Jacqui Ong: Full Interview
Interview by Ray Larman
22th March 2019
RL: This is Ray Larman recording for West Yorkshire Queer Stories. It is the 22nd of March 2019 and I’m here with Jacqui who is gonna introduce herself.
JO: Hey, my name’s Jacqui. I’m a – I identify as – I don’t really have any labels. I use pronouns she/her; I do drag, so in drag I use pronouns they/them or he/him.
RL: What’s your date of birth?
JO: Oh, my date of birth is the 1st of February 1993.
RL: Okay, so can you tell me a little bit about growing up in London?
JO: Yes, so I originally, I went to school in London; pretty much all my school years were in the South East, so sort of just on the border of Kent. And I didn’t really – I wasn’t out then, to myself or anyone else back then, and I was a bit sort of shy and a bit sort of a closed off individual, and it wasn’t really until I came up to Leeds that I sort of came out to myself and to others, and then engaged more in the queer community, and I – the decision to go to Leeds was the result of, I wanted to go to university there, and I also – my mum was separating, so she wanted a bit of a fresh slate. So, we decided to sort of move up as a family unit, me, my brother and my mum.
RL: Okay, so tell me a little bit more about Leeds uni and being queer in Leeds.
JO: Right, so I again was still quite sort of shy at the start, I was actually suffering from a bit of depression because I’d, my friend, who I was very close with in London, sort of dropped ties with me and I was just generally feeling a bit of a mess. But then I sort of, getting more into Leeds studies and meeting the people I was studying with and also being taught by, I felt really comfortable, and I didn’t really understand it at first, and then I realised, well actually, I’ve got a lot of people round me who are queer, who identify as queer LGBT, and I think that sort of cottoned on sort of second semester of first year, I was like… 18 and I had a, in my German department actually most of the people, the tutors and the lecturers, identified as queer at that time, which was absolutely amazing. I had – there was a, there’s a, yeah there was a tutor who was at the – in the German department, called Leanne who’s now a – I think she’s a researcher at Edinburgh University or something – she, I used to go to her a lot and talk to her about my experiences and how I felt, and actually it was really comforting to know that there was someone there to understand what I was going through. Even though it felt to me kind of like a late stage of coming out, and so that was when I came out to myself. And maybe, over the years, yearly, I was coming out to others, maybe not so – still quite sort of sensitive about the topic but getting to terms with who I was and my identity, so for that I think Leeds was – y’know it’s a lot small community, and it’s a lot more y’know easy to handle and much more being in that bubble of university helped me a lot. As opposed to just the alienating feeling of being in London and just not knowing, just having school and that’s it to go by. Yeah.
RL: So, what did you get involved in in Leeds within the queer community?
JO: Yeah, so I… I mean at university it was mostly that I hung out with a lot of my queer friends and it was just having that, these circles to go by. It was only until after university that I wanted to sort of reach out to more sort of queer like larger queer communities, and so I actually came across Leeds Queer Film Festival, I think it was in my last year, and I went to the first – not the first one – I think it was, the last, the last time Leeds Queer Film Festival was at Wharf Chambers. Like, I turned up and thought, this is a nice, this is a nice little setting. And a year later I decided, I formed a reach sort of open meeting, came along, thought everyone was lovely, and met all the, the members of the Film Festival – I think there was only about four or five of them, and I just instantly felt like this was a really nice way to again reach out to the community and meet more people, more queers, and just feel a bit more connected, really. And then I joined that, and I’ve helped organise the festival for the next year or two.
RL: So, what were you doing in terms of the organising?
JO: [laughs] Well [laughs] I – to be honest, I don’t think I played as big a part as I would have wanted to, cos I was dealing with a lot of other stuff. But I’d like to think I was the tech help, making sure that I was, y’know, getting all the films together, working out all the bits and pieces and what kind of programmes to use and just sort of helping out with that side. And just making sure that y’know if there was any task that were needed, just making sure I was there to, to fill in and be a hand on the day. I think it was – honestly, it was just the way that I – it was a really good community and ability to sort of like get to know everyone. In the last year that I worked at it, or organised, helped volunteer, I did a drag kind workshop, which I thought that was y’know the first time I got a chance to actually teach my skills that I’d learnt to others, and I thought that was a really good opportunity. And then I performed at the party as well.
RL: So, going back a little bit, how did you first find out about the drag king scene?
JO: Well, it’s a good sort of way to lead on, because it wasn’t – if I hadn’t actually helped out at Leeds Queer Film Festival, which was at Live Art Bistro, I wouldn’t have known about the event that they were holding just the week after, which was a drag king – just following our festival we did. Yeah, they – John’s, what’s the name? John Smith came to Live Art Bistro to perform the week after and I went and saw, and I was mesmerised, I was like, ‘this is so interesting, how have I not discovered this, and how have I not realised there’s like a scene going on?’
