bit more of a show, of a spectacle. I like to buy sequinned fabric and making things with that. I would follow fashionable entertainers like Kylie in “Can’t get you out of my head“, to have that sort of showgirl style.
I like feather, turbans, cloaks, big hair. I think of it as development. Ideas come to me and I see if it can be executed. What you won’t see me in is a body suit or anything too girly though. I like the old fashioned style of grand dame divas. I recently was very influenced by Sunset Boulevard.
“‘Do you actually want to be a woman?’ and the answer is no. I want to be a star.”
Describe your “getting ready” process
My getting ready routine changes depending on the event, the clothing, pads or no pads, day drag or full stage drag. It can take anywhere from two to a little over three hours.
Usually, I will start with a long shower and a good shave. I will have shaved the week before a show because I normally have a full beard and if I shave right before putting on make up my skin will react and be too sensitive. I use a good moisturizer about an hour before starting my makeup and a great primer for my face and eyes before starting my make up.
I’ll then do a full face of three different foundations, contour greatly in my cheeks, forehead and chin (my bloody double chin needs work!), then I’ll start on my eyes, my nose contour and finally things like lips, beauty spots and blush.
Oh, those are basic needs, if I’m feeling like it I’ll cover my eyebrows too to make my look even more dramatic.
Then comes body shapers, two pairs of stockings, a thinner one with a thicker shiny pair on top. Hip and ass pads under those, a corset, bra and big boobs (very important to me, all the ladies in my family have big boobs so I should follow suit). Dress, big wig, heels….
One thing that has changed for me is the amount I drink during my preparation and the show. I’ve stopped doing late night 12 am performances in clubs when booze is a big part of the scene. I’m trying to be more professional, think of myself as a character actor, putting on a really good show, and being drunk doesn’t match this. So my drinkies have reduced, but I do still like a wee vodka before I go on for a bit of courage and to lower my inhibitions.
What’s your favorite makeup product you can’t live without?
I’m not as of yet brand loyal. I get makeup where I can find it. From friends. Sasa. MiniSo. Lot’s of places.
But I do know what I like. It needs to shine. Be glittery.
I’m not subtle in my look. I want to shine and shimmer. I use a lot of glitter as highlighter, to set my lipstick and in my blush. You can get good glitter glue in any makeup shop and find lots of different types of glitter in craft stores, makeup shops, kids stationaries.
Eyeshadows are another thing. Lots of colours. Lots of choices. Neons, browns, golds, shimmers, a bit of white and black black black! My friend, my make up expert, always spent a lot of time on my eyes. Getting as much colour on there as possible. We both agreed that less was not more when it came to Drag queens make up, especially the eyes. Shadow then covered in glitter!
“I have had to get changed out of drag quite quickly a few times with the worry cops where arriving.”
Any beauty tips to share?
For men or for women? One thing that I do is use a really good hairspray…on my face. It sets everything so that if it’s hot or I sweat nothing will come off. That’s a good inexpensive tip.
The other thing is to never forget blush. With so much highlight and dark contours, the colours on your face can be a bit white and brown. I always use a nice pink blush on my cheeks and just under my chin to bring back colour to my face.
What are your performances like? How do you create/form them?
Recently I’ve been writing a lot of my own stand-up.
I would say I’m quite a funny guy, but writing a story, a joke is much harder. I like to achieve that, to give the audience something funny to relate to and laugh with, especially if all the other queens on the bill are dancing, then the audience needs something a bit different. I take a lot of inspiration from stand up comedians and skit shows like SNL.
Regarding singing and lipsyncing, I like to choose favourite crowd-pleasing numbers that the audience will sing along to or get dancing with.
Something that they will enjoy. After all, they paid to get in. What’s the point in giving them something they might not want to see or have no connection with. I do like doing a bit of a megamix of songs, for Halloween one year I took lots of Halloween favourites and made a 10min show for people to enjoy.
What skills do you think are essential to your craft?
Obviously, the basic makeup, costuming, hair skills…but, to be honest, those can be quite easy. If you are slim you can walk into H&M or Zara and find sparkly outfits for a relatively cheap price. If you are a bit more curved, like me, you can buy good fabric and get something made up for you a little more expensively but it’s worth it.
If you are going to go on RuPaul though get sewing yourself! I have a basic pattern now that I use for most costumes and it’s also amazing what safety pins and hot glue can do.
Other skills, well for me I feel that a queen must have stage presence. Can you walk the runway? Can you host a club night or drag bingo? Are you confident enough to get your ass out there in front of people, chatting to them, singing, performing? Those are skills I want in my queens, not just doing a death drop and flipping your wig around (something many queens do nowadays), those aren’t great skills to me.
Is there any cross over from your daily personality and your drag persona?
I suppose so. I’ve found myself slipping into Stephanie quite easily when I’m out with friends. It’s a fine line between her and me. A couple of drinks and my inner queen comes out. Especially on a dance floor where I’ll get people cat walking, realizing their inner diva.
I’d say I’m a nice guy, friendly, and I think DQ’s need to be friendly too.
To engage with their audience and fans. If you are just a bitch in real life and DQ life, then people won’t relate to you and warm to you and you will soon find yourself in conflicts with other queens and club owners. Who wants that?
What is something shocking most people don’t realize about being a DQ?
I’m not sure it’s shocking, but I think people would be surprised by how much time and effort goes into the craft and how little we get paidand that normally that payment and our own money all goes back into costuming, wigs, new shoes etc for the next look and show.
You really do need to love it to do it all.
Unless you are really famous, you won’t earn the big bucks.
I know that you lived in mainland China for years but moved to Hong Kong not that long ago. What are the differences (if any) between these two places in…
A. Shopping for clothing, makeup etc.
Actually, shopping is a little harder. Taobao is so much easier in China and although it was troublesome getting the right sizes at least there were options. HK, there are options but they are very expensive and sized quite small. Makeup is easier here. There is SO much choice.
