Jonathan OBrien

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[00:00:00] This program is brought to you by pride in zero.com. [00:00:05] I'm Jonathan O'Brian, and I guess I got into drag about six years ago, it had been something that I was kind of interested in from a young age, I sort of first got interested in it and high school, women studying feminist art. And I felt like I connected with a lot of what the feminist artists were trying to say in the 70s. So I decided that if I was ever going to be a drag queen, my name would be Judy Chicago, after the feminist artist who did the dinner party, that's probably one of her most famous pieces. [00:00:41] What were some of the things that you keyed into at high school? What were they saying the feminists, [00:00:49] you know, anyone can be anyone. So like Cindy Sherman posing, and a lot of her self portraits as all these different stereotypes of women, sort of deconstructing, and reconstructing them. And so if you're able to deconstruct an identity, you can create a new one out of anything. And that's kind of what drag is like for me. [00:01:17] So what age were you thinking those thoughts? [00:01:23] there? Well, I had sort of [00:01:26] gender sexuality [00:01:29] issues and high school where I was sort of thinking about, you know, what it means to be gay and what it means to be gay, a few were raised Catholic, what it means to be a boy, like I picked house to school and see what people how people reacted like. And so I just tried to like, you know, destabilize boundaries that I found quite restrictive, and growing up and white middle class Pescara and just started, you know, playing around with how I addressed and how I thought, and it wasn't really until I went to university and moved into Oakland city that I met other people who were gay, and were queer, and performance. And I figured that drag was the kind of performance direction that I wanted to go in. [00:02:29] Just going back to your high school days, how did other people react to what you were doing? [00:02:36] My teachers all thought that I was lovely, and troubled. And most of like other guys at school, which is like, oh, you're a fact? And I was like, Yes. But what does that mean? So I was kind of trying to get more out of them. And that didn't really work. But I'm fully supportive school counselor who was like, right now, things are sort themselves out when you leave high school. And now, the college that I was at was Roseville college, and now they have a really good, queer sexuality support system in place. [00:03:16] So at that age, how do you have that kind of inner strength to kind of challenge stereotypes? [00:03:25] I don't know, where does anyone get their inner strength from really, mom. I had a pretty fierce mother, and fierce grandmother had lots of really strong female role models. So I lived with my mom for a long time after she kicked dead out. And then I lived with my grandmother and grandfather for a while. My grandmother was this bolshie Jewish Holocaust survivor, who was Yeah, she probably taught she lived in a strength. So it was probably a lot from watching people like her. [00:03:58] And so from most high school experiences, what did you take out with that? [00:04:05] That people react to different in different ways? And I guess I learned more about how I responded to their reactions. So if they're negative react, if the reactions were negative, did it actually affect me. And by the time I was finishing high school, it didn't, and sort of set me up for just being comfortable with doing whatever I felt like [00:04:32] doing, I guess, how did your family react? [00:04:36] When I first came out to my dad, I was probably 18. And he said to me, like he was all fine with it was like, guess what? We've sort of, you know, known that for a while. But do you want to be a woman? And as I noted, I'm gay. I like the idea of two cocks together the point. And then, two years later, I started doing drag. And I didn't really know how he'd react to that, because of the question he asked when I first came out. So one night, I was living with him at the time. And one night, he and my stepmother had gone out. So I was just, you know, practicing makeup at home and just got into full drag. And then I was just sitting in the lounge, watching TV, and they came home from being out. No, I was just in there with a big blond wig and bright blue dress. And they just walked in and looked at me and said, Hi, son, so will we be seeing you like this more often? And I just said, Yes. And it was fine. [00:05:42] So how do you see drag? Is it a performance thing? Or is it something more? [00:05:49] Originally, when I first started doing it, I guess it was something more, I wasn't really sure of my own gender situation. And what being male or female really mean, for me. And I've been doing lots of theater as well. So I sort of mixed the issues together and found myself a drag mother and started doing drag regularly, and then it kind of became a shield or a sort of armor. And I think that's something for a lot of drag queens is that being in drag is kind of like, you know, putting up a defense almost, or a mask. that affords you a lot of confidence and distance from people. So, you know, I didn't have to worry about whether or not a guy liked me, because I wasn't out looking for six, I was out being glamorous, and tragic, and outrageous. And at that point, in the early point, when I was first doing Dre, like my drag character was quite distinct from me as Jonathan. And I guess I wasn't sure who I wanted to be. And so sometimes I'd spend a lot of time and drag and maybe go to university and drag. And