As part of Paris Fashion Week Online, GAMUT unveils KEROSENE PARTY, a video made in collaboration with director Raquel Garcia, singer and producer Jazzboy and drag queen Messalina Mescalina, which presents five characters, five facets of her personality. An historical muse of the GAMUT collective, Messalina Mescalina reveals her frustrations, desires and obsessions, and draws the portrait of a woman at war against normative diktats, through hybrid archetypes: predatory businesswoman, ambiguous dandy, masked swimmer, witch on a red carpet…
When she doesn’t perform, Messalina Mescalina is Joe. And Joe has a lot to say. The GAMUT collective has decided to give her the floor.
Hello, Joe. Tell us how you got into drag.
As a teenager, I used to draw a lot. I used to write. I started drag five years ago. At the time, I hadn’t revealed myself as a woman. I started with a friend, borrowing his makeup. From the beginning, I wanted to be “the poor girl”: I was annoyed by all those beautiful and rich drag queens – or at least who wanted to make me believe it. There isn’t just one kind of woman. My goal as a drag queen was to represent something other than beauty, youth and wealth. Little by little, I felt like going on stage to tell stories about misogyny, transphobia… Drag allowed me to understand that I am a woman. And this awareness made me evolve both my discourse and my artistic practice.
Did the drag act as a revelation of your identity as a woman, or as a way to tame your gender dysphoria?
Before the drag, I was not well surrounded, I had walled myself up to protect myself. Then I started to go out in drag; I wore clothes that were recognised as “feminine”, people called me woman… It was that experience that allowed me to open the door, to break out. The fact that I had chosen an ugly, even monstrous character was a way of protecting myself from an awareness of my identity as a woman, that was perhaps too frontal at the time. I had great difficulty finding myself beautiful. For me, it was perhaps easier to put myself in the skin of a monstrous woman than in the skin of a woman at all. After two years, I realized that in my everyday life, I did not feel that I belonged to the category of men. When I was being gendered as a woman, I felt like I was really being addressed. I had spent years building protective barriers against this society that makes it very difficult for people to discover themselves as the opposite gender to the one assigned to them at birth. But at a certain point, I got fed up, I was at the end of my rope, I had nothing more to lose: I passed the milestone. Even today, even at so-called queer parties, I still find that it’s easier to be a drag queen than a trans woman who chooses not to take hormone medication or wear make-up. And let’s not forget the gays who talk about themselves in feminine terms, especially to insult themselves, perhaps without realizing that their speech is misogynistic. “You’re stupid, bitch”, those words are hard for me to hear, especially when they are pronounced between two men.
Do you have a special relationship with fashion or clothing?
In my artistic practice, clothing is a method of illusion to deceive the original shape of the body and to set the mood of a character. A bit like a costume, in the end, which allows you to clearly identify what I’m going to tell that night. Depending on the performance, I don’t tell the same story. And in my personal life, fashion allows me to show my mood. When it’s good, I wear golden and summery clothes, and on days when I feel like burning everyone, I dress in black. In the evenings, when I feel like being left alone, I dress more overtly. While in the street, during the day, I’m more discreet and I switch to “survival” mode.
In the GAMUT video, you also play several characters…
Yes, that was the main idea of this project: to embody several facets of Messalina, to bring these five characters to fruition through a collaboration on image, fashion, make-up, hairstyle… There’s the “Feline Woman”, the character I feel most comfortable in when I’m in drag. Then the “Forest Woman”, a witch outside social expectations, raw, without artifice, a sort of thumbnail to TERFs and essentialist feminists – according to which my hormone treatment has something unnatural about it, while my body assimilates hormones and integrates them into its metabolism. You can’t control the effect of hormones on the body. Basically, this second puberty is legitimate and hyper-natural. Then, the drag king: a play with gender, to have fun with megenrage and to play down all the manifestations of transphobia I witness. The “Woman on the balcony” is just me: not a drag character. The last character, “the Masks”, comes from a performance I often gave in my early days – linked to anonymity, to the deformation of the face. No one can recognize me there.