As a child, my dad was caught hosting tea parties for his Action Men and making them pink cocktail suits out of scrap fabric.
He grew up as one of seven kids where any hint of queerness or anything camp was genuinely feared. Scared that he was gay, his elder siblings staged an intervention by forcing him to watch football matches and teaching him how to fight.
It would be unsurprising if my dad had dragged this fear of queer culture into adulthood but that’s not the case at all, and my coming out was no big deal within the four walls of my home.
It was a different story within the wider context of my life though. I grew up in a town where any kind of difference made you stand out for all the wrong reasons and it wasn’t easy.
That’s why watching RuPaul’s Drag Race with him – and especially the latest UK episode featuring drag queens Ginny Lemon and Bimini Bon Boulash discussing their non-binary identities – I felt everything from wholesome to empowered.
Ginny and Bimini had a conversation about trans identities without the forced caveat of a gender critical ‘feminist’ chipping in. They humanised gender dysphoria and what it means to not fit into a binary, explaining that forcing over seven billion people to fit into one of two genders just isn’t logical.
Having a conversation about non-binary gender identities beamed from my TV into my childhood home and hearing affirming words bounce off the walls felt euphoric. Watching my parents’ compassionate response to such conversations was like letting the queer into the town that didn’t want it.
Since then, my parents have been keeping up with current affairs within the trans community – asking questions about SNP MP Joanna Cherry who has been vocal in her criticism of plans to reform gender recognition laws in Scotland – and they have shown outrage at any folk who try and make life difficult for trans people.
When the latest national lockdown was announced, I was staying with my parents in my hometown of Chorley, Lancashire. My girlfriend and I made the decision to stay put rather than return to our poky London flat, where we work in the slither of space between the fridge and the sofa.
Fast forward to now, and this is the longest period I’ve spent at home since I was 19, seven years ago.
I’m proud of where I’m from, but there’s no escape from the suffocation of living under a microscope. Any kind of difference makes you stand out for what others may perceive as all the ‘wrong’ reasons.
As a teenager, people crossed the street to stare at me. Back then, my queerness manifested in outlandish fashion and started as early as 10 years old – when I was an Avril Lavigne wannabe dressing in huge skater jeans and Buffalo-esque shoes from Tammy Girl.
It hurt when staring eyes or cutting words tried to steal this part of me. Later, when I was outed by an ex in a Facebook post, lifelong friends immediately cut me off.
My home though, was always a sanctuary away from judgement. I grew up being told that I’d be accepted no matter what and that I could be whatever and whoever I wanted to be.
Even so, I’d never considered that RuPaul’s Drag Race would be something my parents would sit down and watch. I’d made the assumption that they just wouldn’t get it.
That was until my dad strolled in while my partner and I were watching the first episode of the latest American series. He started off watching it passively while playing the online game Words With Friends with someone on the other side of the world.
But he was soon backing different queens – in the UK season, his favourite is fellow Lancashire lass Veronica Green – watching lip sync battles in awe, and learning what it means to ‘throw shade’.
For my dad, who works as a joiner in extremely macho environments, watching the show is a different world and he laughed at my assertion that RuPaul’s Drag Race is mainstream.
He’s a fierce ally and I’ve seen him react passionately to people expressing prejudice. This has always felt comforting because I know he will always defend me.
In August last year, I was attacked on a train and, six weeks later, I was physically assaulted by a group of men in Soho. I was surrounded and punched in the face, leaving me broken and having to take time off work.
I’d been exploring my genderqueer identity around the same time and was slowly finding the language to describe who I was. But just as I was arriving in the world, I was violently silenced and I’ve been grasping for words ever since.
My dad was heartbroken by what had happened. He held back tears on the phone and did what he could to help me rebuild my defiant self-confidence by telling me to come home.
The day my dad took an interest in Drag Race was so healing because it felt like I was showing him my world. Conversations like Ginny and Bimini’s happen all the time in queer circles, but having it broadcast and seen by cis-gendered heterosexual people is incredibly powerful. This level of exposure is a statement: we’re here, we exist, and this is who we are.
Teaching my parents about drag houses and queer culture feels like I’m sharing a part of my identity without having to centre the conversation on me. At a time where I can’t quite vocalise my genderqueer identity, I can let drag queens do the talking.
We’ve since roped my mum in too, and the four of us watch it every week. Even the less profound moments – such as sharing mutual rage about Joe Black’s premature departure – leaves me cladded in a suit of armour in preparation for stepping outside.
It’s clear that in this house, there’s nothing weird about existing outside the gender binary or loving differently.
After watching each episode with my parents, I’m left with a fire in my belly strong enough to fuel state-sanctioned exercise hand-in-hand with my girlfriend. Let them stare. Or, in the words of my Dad, let them “sautée away”.
Credit: Original article published here.