then as my life progressed, and I got more experience, with relationships, and sex, I kind of realized that not being male was what I wanted to be, and being a man with a man was where I was most comfortable. And drag just became more of a performance space hobby, something fun to do something to entertain people with, something she's insane myself with, and didn't really I didn't really need to hold it as that sort of magic feather. [00:07:57] I didn't need to, you know, hold on to track to be able to fly. [00:08:02] I'm wondering if you could define drag? What How would you define drag, [00:08:08] I guess track to me would mean, a member of one See, performing and presenting themselves and an over the top manner, representative of the agenda traditionally recognized as the opposite to what they were born into. [00:08:35] But there's an element of four months, that as a key things, [00:08:41] yeah, and definitely perform well, I mean, even if you're not onstage, it's still a performance. Like, you don't just go out as a drag king or a drag queen, you go out and you are performing. [00:08:56] you're performing in character, really? [00:09:02] How long did it take for you to find your direct character? [00:09:09] Well, I found three that [00:09:15] it didn't take long at all really late. I had a really good drag mother, who name was is to see. And she was very good makeup artist and very confident and very camp and very hilarious and witty, and I just emulated a lot of her behaviors in styles. And sort of found myself quite quickly and ended up winning Miss drag Auckland. About [00:09:50] eight months after I started doing drag. [00:09:53] So that was the end. Yeah, I found that my interests and you know, like, Hi, cam, and old Broadway musicals and catch glamour and tragic heroes and all sorts of like, gay archetype all kinds of characters that a lot of the nightclub scene, were unfamiliar with, or went into, sort of fell into all those things fell into my basket, and nobody else was really doing them at the time. So yeah, firmed up a character for me quite nicely. And mean, as I just experimented with different looks, and different styles of music and different styles of makeup and different eras and different aspects of performance and personality, I found other people to be dirty Chicago's alter egos. [00:10:53] Just before we get on to a description of the personas, can you tell me how you go about finding a dream, ma. [00:11:01] So I'd been on the gay scene and Auckland for about two years before I started doing drag, and I'd seen all the drag queens around, and I had no idea how to sort of get into doing that I didn't just want to turn up, no wig, and an ugly dress made of curtains with a bit of makeup smeared on my face. Because you just you know, get laughed out of town. So um, one of my friends was friends with a couple of drag queens and I met him at her 21st birthday. And she introduced me to them and I got the number and then hung out with them. And then you know, just said yeah, I'd love for you to put me in drag. [00:11:47] And so she did you just find someone latch yourself to them. What was that first experience like? [00:11:58] It was hitting. It was mixed with a lot of drugs, and alcohol and heels that I couldn't walk in properly and address from an op shop. But amazing hair and makeup. And I just felt like a movie star. And felt like I had a exist anywhere I wanted to go [00:12:23] and could get away with anything. [00:12:27] So describe for me the your personas. Okay, well [00:12:33] Judy, Chicago is sort of my like, base character. And she is more or less me now really. Then drag, but you know, exaggerated so she's a lot camper and she's a bit fruity and she likes jazz and Judy Garland and floral, and big hair, big, big hair. Gertrude Steyn is quite ugly, but clever and interested in cooking, and a hideous 70s prints and curly hair and glasses. And nylon polymer is kind of a bit of a trip. And it's just usually in white face and bizarre postmodern blend of things like laundry baskets, and Marie Antoinette here and KBS, and the three of them get along well, in my head, [00:13:44] do you find taking you over? [00:13:48] No matter at all I did used to feel that Judy Chicago was taking over when I was, you know, going through a bit of an identity crisis. And, you know, if I was feeling down or depressed, I would fall back into that confident persona that I had constructed. And that confident persona just happened to be a drag queen. So sometimes, you know, not feel like I could go out to a club, not in drag, because I didn't feel confident enough for I didn't feel pretty enough for dinner. [00:14:23] So talk to me about identity crises. [00:14:26] I guess for a while I was living with my parents who lived? Well, I was living with my father who lived on the shore. So I had to come into town to socialize with anyone and I had a lot of different groups of friends. And I felt like I was a different person with each of these different groups of friends. And I was trying to work out who I was without them, and who I felt comfortable being and who I wanted to be and how I wanted to be seen as being. And at that point, I just didn't really feel like being Jonathan, I guess I didn't know who he was. But I had a more definite idea of who Judy Chicago was. So she Yeah, she kind of took over. And yeah, for a lot of other drag queens I've spoken to they feel like their drag personas can take over a lot as well. And sometimes you just got to put the drag in a bag and hide her. [00:15:27] Now, drag wasn't confined to those personas, because you're also doing some study around that area as well, when