RL: So, why was in interesting?
JO: It was – I think when you see a drag king for the first time, you’re actually like, ‘oooo’, taken aback by just the illusion. It’s really strange to think that, but it really is, it does give a re- and obviously the more you see of drag, the more you think, ‘yeah okay, I know what’s going on here’, y’know it takes a while, you get a bit numbed, but the first experience was really strong for me and I remember seeing it with Claire, who’s also a member of the queer, y’know, Leeds Queer Film Festival organising team and I just thought, ‘this is it, I feel like I want to try this’. I said to Claire, ‘I’m like, I’ll give this a go’. Found out about a drag king workshop from, also from a member of our, the Film Festival team, that was happening later that year, and I said, ‘okay, well I’ll give it a go’. Went there, and then I also decided to take part in a competition in London, which was probably the start of my drag career, and that was called ‘Man Up’, it’s at a really gay men’s bar in East London, called the Glory, but is a nice place, they’re very welcoming and they’re inviting, and they it’s, I mean they call it Europe’s biggest drag king contest – the world’s biggest organised drag king contest. It’s still going. And there’s about, y’know, a good handful of – not handful, but a few dozen or so contestants, and I came – I came about third place, at the end, and I was really chuffed by that, so it was the second time I’d performed live.
RL: When was this?
JO: This was… in May 2017, so I was – was it about two years ago now, isn’t it? Yeah. So that was like the first time, that was kind of like the birth of my drag persona.
RL: So, tell me about your drag persona and where it came from?
JO: Okay, so I’ve stuck with the name that I decided when I did the workshop, and that was Sigi Moonlight. There’s a really stupid, like, reason why: Sigi because I like playing games, and when I play games, I always seem to make a character that’s like a six-foot-tall, blonde, really buff man, looks slightly like German folklore, and I call him Seigfried just because. I’m like, let’s go through, y’know, let’s lea- let’s go through life and games as this big tall German man, I don’t know why, it’s just my go-to thing. And then I’m like, I wanna kind of put this into my own character, but I’m not, Sigi doesn’t, no Siegfied doesn’t really work, it’s too, no one’s gonna be able to pronounce it. Sigi is the kind of cutesy nickname version, and it’s also a little, I always think it’s a bit sort of, it’s more unisex, it’s more sort of gender neutral. So, I went with that, and then I thought I don’t really know, I can’t just be Sigi I’ve gotta have a sort of a surname. Sigi Stardust was probably the first thing that came to mind, so I’m like okay, what’s the sort of equivalent of that or a bit of a fun twist? Sigi Moonlight? It sort of just sticks and it sounds pretty nice and suave, so that’s how it worked. And then I thought, okay, I’ve got to craft my character round that. So, the idea is, I mean initially, this has sort of changed, but Sigi Moonlight is a character that’s come down to the Earth, when the year of all years when Donald Trump is elected to sort of give humanity this message of like doom and gloom but a bit of fun to say, ‘this is what you – this is what masculinity has brought us all’. Here you go, let’s give it a little, y’know ‘Hello, this is masculinity’ kind of thing. So, Sigi is quite – quite dark, he uses a lot of dark humour in their act, so that – that sort of plays into the whole idea. I think Sigi Stardust, as well, that was the idea, where they came to Earth, said, ‘humanity you’ve got five years left, so this is what I’m gonna show you, this rock star persona’, whatever, this is alright and stuff. So, it’s a bit of a twist on that.
RL: So, tell me more about that first time you performed as Sigi Moonlight: what were you wearing, and what was the music and all of that?
JO: So, my first act that I devised was a – it was based around absent or abusive father figures. And I really wanted to – basically, at the heart of it I had this, I had this fantasy to dress up and impersonate The Godfather, but I also wanted to do a bit of a feminist take on it, so I want, I thought, okay I want to dance like Beyoncé, I would never learn how to do that, maybe now’s the time? And I thought that juxtaposition was the best sort of way to open a show about drag king masculinity, having this really opposing figure and then doing something really feminine with it. And so, my act sort of goes in and out, flits between this sort of feminine persona of singing and dancing and then this more hardy masculine persona, and it’s taken from films, so I use The Shining and I use The Godfather, obviously, and there’s also a bit from The Breakfast Club about sort of all these really horrible toxic, masculine father figures and how they’re really abusive or they just don’t exist in all men, so I wanted to put that message forward. That was my first act. So, it’s a bit, it’s a bit humorous but it’s a bit dark as well, yeah. And then it’s kind of gone on – I’ve moved on to other things; I’ve got an act about how I’m an abused Oscar statuette being passed from like the hand of a white man – from one white man to another white man or person or whatever, it’s quite funny.
RL: So, you’re dressed as the Oscar?
