We took a trip down to Islington Mill and caught up with the stunning 7ft drag queen Banksie and asked her all the questions you were just dying to ask…
First of all, talk us through your look for Night of the Living Drag at Cottonopolis?
So I’m doing a Scarecrow. I just love how weird they are. Who thought of the first scarecrow? Who thought, let’s use these hand me down clothes, stuff them with straw and chuck it up outside. Now they’ve been turned into horror things which is even weirder.
My dress is bright yellow and made out of canvas and painted canvas. Expect things to get a little weird. I like to do the unexpected.
What are you most looking forward to on the night at Cottonopolis?
I’ve haven’t got too much expectation of it at the min. But I’m excited to go to a venue I’ve never performed at before. I always like performing new stages because I think it’s interesting to see how the audience reacts or how your drag or performance style can change in different stages you go to.
I’ve performed in places with no stage before but the interaction with the audience is the fun of it. It challenges your drag everywhere you go. It keeps you on your toes, figuring out on the spot how you’re going to do this show. Either you make the audience obsessed with you or you screw it up. And it’s ok if you screw it up, I screw up a lot. For instance, these eyebrows…
MF: Eyebrows ARE hard…
Banksie: Yeah especially when you’ve got none. I’ve been doing my DIY eyebrows for about 3 years now, shaving them fully off gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted with my make-up.
If you could describe the drag scene in Manchester in three words what would it be?
Diverse, high energy, artistic.
The level of art in this city is incredible. Not even from ‘the look’ perspective, artistically as a community we bring such new and different things to the world of drag. This city has massive amounts of representation too. That is the difference, the more representation and diversity you get the more varied the story arc is. So you can get a completely different story each night depending on who is there.
If you have a group of people who are very similar in your space, every night for 5 nights a week every single week, you’re not gonna get that amount of variation or that connection with your audience that Manchester has because only about 5% of the audience will understand and relate.
We have a lot of different types of queens and different types of kings and different types of everyone!
How does Manchester differ from other cities to perform in?
It depends on how the city itself accepts drag. We’re very lucky in Manchester to have a very dedicated gay scene so we do have a lot more opportunities and I think that is ingrained in Manchester culture now. We’re kind of like a gay epicentre because of Canal Street and the history behind it.
London has a big gay scene particularly if you go to Soho and areas like that. But in Manchester it’s more relaxed, we have a more relaxed sense to drag, we can sort of do whatever we want. In London for instance, you have to have the money to put on a night and with it being London – how much is that gonna cost you? It’s a lot more corporate down there.
With Manchester we have the opportunities. For instance I started my cabaret from nothing with just the help of one shop who wanted to open up their space to a queer audience. I think that’s the difference, Manchester wants to see artists grow. And I love that.
Cities aren’t really too different from each other but there are certain aspects that change. For instance, Leeds has a very good underground system, it’s drag is very alternative and I love that side.
If you think about Bristol too, it has a really up-and-coming drag scene that has literally just appeared out of nowhere with queens such as Spank and Roach. There’s a night called Slaughter House that has popped up out of nowhere in the last 6 months. But Bristol did not have a drag scene at all until this, they have literally created it out of the blue. It’s really inspiring. And especially when you think of how young they are making these massive profitable nights. And that is quite exciting if you think about it.
How important do you think it is that the drag scene is entering mainstream entertainment in Manchester? Why has this happened do you think, and what does it mean for the LGBTQ+ community?
There are pros and cons. For example, Drag Race has happened and we’ve got more recognition – we’ve sort of come out of the shadows. And it’s positively impacted people who don’t live in big cities like Manchester.
I got shown drag by watching the US version of Drag Race. That’s what made me into a drag queen. I’m not gonna sugar-coat it, it’s a very beauty competition answer but I literally watched it in my little town in Wigan and thought, you know what I wanna do that.
So has Drag Race done mostly good or bad?
Oh see – I’ll get in trouble. I won’t get on the show now will I?
I think mostly, it’s helped people who don’t have any gay representation in their towns. They see something on mainstream TV and they realise “yep, that’s me and that’s who I wanna be” or “that’s how I’m feeling inside”. I literally came out after I watched Drag Race, it didn’t make me come out but it made me realise “OK, there are more people out there who are like me, who are gender confused, who are less educated.” The show educated me on the bits my school missed out because school never taught me anything about gender or sexual studies.
In the drag world, it can sometimes put the queens who are on the show into the mainstream quickly but leave all the locals out. Sometimes you can go to a club and Danielle from Scunthorpe will come up to you and ask if you’ve seen Drag Race UK and that you should go on it. And it’s like, well, no we’ve been doing this, we don’t need to go on Drag Race, we’ve got our own scene.
I don’t think people need Drag Race. That’s the issue, as it becomes more popular and more brand-able, clubs will pay the higher fees and only book the Drag Race girls, whereas before, the girls that weren’t on Drag Race were getting great incomes and being able to work really, really well.
But you have to ask the question are those girls going to have to go on Drag Race to keep their income the same in 6 years’ time? At the end of the day, this is people’s business. If the jobs disappear for local girls in exchange for Drag Race girls, the scenes that we love like in Manchester and Brighton (that we all love), will die out with the girls that aren’t going on Drag Race. That’s why we have to show as much representation on Drag Race as well.