you [00:15:37] Yeah, I was while I was doing a degree in psychology and linguistics. So I was quite interested in gender and language. And I was also the Cultural Affairs Officer for the Students Association. I got Judy Chicago to run as that position, which just made it a little bit more fun for me and for anyone else really. And I did a research project on how drag queens in Oakland spoke, and how that differed from how that would speak as gay men or how they would speak as men in general. And it's looked at the intersection ality of the different cultural groups around Auckland and the influences that they all had on drag culture. So there's a strong pollination and Mahdi influence on a lot of just some of the phrases that people say. And that's probably because there's a high population of Polynesian amount of people who are involved in the queer community in Auckland, especially in the performance industry as well. And that's where a lot of drag went like some of the best drag queens in New Zealand pollination. And just also looking at, like the influence of African American drag on or African American gay culture on gay culture and New Zealand and how that affects the way drag queens speak and act and the looks that they adopt as well. And then looking at sort of our trans Tasman relationship with Sydney and Sydney has a very sort of polished glamorous drag image and at the moment Auckland's looking a lot more like Sydney track wise. [00:17:31] So can you give me some examples in terms of speech or looks? [00:17:36] I guess. [00:17:38] There's just all sorts of little things like a lot of drag queens will say good know, instead of girl and it's a guy thing as well and killed a sister and talking about someone being fun. Oh, she found out she gay. Is he gay? Is he family? A little pillory? Fraser, like Ryan O'Brien when you're talking about a wig and showing and trolling and political No, see, there's just lots of little. There's lots of little idiosyncrasies that strong personalities have that rub off on others as well. Like an right beta has a way of talking that it's very loud and scary and powerful. And a lot of people put that on sometimes. [00:18:30] Just For the uninitiated, could you go back through some of those words and define what they are? [00:18:35] So putting a political OC as a drag queens policy, and it's usually covered up by three pairs of stockings. And Obermeyer is a lace front wig, trolling, you know, trolling portrayed stalking for boys to have sex with or John's clients whenever [00:19:02] cracking it, basically prostitution? [00:19:06] Is prostitution a big thing in the in the drug scene? [00:19:10] Not really, no. [00:19:12] I don't know many drag queens who [00:19:16] actually work as prostitutes in drag, just because it's so much effort to get and drag, you don't want it to, you know, get smashed off by some big a Mega Man. That's probably not really worth the trouble. I mean, doing drag is relatively expensive if you're doing it. Well, suppose, although in saying that you can actually do drag really cheaply. And amazingly, it just depends on what Look, you're going for, really, the $2 shop in the warehouse at [00:19:48] most drag queens favorite shops, I think. [00:19:54] But, ya know, I know a few girls, so sometimes, maybe for new week, or whatever. [00:20:00] But I don't think it's [00:20:03] a large aspect of drag culture. [00:20:07] So what were your findings in your research, [00:20:11] I guess I just found the importance of understanding the way of the drag queen spoke so that you could speak their language and be part of the community. And so reinforcing solidarity through this stylized form of discourse. And, you know, it's a sense of belonging, a sense of exclusivity almost. And a sense of family. And I think, you know, for a lot of young gay men coming into the gay scene kind of lost, and you see this sort of drag sisterhood as a ready made group that you can be adopted into, you just learn the customs and the practices, and you have a family. [00:21:02] So it's quite friendly, there's, there's not a competitive edge. [00:21:06] It's, I'd say, it's very competitive. But that competition and itself reinforces the friendships. So you know, you're constantly trying to make yourself better, and your friends are trying to make you better and make themselves better, and you give each other a hard time to make each other. Try harder. So it can be really bitchy, but it's unjust most of the time. And, you know, you can rely on your sisters if you need. [00:21:38] If you found that it's mostly gaming that do drink or do, do do straight men do drag as well? [00:21:46] Well, yeah, a lot of straight men do do drag, I mean, with the queen of the whole universe, and New Zealand, that kind of presents an opportunity for a whole lot of people to do drag in a really structured and safe environment. So, you know, they go through rehearsals, they get told how to dress or what style to dress, they have someone else doing their makeup for them. And I guess people who do drag occasionally, and really drag queens as such, because they're not immersed in the culture and the practice, but there's something they can do for fun. And I'm like, I know which Queen of the whole universe we've had large numbers of straight men and straight women and gay women, and mostly gay men come through and performance queens every year. And the whole bio Queen movement is growing all over the world saw bio Queen as a woman who dresses up as a drag queen. So, you know, you could almost say Lady Gaga is a bio Queen, that I'm my favorite bio Queen would be funny, who's an amazing performance