JO: I wear like a gold wolf suit. So, I’m sort of like wobble around and I can’t really see the stage, but people seem to enjoy it. I’ve done one where I’m Bronson, so I’m Charles Bronson and it’s about – all the act is, is it’s about his sort of lust for fame, I just take a lot of snippets from the film and I – and then I sort of mix it up and put a queer sort of imagination – reimagining of it, so his lust for fame is based on the fact he can’t, he can’t do the same things that he used to do, which was a strong man, so he’s gotta get with new kids, and he decides he’s gonna tie someone – do you know Charles Bronson? Yeah, he’s gonna tie someone up and then paint their face in the form of a YouTube make-up tutorial. So that, that was the – yeah, that’s the act – it’s ridiculous, but it’s also got – I like to think of it, it’s got to have some sort of a message behind it. And it’s definitely got to have a message about masculinity and what it means. And then my latest act – I play like this old king fu master, with like really sort of, yeah you think about bad lip-synched kung fu films from Hong Kong in the 70s, that’s it, so I do a bit of a bad lip sync, which is sort of a, sort of a big ‘F.U.’ to drag queens and how much they really are so obsessed about their lip sync, I’m just – I just mouth it in a really bad way. And then I go on to say, Asian men aren’t considered to be very sexy in the media, cos there’s hardly anything, like there’s no leading romantic Asian males in Western media, and so I’m like, ‘I’m just gonna, y’know, let’s change this everyone’ and so I do a spoof on a burlesque dance as my old Asian man, so I sort of do the whole finger glove thing and take off my stockings and like remove my hat in a, in a surreptitious way, and that’s, that’s kind of my, my thing, it’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek thing; again it’s got a message. So, I think Sigi’s gone from being, sort of – here’s masculinity, y’know… I think it’s still there, but it’s sort of, my main motto is, I have villains that are really disgusting or dark or really just devious and not nice characters and I put a bit of a queer spin on them and make them light-hearted, but still worth thinking about.
RL: And how does that fit in with other acts on the drag king scene?
JO: I, I think… it, it’s hard to say really, cos a lot of drag kings have got – they’re definitely different from drag queens; they’ve all got quite a different take on how they want their characters to be seen or shown. I’m just thinking about the last show I did and what kind of acts were there. It’s, it’s – I think I’m generally more political than a lot of kings, and kings are political, but I think what I say – cos there’s always this dark undertone it sort of brings home. I think it’s like, you want, I like making people laugh but laugh – but question why they’re laughing. Whereas drag kings, I think a lot of the time they do have this, they do want to dress – they want to get the realness coming in through, they want to show this manly side. And it, I think, quite a lot they do, they do have… they show a – they sort of venerate manliness. Not in a negative way, but it’s obviously as their own sort of identity. I know there’s a lot of drag kings who identify as trans non-binary, so for them it’s their way of understanding their identity and saying they are real men and regardless of their genitalia or whatever. So, for me I think it’s a little bit different, it’s for me I want to explore personas and how that fits in on a bigger scale. Sigi Moonlight isn’t really a, doesn’t really have a face, there’s a lot of different faces essentially, cos I think a lot of kings have their look that’s really strong and important to them. Yeah.
RL: I know you’ve been in sort of a couple of drag king collectives so could you say a little bit about those?
JO: Yes. So, at the start, shortly after I did Man Up, I was asked to be part of The KOC Initiative – Kings of Colour – very nice abbreviation there – and it’s basically just, it was set up by a king called Zayn Phallic as a way of sort of contesting the current state of… the drag scene, and basically it was predominantly white, and I guess it still is in quite a lot of spaces – and we’re talking pretty much throughout London here. But I guess, outside London even then that, that still is a thing and they just got together a whole load of kings of colour, did a lot of nights, and that was kind of one of the collaboratives I did, and it was, it was positive. There were times I think that they were trying to challenge the audience in a way that sometimes it felt there was a, y’know there was a bit of tension in some of the shows, yeah. I think towards the end it got a little more, a little more tense, a little more political than I would’ve wanted. I think sort of losing the thing that you’re just celebrating the fact that there is diversity and there’s colour on the scene, rather than just sort of saying, actually y’know, there’s a quite a certain amount of hatred for white people, which I feel a bit weird about, I’m like, ‘guys we’re just doing a show, you don’t have to do that’. But yeah, so I think that maybe lay a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
But then I was involved more recently the start of this year, so 2019, with a, another collaborative called the Bitten Peach, and it’s hosted, or it’s organised by three cabaret performers: a queen, or a like a – yeah, like a kind bio queen or I think a cabaret, burlesque – I think a burlesque artist is the best way to say it – two burlesque artists and a drag queen. And they came together, and they said, let’s try and get more exposure and sort of awareness about Asian performers in the scene. So, it’s a quite a, it’s a very similar take, but their way of approaching it, so far from what I’ve seen, we’ve just finished our first set of like shows. It’s been really positive, and they’ve been saying, y’know, this is our, y’know this is the culture, we don’t care who comes to these shows, we really just want everyone to be appreciative and aware of the fact that there is so much talent out there. So, I’ve come off from those shows being a lot more positive about it and actually being quite, having feel like I’ve got more of a direction in terms of what, how I feel as a drag performer and what my responsibilities are on the scene.