And that’s what upsets me. Drag Race UK said it was the most diverse (I’m really going in, I’m sorry). I don’t think they are the most diverse. You should see how diverse this city alone is in the fact that we have gender non-conforming queens, queens who identify themselves as female, trans-queens, trans-kings, everything – we have everything! That’s the issue, Drag Race don’t show that because they don’t believe that’s drag.
Do they have their own definition of Drag?
Yeah exactly that, they have their own definition. RuPaul made it very verbal. A tweet along the lines of making a comment that trans women can’t be drag queens. Even if they’re drag queens before they transition and during their transition, working hard in the circuit. But in reality, anyone can be a drag queen.
He does say a good quote though, ‘you’re born naked and the rest is drag’. If society wasn’t there we’d all be walking around naked and having a great time and not feeling shame. Drag is like you putting on a costume to make yourself feel more acceptable or it’s what we do by putting on a societal costume and making a different narrative about it.
If society wasn’t a thing we’d all be wearing drag, there wouldn’t be girls and boy’s clothes.
Shame is learnt, when did you start feeling embarrassment? You didn’t feel embarrassment when you were 5 running around the garden naked. You felt shame when you were in school and being forced to go in the girls or boy’s toilets just because of your genitals. That’s crazy. Some guy was like ‘your genitals look like that guys so you get in those toilets’. And this completely disregards intersex people and people who don’t conform to the mould. It’s quite upsetting.
And I’m not a gender warrior, I’m not a professor on anything. But my job gives me the opportunity to meet so many different people. You grow close to people in this line of work who have these issues and you listen.
I have a lot of privilege, I’m a white male – that has so much privilege in this world. If I can take my microphone that society has given me and give it to the person society doesn’t give it to then that gives me the opportunity to help them speak. I can’t speak for anybody else because everyone has different experiences. But I can at least hold the microphone up.
But yeah it’s good – Drag Race is great – I can’t wait to be on it!
If you could ask any drag queen a question, what would it be and to who?
I’d ask Juno Birch, ‘Why are you so stunning?’.
For context, Juno Birch is my drag sister, we are very, very close. We live across the road from each other. She did a video with Vogue where she said ‘people wanna know why I’m so stunning’.
Even this. Juno Birch is a transwoman and a drag queen. That’s representation. You wouldn’t differentiate who she is because she’s trans. But she is one of the most talented human beings I’ve ever met, ever. But she still couldn’t go on Drag Race. She’s the most booked in the city right now, and the most individual character you’d ever meet but she cannot go on that show because she’s trans.
And finally, we wanted to chat a bit about what not to ask a drag queen and what are the weirdest things you get asked?
Loads of stupid things like ‘Where do you put your dick?’. That’s a really intimate personal question.
Or when you get Brenda who’s 45 asking you if you’ll do her make up next week. Or… ‘Did you do your own make up?’, sometimes I play along and say ‘course I didn’t I’m a boy’. And they’ll honestly go ‘I knew it. Hahaha’.
The one I get personally a lot, because I’m very tall, as I walk up to a person I get ‘Are those your real legs?’ and they are genuinely serious! So I go – no they’re wooden and they say ‘I knew it!’.
My power is though; I can get people kicked out of clubs. It’s not even what people ask you. I get a lot of hell – oh, should I talk about this? Go on – I get a lot of hell from businessmen. From proper uppity businessmen because I work in a lot of traditionally straight bars and they’ll come up to me really pissed after being there for 6 hours.
And because you work for the bar that they are in, they think they own you. I’ve had men try to solicit me, I’ve had men try to pull me into the toilets, grab my arse, grab my dick, grab my everything. That’s privilege in a nutshell. These people who have been given these opportunities think they own the world. And it’s upsetting because I wouldn’t get that as a boy, but I get that as a girl.
It’s like as soon as you present a female, they think ‘Oh great we can own you now. Because you’re a woman, we can own you now.’ I’m never going to be able to say I understand the female experience, because I’m not a woman, but that’s the closest I could ever get.
And the thing is, women can’t get out of that costume. I can at least go home, unstrap everything, have a cup of tea and think ‘oh great I’ve got control now’. But women can’t do that. We need to be in a world where women feel safe. And that isn’t the case right now. People think it’s fine and we’re all good and we’ve got rid of all the problems. But we’ve not.
I’m 7 foot and I can get away with a lot. But my main issue is when there’s a 5ft 2 girl in a bar and this 6’4 man, pissed out of his head, billowing over her and she looks uncomfortable, it’s then my responsibility to tell him to fuck off or get a bouncer and get him out. You have a lot of young girls who feel uncomfortable but feel programmed to say nothing. And that’s the hard thing.
I’m not completely male but I’ll apologise for the rest of you.
But yeah – Sorry for going all deep with you there. Shit.
Night of the Living Drag will take place at Cottonopolis this Friday 1st November from 8pm.
Expect to see the talented Lil Queen, Liquorice Black, Banksie and DJ Herion Amor on the night; wearing their most fearless outfits of course!
Night of the Living Drag @ Cottonopolis
Live performances by Lil Queen, Liquorice Black, Banksie, DJ Herion Amor
Date: Friday 1st November
Time: From 8pm