artist. She's involved in the traineeship group in the States, and she's just fearless. [00:23:08] And we've also got a few bio queens and New Zealand as well. [00:23:12] You know, it's just girls kind of saying that hyper femininity, is this arena that isn't really open to them very often anymore. And they want to, you know, draw their eyebrows at pie and put ridiculous amounts of eyeshadow on and dry wigs. And why have an excuse to do it when you can just go out and be a queen? [00:23:40] What do you think is the biggest thrill for you doing drag? [00:23:44] I have the most fun and drag when I'm hanging when I'm with other drag queens and performing. So getting the buzz of you know, rehearsing and putting together a show and in being on stage with the people you've been working with or in front of people. And being a spectacle, yeah, a lot of it is just about making something fabulous and having a good time doing it. [00:24:17] Is drag all about the kind of present in the now or does it have a history of people aware of a history and drink? [00:24:24] Yeah, definitely. There's a long history. I've done a lot of research on the history of drag and looked into different forms of drag around the world and different forms of you know, gender transgression or subversion. are we different? I find all of that really interesting. Where's the drag queens are just like Brittany's so fucking hot on a look like, right now. And that's cool, you know, is you don't need the history to be amazing. But it's cool to not It's fantastic to know that. Even in New Zealand, we have a strong local history of drag going back about 15 years. [00:25:03] And how is that passed down if you hadn't gone researched? I mean, is it in within the community within drag queens themselves are passing that history down. [00:25:14] And in Wellington, we lack a lot of drag history now because most of all the drag queens have moved on. And so we've got a lot of often drag queens or motherless drag queens, but I'm not in Auckland, there's affiliate steady, generational handing down of the knowledge of drag and knowledge of the girls who came before and, you know, have things like the cardiac trust and that sort of thing that recognize that, you know, these people have been pretty fabulous. And they've been around for a while and the knowledge of who these people are. It's definitely around. Like most of the drag queens around today would know about performances in the early 90s and 80s, the studio and staircase and things like that. [00:26:07] And how's that history seen those older drag queens and the memories that they celebrated? Or as that they set up as something that was kind of weird, or? [00:26:19] Yeah, again, it all depends on which drag queen is around like, some older drag queens and just saying is a bit weird. And in some of them a celebration for beings completely outrageous and of their time or before their time. And some of them is still the most famous pitches around. [00:26:42] Do you think there's any kind of age limit for people and doing drink? [00:26:47] Definitely not not pay detail, it's still doing dragon. [00:26:53] He's probably like 100 years old by now. [00:26:57] And he's still fabulous. And the youngest person I know who's doing drag was probably about 14. But there's also, you know, blurry lines with transgender issues as well. You know, some people start out as a drag queen or doing drag and or cross dressing or whatever. And then they start doing it more often. And then that person becomes who they are and who they want to be or who they've always wanted to be. So there's Yeah, there are strong links between drag communities and transgender communities and people and individuals. [00:27:38] What do you think the hardest part of doing draggers [00:27:43] for me, probably the hardest part has been juggling drag with a partner. You know, gaming, gaming, because they're attracted to me. And my partner is not attracted to drag queens. Even though he met me when I was in drag, he was, you know, just came to see me as a boy. And that's who he likes. And so when I'm in drag, he kind of feels like I'm a different person. And not the person that he's enough with. But he understands that I'm still there. I'm just playing. So yeah, juggling my sisters with my boyfriend is probably paying the trickiest part of being a drag queen. [00:28:30] And the funnest part, [00:28:31] the funnest part is stumbling down to the kebab shop with a bunch of drag queens whose lips have been getting bigger and bigger all night. gorging yourself before getting a taxi home. And just the looks on your own faces around you with these three tragic queens, or four tragic queens or two or five, whatever. Just looking completely, completely conspicuous and out of place. [00:29:00] So talk to me about reactions, like when you're walking around in town. Did they vary from city to city? [00:29:08] Yeah, reactions definitely go from city to city. And straight to straight as well. Like, if you're going down k road, it's kind of knowing that that's where drag queens live. And if you're going to drink, if you're going to K road, on a weekend night, you're going to bump into a drag queen. So [00:29:29] you're on the turf? Pretty much. And [00:29:33] yeah, I never really had it. I think once somebody said to me, what makes you think you can get away with wearing there? And I just said, because I can. And they're like, oh, okay, and that was fine. And then, in pants north, I did a gig with a friend. And the cake was it. I think it was a club q i think that's what's called there. And so when we finished go out, right, let's go hit the town. And we were denied from