RL: So, what – what are the differences then between performing in those collectives and then just performing in a general show where there’ll be mainly white performers? I mean, do you feel a difference?
JO: I hate to say this, this analogy’s just popped into my head: it’s a bit like when you perfor- when you’re a footballer and you play for your country as opposed to, you’re playing for like a team. With these collaboratives, it doesn’t what hap-, y’know at the end of the day I felt a real positive buzz for every show that I did because I absolutely loved it. I could’ve, y’know, I could’ve been paid a little and I’d have still wanted to be part of it because of the fact it’s really positive and it’s a good message behind it. When I’m doing other gigs – sometimes I’m just thinking, ‘it pays, it’s good money, I’ll do it’, without really considering y’know, thinking this is positive that I’m on here because of the fact that I’m making the line-up more varied, and that’s wonderful, y’know. But it doesn’t have that same sort of like buzz about it. It’s not like, I’m doing this for the purpose of actual moving the tides. I don’t know, that’s just a really weird way to see it, but like I feel like I’m more of a part of a like a kind of burgeoning political movement when I do collaborative shows about people who’ve actually got a message to spread.
RL: So, are there issues with racism within the drag king scene?
JO: There have been a few sort of bits of feuds here and there between kings, certainly I think and it’s really quite sad to sort of know this and to learn about this over a year or two, but there have, there are feuds between kings of colour and white kings. And I think it’s not so much race, but I think it’s where some kings of colour have sort of misconstrued actions from their peers or from other cabaret performers that makes them think that they’re being attacked because of the fact that they are, they identify as this or they identify as that. And I think that’s, y’know, to me I think that’s kind of missing the point, y’know, where if you’re invited to come perform a show, for instance, and they say we want you to perform because you can represent us and this creates variety, y’know, you shouldn’t think of it as ‘you’re the token’, you should say, ‘this is an amazing opportunity and I’m happy for the fact that you have given me this and that you’re also willing to change’. And, y’know, I think I would see that as positive but I think there may be one or two performers out there who are a bit more sensitive about the issue. And, I guess, I dunno, it just saddens me sometimes to see that, and that, that when I came into the scene it was a lot much of a bigger, I thought it was a really nice, united drag king community – or drag community as well, but drag kings were very much a family. And over the year or year or two I’ve sort of realised there are cracks where people, some people just are never gonna be seen in a room together. For me, I want to stay neutral and I would never say anything bad about anyone. So, I’ve just, y’know, be positive, turn up to shows, be professional, that’s just my thing, so y’know.
RL: Going back to when you did the workshop at – was that the last Queer Film Festival in Leeds? So how did you do that, and what were you trying to teach people in the workshop?
JO: So, I split it, if I remember, into two sections. I – it wasn’t the best workshop the first time I did it, and I, the first section was basically a run through of what the drag king was; my persona and my personality and how I developed that; how to develop ideas for show; and then sort of splitting people up into groups and giving them themes, through which they could explore their own personas. I think we did a little bit more as well on just a small exercise on how to, on the differences of walking. Y’know, when you walk as a female, or a feminine, in a feminine way or if you walk in a masculine way, how that changes. And then how you feel comfortable about that yourself. And then the second part was doing the makeup, so I demonstrated how to do six-pack abs, which is always fun, and then got everyone to sort of get the basics of contouring as a masculine face, which they – I think that was the highlight of the workshop for a lot of people, they absolutely loved that I think because they got to do something hands-on. It was about three hours in total, and I felt like it could have been longer as well, cos there were people at the end who were like, ‘no! I wanna do more! I wanna try and explore things, I wanna put on a beard and stuff like that’, so yeah.
RL: Okay. I, so I saw you perform at LAB that year, this was 2017?
JO: This was last year, 2018.
RL: 2018? Okay, and I was struck by how much you committed to the performance, which I thought was interesting, the first time I’d seen your performance, so – can you say something about that? Y’know, what it’s like to be up there on the stage?