B. Public reception/perception
This is better in HK. Firstly there isn’t the worry about Chinese Police coming into the club and shutting it down (I have had to get changed out of drag quite quickly a few times with the worry cops where arriving). Here there isn’t this worry. The only think about HK is that many of the established queens here are very feminine fishy queens, ding their death drops and there is room for different styles.
As I said, the only danger in China is the police presence, certainly in GZ where LGBTQ life isn’t as settled as like SH. HK, although not fully realized here, does have a good gay culture, great gay events and they are protected rather than being undercover.
D. Other things people might not realize.
“Many queens have a problem with punters being a little too touchy-feely, especially when they have had a drink.”
Are DQs really that catty in real life as you see on shows like Drag Race?
Yes. Do I need to say more??
I will tell you that we certainly do worry (only a little!) that we have offended someone. I once, hysterically, went to town on a boyfriend and girlfriend who I had watched get it on in a club. When dressed as Stephanie I really hammered home their very public naughties. The audience loved it, the boyfriend loved it…I’m not so sure about the girlfriend.
A little catty, a little jokey, all the way entertaining!
Left by Lina M & Right by Lisa Loveless
Which other performers (drag or otherwise) do you admire?
That’s a good question.
The thing here is that most people will only know, and there isn’t anything wrong with this, RuPaul queens. I have my favourites of those; Alaska, Detox, Bianca Del Rio, those that can work a stage, a crowd, host, tell jokes and be fabulous.
Outside of Ru, however, I love those queens that really entertain the crowd; Lily Savage, Dame Edna Everage, some lesser known UK Queens called Dave Lynn and Sandra (both of which I’m hoping will be on the UK Drag Race), other entertainers like the SNL girls, French & Saunders, Sarah Millican. Strong stand up women that can really land a punch line.
Recently I’ve found a great Queen from the 70s called Charles Pearce, a man in a dress too, who did impressions, sang, dirty jokes (I love an innuendo) and had his crowd in stitches. Look up his Bette Davis impression for a good laugh.
Is there any etiquette around going to a show? What’s with the tipping?
Don’t touch my hair. HAHA.
Many queens have a problem with punters (a good British phrase for an audience member) being a little too touchy-feely, especially when they have had a drink. They can be a little shouty and disruptive too.
The thing to remember is that although we are Queens, we do have quite a mouth on us and if you are disrupting our show, getting on our stage, touching us inappropriately (how many times I’ve had people come up and just grab my boobs I’ll never know…) or back chatting to us well we can give as good as we get, more so. Be warned. The other thing is that the audience will always be on our side so if you are acting the goat they will support us and boo you…the audience loves it!
As for tipping, well that is a very Americanised norm for Drag shows.
Don’t get me wrong, if you want to give me tips please do, I wouldn’t refuse.
However, here in China or if I worked in the UK I wouldn’t expect my audience to tip me. It just doesn’t happen. I know that American Queens expect a tip. It’s a given that you will tip your Queens. I think they rely on these tips for an extra income while I’ve always been happy to be paid for a club night or variety show.
What kind of audience members do you usually see?
Well obviously Drag is engrained in the LGBTQ community and you have a large percentage of these people attended as audience members.
However, thanks to the popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race more and more straight families, women especially, will come to drag shows. I recently went to see the WerqtTheWorld tour in HK and although I had gay people around me, there were families, mothers, women, all there, all enjoying the show.
In the UK, one of my favourite Drag Show’s is in Funny Girls in Blackpool and every night you will find regular peeps coming to the shows, having anniversaries, birthdays, work outings, it’s becoming more and more mainstream and I think that’s great.
There’s seems to be a larger number of drag queens vs kings? Is this true? Why do you think this happens?
There does seem to be yes. But I wonder if this is because mainstream shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race have only highlighted Male to Female transformations.
I do know that SH has a very strong Drag King scene.
I have tried to encourage women to get involved and become Drag Kings. It is achievable, it is fun, it can be a bit different from being a Queen but there is nothing to stop them trying.
Why does it happen? Good question. Let’s just say that it’s time it changed. So whatever the reason women don’t drag kings as much it’s time that changed. Bring it!
What questions do you get asked a lot?
I suppose people ask about tucking quite a bit…that’s an obvious question and the answer can vary. Many queens do tuck their junk, up and under to get a great feminine look. It’s not something I’ve done or wanted to. You can hide your manly attributes in different ways.
Maybe the question that does get asked, and it’s a misconception about drag and being trans.
Many drag queens are transgendered or more asexual of course, and more power to them, but for myself, I take pride in the compliment that I’m a man in a dress putting on a show.
Like I said, many of my inspirations are British comedy stars that wouldn’t shy away from doing drag or some amazing stand-up queens like Lily Savage and Dame Edna. These are very talented men who entertain through their drag. That’s what I want to be known for.
So I suppose the question people ask is “Do you actually want to be a woman?” and the answer is no. I want to be a star. I want to be an entertainer. I want to be a drag star. I want to make people laugh.
Any interesting projects on the horizon?
Why yes! Now that I’m based in HK I’ve made many more connections in the LGBTQ and Drag community. Six of us have created an arts event where queens and wannabe kings and queens can come together to practice, learn, perform and expand their drag horizons!
HK Drag Jam
The audience can come and see something different than just a femqueen doing a death drop. We have stand-up, acting, skits, live and lipsyncing singing and dancing. It really isn’t your typical drag show, more of a variety show to show of a full range of talents.
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Thank you again to Stephanie for taking the time to answer our questions. How about you, dear readers? What are some of your favorite drag queens out there? Share in the comments!