about four or five different clubs, because we didn't meet the dress code. And we weren't even wearing anything particularly outrageous or skimpy. And yet, it was just clear that we weren't welcome there. As we find that we ended up finding one place that would lead us and but three actions were particularly positive. And then in Wellington, like on Cuba straight, pretty much everything's fine. And then you walk down Courtney place and you get called faggot by a bunch of guys and beautiful by their girlfriends. So it just depends on who you bump into. And who's out at the time. [00:30:47] Do you get more reaction in drag or just as a boy, [00:30:53] definitely get more reactions and drag. I mean, as a boy, I mostly just wear black and gray and blue. And drag I mostly wear purple and fuchsia and lime. Bright colors. And yeah, people really let people really appreciate it. And most places that end up, a lot of people just come up to me like, you know, thank you for just getting a little bit of color. And that's really nice, because that's kind of a big part of the reason why drag queens do it is because they want to bring a bit of color to something and make people happy and make sure that people are having fun. Sometimes that fun, isn't welcome. [00:31:44] That's fine, too. [00:31:47] And in Wellington, there's not much of a drag saying and the community, the gay community isn't really that cane on drag and drag performances. And I just think that's because there's no real like strong drag coordinator. Like we used to have Polly fella living in Wellington. And she was great at holding a drag community together and organizing events and being a great role model for people. And when she left, I think a lot of that just dissipated. And so Wellington I guess is waiting for its next true diva to stand up and unite the Queens. [00:32:31] So we're talking just before about drag models. And I'm wondering, you now a drag Mother, do you have drag children? [00:32:40] Well, now that I'm an elderly six year old drag queen. [00:32:44] Yeah, I have I do have drag children I [00:32:49] I didn't for a long time because I didn't really know anyone who sort of fitted what I would want an a daughter. But I'm one of my dear friends who shared a lot of things my interests and gender and performance and color. And the film and theater and music. I, she he hates he, he had you know, watched me to drag for about two years. And I sort of suggested that maybe he would be interested. And I was living with him at the time. And he was just like, Oh, yes, yes. Oh, god, yes, I want to be your daughter, please. And you know, I wanted someone I could share my style with and share the the films and history that had sort of inspired me like a lot of john waters films, and Andy Warhol's films and the drag queens of New York that I was really interested in. And the rockets and so yeah, I just showed him all of that. And then one night, we just last night, right, he has a bunch of old costumes that you can have, and that his face and showed him how to do her face and put her in a few weeks and started taking her out. So I have my own daughter. And her name is Gaia Octavia seizure. [00:34:16] And she's very much an Earth Mother [00:34:19] in sequence. And I also have a stepdaughter as well, whose own mother passed away. And so I sort of adopted her. I guess for me, being a drag queen has been really useful and finding out who I am and finding out what I can do and who I can be. And I made a lot of really, really, really good friends through drag. Whereas sometimes all we have in common to begin with is the fact that we want to dress up in ridiculous costumes and run around town screaming and progress from there. So yeah, I just really appreciate everything that I've got from my involvement with drag and drag performers and the performers associated with that culture. [00:35:11] What's your ultimate drag act? [00:35:13] I really like drag, and theater and acting and comedy. Like I really like the drag that happens in New York, a lot of it's a little bit itchy. And that's lyst defined and its boundaries of what is drag, like, some drag queens will say that you know, to be a drag queen, you've got to be wearing away and go. You've got to be wearing heels or whatever. And in others will be like all you need is some lip gloss and some bright eyeshadow and who gives a fuck about wearing to whatever. And yeah, I like those nice destabilized performance types. Yeah. But I also really liked the high glamour that happens and kind of female impersonator shows where people dress up or share or anything like that. What What am I my one of my favorite shows that I ever did was I did a half male, half female, half man, half woman, cabaret for the often festival in 2005. And that was a lot of fun, because it was quite challenging actually creating a male character who had to be just as extreme as the drag side. And so you know, I already had Judy Chicago established as a persona, that jack London needed to find himself and so he just became this revolting, sort of sleazy Jewish used car salesman, wannabe stand up comedian. And so for that show, Judy sang and jack interrupted her and get trying to tell jokes and it was in a really intimate space in the winter garden and the Civic and I just, I really enjoyed being involved in something like a cab ride like that.

This page features computer generated text of the source audio - it is not a transcript. The Artificial Intelligence Text is provided to help users when searching for keywords or phrases. The text has not been manually checked for accuracy against the original audio and will contain many errors.