JO: Yeah, I guess so. I… I think… it’s interesting you say that because I have had times where you have to be really careful with the stage. So, at Live Art Bistro, the audience was amazing, everyone was really attentive; I think people sat down to watch, just the most – I’d never seen that before. And so it was great, everything worked well. I’ve had times where I’ve done that act, cos I’ve done similar acts that’ve been really strong in some places but weak in other places. And it’s making me very aware as a drag performer of the diff- of how subtle certain crowds are. Y’know, there are some spaces that are wonderful, safe spaces, everyone’s gonna be attentive, everyone’s going to enjoy, and it just, it just is a nice buzzing, positive atmosphere. But I’ve been, I’ve been in like pubs on a Friday night and I’ve performed there where things haven’t gone down quite as well because people are drunk, they don’t wanna listen to that kinda stuff. So, it’s not so much about – and I guess that’s reflected how I’ve felt inside about what I want to give out to everyone. If I feel like I’m in control of the audience, then it works in my favour and I, y’know, I think it goes back and forth, so they see that, and I notice that and I’m more confident. But if I’m not, and they’re not paying attention, I feel a lot more insecure and I think you might, it might be something that comes across when I perform as well. So, I guess it’s interesting you say that, but it’s not all like, flowers and roses on every single stage [laughs] It’s really dependent. Some people aren’t – some strangers aren’t forgiving.
RL: Have you had any audiences or individuals who have, you felt kind of misunderstood, taken it the wrong way, what you’re doing?
JO: [laughs] When I did my last show, at the Glory – did we mention that? The gay male bar where I first did my, my show. The last time I was there, I was up on the big stage in the, at the top floor and it was the afterparty, so it was really packed. And I did a burlesque number, which was my – I call it my Well Hung Fu act. I’m an old Asian kung fu master and I want to show the world that Asian men are sexy, contrary to sort of media representations, and so I strip in a burlesque way, but in a bit of a spoof. I had to cut out the talking beforehand where I sort of tell the back story, so I just did the burlesque number cos I knew, no one’s gonna listen. There were apparently some people in the audience, and I think I’m – this is from other people – I think they were the straight white girl type. They just said, ‘isn’t this a bit racist?’ [laughs] To my, to my act. And, yeah. And I think like my friends were not happy with that and everyone sort of joked at the end, they were like, what on earth are these people? They come into this queer bar and they just decide to just watch this, and then they think, ‘oh yeah, this is a bit odd’, like that’s, that’s, that’s not good, y’know. I’ve had that kind of thing. That was one time, and I think, apart from that… most of the time audience have been very positive, they’ve been all like, ‘I love you’, and sometimes they come up to me at the end and they’re like, ‘wonderful, you’re really good’, y’know, blah blah blah.
I’ve had, however, moments where there’s also audience members who feel like they have the, how do you say it? The privilege to just touch performers. So, I’ve had my back stroked. The latest one I can remember, which was kind of hilarious is, I was doing a really small sort of like, scratch night type thing with, kind of a small room, like 12, 13 audience members, a bit of a slow turnout, and then there was a straight, I think it was a straight – there was a man and a woman from my y’know just looking – this guy decided to, at the end, to think it was a good idea that he saw a sock on one of the chairs and tried to put it in my singlet that I was wearing, my little wrestler singlet where you can just sort of pop, you can try and reach out and pop something into someone’s crotch. And luckily that didn’t happen because one of the queens who was on the line-up saw it and then intercepted and swooped the sock out of the man’s hand and then stuffed it into her bra. So, I was saved. That was probably the most magnificent but slightly scary encounter I’ve had, but those things happen, it, it’s kind of like a story that you hear from a lot of performers, which is really sad, and I guess sort of, I dunno, I dunno it’s gotta change over time, but I guess that’s just something that you have to deal with and you’ve to stay strong with and forgive and forget I guess.
RL: So, you mentioned a drag queen kind of saved you there, I mean what’s the relationship that you’ve found between kind of drag king scene, drag queen scene – is there an overlap? Completely different?
JO: Oh, I think, honestly, I’ve done more shows recently that’ve had – are we good for time?
RL: Yeah, it’s okay.
JO: We’ve had more variety line-ups, and I can honestly say there are some absolutely wonderful queens out there, who are just so lovely and warm. And, it’s more that the scene is a kind of a, it’s just, it’s a bit, it’s sort of like, it’s got its traditions, it’s rigid. And the people who are behind forming nights are also have certain ways of thinking –
RL: What do you mean by that?
JO: I’m just thinking that you’ve got gay bars that are sort of historic, historically, traditionally gay bars, so they will have more drag queen line-ups; it’s not that often that you would get a drag queen on that kind of scene. And then you’ve obviously got the more, much fewer bars that are, like there’s lesbian bars in London, She Soho and stuff, they do their exclusive kind of drag king nights. You’ve got Boy Box which has been running for goodness knows how long now, and they’re just much fewer. So, I think generally you get that impression that it just seems quite separated. But, like, you do, you do get mixed line-ups. You get variety cabaret shows. It’s just that, I think, you have to be on the scene for a good few time, y’know, a good amount of time to actually be aware of what, what there is, and that the drag king scene or the drag queen scene is not as black and white and separated as everyone is made out to think. And that there are so genuinely lovely people who are producers as well as drag queens, cos drag queens do run their own shows and decide line-ups, who want to get to know more performers and actually see what drag kings have to offer. I think it’s just more – it’s tradition, at the end of the day, and like what fits, what works. I think if I’m, if I’m correct, I believe that pride, London Pride, the organisers, they just go with what’s safe, then they know they’ve got this line-up of drag queens, and mostly probably, cos you think about past times, past years, they’ve got their set, they just use them again, cos they know them, y’know? And so it’s obviously if you’re drag kings it’s just sort of being able to actually permeate that is a little bit more tricky.
RL: When we were talking earlier, and you were saying about kind of getting into drag king stuff it was to sort of to escape from other things – d’you wanna talk a little bit about that?
JO: Yeah, sure. So, I had, my, well how’s it – I started drag not just because I wanted, y’know, to give it a try, it was more as a way of also escaping from my current situation at the time. Now I look back at it, I really think that was the case, because my mum was diagnosed with lung cancer, so that was, quite a while ago. She’d been suffering for about eight years. And it kind of developed quite a lot more around 2017; she was doing chemotherapy and stuff like that, and it was, she was declining. She was in a state where it was beginning, y’know, she was beginning to need care, and stuff like that. And my situation at the time was I was really busy with work. I’d decided, there was a point where she was actually recuperating and I thought she was on the mend, and so I decided to get a fulltime job and I wanted to start a career. I’d been trying – I’d been caring for her before that. And then I was working a lot then and I was also trying to deal with the stress of finding care for her, dealing with her needs and keeping up to date with what she was doing. And so, I sort of wanted time to have to myself.
And so, for me, having a few days down in London, where I’d have a few gigs and then go back up, provided a bit more of a sort of escape for me to just… take my mind off all of the things that were going on. I wasn’t happy being in Leeds anymore, because Leeds wasn’t the university town or freedom for me, it was a place where I felt confined because I had my mum to deal with, and at that point she was clear to me, like, she felt like a burden. And it’s really sad to think that, but I couldn’t think of it in any other way, and I was very much stuck. And then towards the end, obviously I was making, I thought I was making plans that this place was not for me anymore. I’d met my partner, who is London-based, and I was doing more and more drag, and so I just made the decision, and with my company as well, that I would relocate to London and I’d start sort of a new chapter there. Which is sort of where I am now. I’ve been in London for most of the year, yeah, almost a year now. And I mean, I’m in a much happier place. And Leeds is getting there, to be a sort of a happier place for me. But it’s still a place that’s got a lot of memories, but – both good and bad, so yeah.
RL: Okay. I had one more thing to ask.
JO: Go ahead.
RL: Well, it’s – at the start, when we were talking about identity and you sort of said, you kind of didn’t want to give an identity or didn’t feel you had kind of a label, I mean can you just talk a little bit about that?
JO: Yeah, I guess. To me – I sometimes feel like I’ve got imposter syndrome because there’s so many, like I told you, there’s so many people in the king community who identify as trans or non-binary and I’ve never had to – I don’t have, I don’t feel like I’ve ever had to deal with that conflict. I’m very much happy in my gender, which is she/her. I do have some sort of, I think to me, obviously my dress is that I have more of an outwardly masculine appearance. And I think there was a time, when I was coming out, that I would sort of say that I’m a boyish type, or even butch. Even then, that’s really sort of far away from what I would ever consider myself being. Y’know, I think, at the end of the day, I am as I always have been just Jacqui [laughs] like, I’ve always sort of had this look and this, and this um, this attitude and this appearance that’s been, that’s been quite – I guess quite neutral, ever since I was young, y’know. Neither pertaining to sort of masculine or feminine dress codes. And then when I’m performing, I have that, I have then that sort of convergence where I can then explore more masculine codes of dress. And then dare I say possibly more feminine codes of dress, in the future. Cos, who knows where, where things will take me? I don’t know if I’ll still be a drag king. I might just be, I might turn to the other side and do a drag queen thing, who knows? But yeah, I don’t really have any attachment to labels. I’m just me, and I guess that’s really important like, no one should – they’re good, I know why they’re there but I think at the end of the day, people should just learn others for who they are and their own individual personality. That’s it, really.
RL: Thank you. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
JO: I don’t think so, no.
RL: Okay. Alright, let’s leave it there.
RL: This is Ray Larman. This is part two of an interview with Jacqui. So, Jacqui, going back to when you were talking about those kind of accusations of racism at the Glory, can you talk about your reactions to – well, first of all, why did those accusations arise, and then what did you think?
JO: As I mentioned before, I was really worried about doing the first two parts for that act, it’s sort of a three-part act, because the, they were a bit more spoken and I was using a mic, I was having to talk to the audience, and this is the after show. It’s probably like 1-2 in the morning, everyone’s partying, it’s really loud, it’s really packed. And so what I did is, I essentially – the audience didn’t get the previous thing, the run-up saying, ‘because I’m an old Asian kung fu master, and Asian men aren’t sexy, I’m going to give you my rendition of what sexy is to try and fight that’. They just saw someone on stage parading around with nice and white sort of dreadlock type things on their, y’know, like on their sort of a Fu Manchu style beard, with eyebrows, with white hair, and then, y’know, parading around to the sort of the really old school Hong Kong song. So, I think I can understand why – like, looking back at that now – why they would’ve thought that, or why they might’ve considered that. But also, at that time I was just thinking, ‘oh my god, how dare you come into this space; you are coming to a night celebrating Asian culture and this collaborative time’ – this was the Bitten Peach night – ‘and you say that out loud in a space where people can hear you, possibly the organisers can hear you’, which they did, and you don’t expect y’know to get away with that. And y’know my partner at the time, she was told about this – I think someone overheard them then they told her – she was absolutely furious, she was like, ‘what on earth, they’re so disgusting; how on earth do they – why should they – why should they consider a person who identifies as Asian doing an act about their own culture as racist?’ And at the time I was also quite like, yeah, y’know indignant and just thinking, ‘what the hell?’ I wanted to see their faces; it was too crowded [laughs] But yeah, but now I look back on it, I mean, I guess that’s at the end of the day, the best things you can take away from that is that they were exposed to it. So, in the future they might actually think about what they’re seeing before they just open their mouth and think it’s racist. Or they might just be closed-minded the rest of their life and y’know maybe they’ll never come back to that event, which – or that venue, which is maybe for the better of everyone! Who knows, y’know?! Either way, I just think it was, it felt like it was a kind of personal attack.
I have had that before though. It’s actually interesting, I’ve just realised – I went to Vancouver, and I was gonna do a like a gig at one of their shows, it was like a queer space, and it was gonna be my daddy gig, which, where I dance Beyoncé. And they said, first of all, you can’t do that act because you’re not black. And you can’t dance Beyoncé. And for two days I thought I was really racist, I thought, ‘oh my god, what have I done, I’ve offended so many people’. Thinking back on that now I’m just thinking these, these guys they’re like, it’s nice to have a certain liberal stance, but sometimes you can go too far, and like satire does that. Some people don’t get it, and that’s where I’m at. Sometimes, I just sometimes think I can identify modes where people feel offended at something that they really shouldn’t, because it’s trying to actually demonstrate a point, y’know? And that’s where I am with it really. Y’know, when that next happens I’ll be like, y’know, I’ll talk them through it, and I’ll see if I can find out why they were thinking that. But at the end of the day, y’know, I do what I do with full understanding of what I’m coming from and not to mock anyone or anything or any culture. Y’know? Yeah, it’s food for thought isn’t it? So difficult to navigate, really, sometimes.
RL: Can we talk a little bit about the key components of your act, your drag – what do you need to become Sigi?
JO: Okay, so I’ve got lots of different looks, but I think maybe I could give the base. You can strip me back when I, y’know, wear a packer, so that’s a like a prosthetic silicon penis I put in. I usually have to wear boxer shorts or some kind of tighter like material to keep it in place. I’ve had cases where it’s fallen out mid-performance, and that’s the worst thing that can happen. I usually have facial hair and for that what I do is, cos I have an undercut and I shave my hair quite a lot, I take the shavings of that and I put it in a bag and then I get, I use Pros-Aide, which is sort of theatre glue, put it down on the area where I want to apply it, leave it for a few seconds and then just dab very, very tiny cuttings of hair over the areas. I, I sometimes I use quite minimal make-up compared to others, but I have like a layer of foundation sometimes. I use mascara or eyeliner just to highlight areas. What else? I think, for some I sort of bulk out quite a bit, so sometimes I wear layers of clothing to make myself look a bit more fat and a bit more sort of like portly. But most of the time I’m, yeah, I’m alright. I have a base layer; I bind. So, if I’m showing my chest or I’m stripping in anyway that shows me topless I use… it’s called, it’s like sports tape, or kinaesthetic tape, and it’s skin coloured, so it basically I just sort of took three or four tapes and I pull my breasts back to be able to tape it and give that illusion. And then I do a sort of a contouring as well on my torso to give the illusion of sort of two pecs and then six abs, sort of like divide them up and then do a bit more blending. Occasionally I might shade or give the illusion of like um chest hair, so I get like a scourer sponge, dab it in some face paint and then sort of like fleck a bit on the chest and stuff, or potentially if I’m gonna do stubble I do it on my face as well. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. I do an Adam’s apple as well for contouring, so just a bit of shading underneath. And then I usually gel my hair if I’m doing stuff, it depends on the act. Yeah. And if I want I’ve got a bigger moustache as well, if I don’t use my normal hair, I ma- I’ve made myself like a big handlebar moustache, which is just my hair, longer bits of my hair glued together and then waxed, and I can take that on and off when I need to, so I just sort of again Pros-Aide my face and stick it on and then take it off when I need. I think that’s it, really.
RL: Where did you learn all this?
JO: That was – most of the skills come from the drag king workshop I did.
RL: Was that in Leeds?
JO: That was the one in – oh it was in Sheffield, actually, yep. Then the people who ran that are now my drag parents, they’re the ones that brought me in –
RL: Who are they?
JO: They’re the ones who run Boi Box, Adam and Apple, so Adam All and Apple Derrieres. They were one of my biggest inspirations. I act- I was starstruck when I first met them and now, I’m like, ‘hey’, y’know, ‘you’re just, you’re just there’. But I do love them, I appreciate them and so much of what they’ve done for me and what they do for the community. They’re always wanting to get more people in and do that stuff. Yeah, I still use a lot of the skills from them.
RL: Okay. Any other inspirations?
JO: Yeah, ah yeah I’ve got a list of my favourites and like people who I absolutely adore, both in and out of drag. Oedipussy Rex is a drag barbarian, mostly because they just wear – they’re based around Greek mythology or mythological characters or some other kind of things that have beards, so, y’know if it’s, from Hagrid to like Zeus and Apollo and what have you, and they kind of construct their act around them, but in a very, very funny way. And then I love the work of… let me think, who else? Hmmm. There’s Romeo – Romeo De La Cruz, a very good dancer, y’know. I think their background is dancing and they’ve also got a partner, Jada, who I absolutely adore, both of them as a couple are the sweetest couple. They’re actually based in the Midlands.
RL: What is their act?
JO: Oh they do separate, they do separate stuff. Romeo’s a drag king, Jada’s a burlesque dancer, but also has a drag thing, persona as JeRome, and they’ve done a du-act together, a duet, but I’ve not seen it. But they are very – they’re a good power couple. They always come and then they, they’re usually in the same line-up so you know it’s like adorable that they come and they do their thing and they’re always, they support each other like that. I’m just thinking – Chiyo is a – full name Chiyo Gomes – is a really powerful drag king who sort of rocked the scene because they do quite a lot of political stuff, quite edgy and really gritty at times; they’re a trans king, well I guess a trans man, and they have, they’ve done some really powerful spoken word stuff about their encounters and their lives and their sort of, their struggles, and they’ve gotten to be a really big, sort of have a really big status in the, in the cabaret scene in London. So, I admire them for that really.
I’m just thinking who else? Apart from like… Oliver Assets. I’ve just, I can read all these names to you and they’ve all got wonderful puns: so, Oliver Assets, a king based in Bristol, really responsible and key to sort of raising the Bristol king scene, got a scratch night and a king night, which I’m performing at next month. And they’re absolutely wonderful, they’ve got a really deadpan style of act, use whatever, lip sync, no lip sync, music, whatever, and it tells a story and it’s just really funny and amazing, and they’ve got this beautiful act where they play Vincent Van Gogh and they are all dressed in blue, or like they have blue face, they have blue paint on all over their body. And they’ve got paints in their holster and what they do is, to the tune of like ‘Starry Starry Night’, they kind of dip in their paints and then they swirl paint over their body to create the, the illusion of the painting by, yeah, by Van Gogh. So, that’s a really touching scene, cos it obviously I dunno goes into all areas of like mental illness, his state, but also the beauty that he constructs – it’s just, it’s a lovely, lovely piece. So, I guess those are my biggest inspirations, yeah.
Oh god, I’ve got one more, can I have one more? A, actually a Yorkshire-based king, not West Yorkshire though, I think they’re from Rotherham. Yeah, if I remember correctly and I – LoUis CYpher is a really veteran king I feel like, one of those legends. I’ve never actually seen LoUis as a king, but I saw LoUis when they were performing as Lucy, their muggle persona in ‘Joan’ – they did a one-hour show, one person show of ‘Joan’, where they explored Joan through different drag king personas of like different male characters surrounding her life. It’s absolutely amazing, like what a really good performer, yeah, so that was –
JO: Joan, yeah.
RL: Joan who?
JO: Joan of Arc. Sorry! Sorry I should’ve…
RL: I thought you meant Joan Crawford [laughs]
JO: That would be an interesting show! No, Joan of Arc, so yeah. I saw that in Barnsley, about two years ago before I went and did drag, and it just stuck with me. I thought it was a really, really good show.
RL: So, there are a few performers, there is a bit of a scene in Yorkshire?
JO: It was a one-off, it was sort of a pop-up, it was a theatre thing where they took, they went on tour. I mean, I’m not sure, I know there’s Andro and Eve in Sheffield, but in terms of other places I haven’t heard anything.
RL: So, mainly London?
JO: Mainly London, yeah. London, Bristol and Brighton. Those are kind of the spots.
RL: Okay, thank you.
JO: No worries.