SIN FOR VICTORY
Words Jodie Finch Photography Greg Bailey Styling Sarah Booth
Victoria Sin, is an exciting face to see on the drag scene. Raised in Toronto, Sin left at eighteen to study art in London where they now reside. Sin, in their own words, ‘uses drag as a tool to challenge gender binaries, expectations and attitudes on femme identities’. With an overblown Jessica-Rabbit-meets-Marilyn-Monroe aesthetic, an incredible eloquence and knowledge, Sin is taking the drag scene head on to show that it’s a million other things than just a man in a dress. We had a chat with them to talk about why it’s so crucial to speak up as a female-bodied queen in 2017, now more than ever.
What do you feel the difference is between female illusion, gender performance and drag?
Female illusion is someone trying to pass as a cis-gendered woman. (Cis-gender - a person who feels their gender corresponds with their birth sex). Female illusion a term I've heard used historically relating to drag, but it’s not great as it infers that someone who is not a cis-gendered woman can't be a 'true' woman, or that being a woman is bound up in some kind of 'authentic' performance of femininity. Gender performance is a broad term that relates to the idea that gender is not something that one is but rather something you're always doing, and drag is the parodic performance of gender, but these days could equally be the parodic performance of a bin, a Christmas tree or supermarket carrier bag.
Many people’s first exposure to drag in the UK is through things like pantomime, as someone who grew up outside of the UK is this something you feel has influenced style and opinions on drag here?
I definitely noticed the difference between UK and North American drag. I used to go to drag shows a lot when I was seventeen in Canada, and started watching Rupaul's Drag Race when I moved over to London when I was eighteen. UK drag is a bit more genderfuck I find, with a heavy influence from people like Leigh Bowery who dressed up not just to imitate gender but to blow gender out of the water completely. I think I had to move to London to do drag - I met people like Holestar, the 'tranny with a fanny' who was really unapologetic about being a woman on the drag scene, and many more people who were using drag away from the traditional and RuPaul molds.
Do you think phrases such as ‘bio-queen’ or ‘faux-queen’ are damaging to performers?
Although I understand many performers identify with those terms, I personally don't. The term bio queen suggests gender essentialism; there is nothing essential or biological about the performance of femininity. Faux queen is silly because I'm not a fake drag queen, again everyone is performing gender all the time and actually the fact that women go through the world having femininity policed on their bodies gives them a unique knowledge to parody it.
Why do you think that female drag is seen by some as a threat to ‘traditional’ drag, rather than an exciting development?
A lot of the LGBT community has a problem with internalised homophobia, toxic masculinity (being seen to be ‘real’ men, i.e. femmephobia, the term straight-acting etc). Unfortunately, drag and the gay community are one of the last places where misogyny goes un-noticed, female-bodied performers are making these communities look at themselves and their attitudes towards gender.
Do you think ‘drag king’ performers are less common because of this?
Yes. They're not given as much space or as much of a platform. The same way queer women's spaces have all but disappeared, as they were always more precarious anyways. We unfortunately live in a world where people are more comfortable to laugh at “femininity”, than a parodic performance of masculinity.
How would you like to see female drag celebrated?
I would like to see more female-bodied queens being booked for gigs in gay spaces and given the same reverence as male performers. More members of the LGBT community that are not affected by misogyny should be speaking up for our rights and our place within the community. Lets be allies for one another.
How do you think female drag queens can have a positive impact on young people of any gender?
I think young people getting into drag is a great thing, maybe instilling from an early age that gender is something that can be played with rather than something to measure people against.
Your drag takes inspiration from icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Jessica Rabbit. Why do you think that these old Hollywood icons are still ingrained and widely transcribed in and out of drag?
They're kind of foundational to images of femininity today. People are still doing Marilyn Monroe but adapted for the time. The image of femininity is always evolving but it's always a reification of a previous image. Though now I would say plastic surgery has had a really interesting effect on it in the past decade.
Who do you feel pioneers a more diverse take on drag?
I think the most interesting figures who are making me think hard about gender performance are people who aren't actually drag queens. Amanda Lepore will always be my number one drag inspiration. Looking at images and videos of her makes me feel an absolute devotion and reverence to femininity. Her look is so completely and sublimely constructed, but it gives me a sense of longing that is confusing and thrilling.
How did growing up in a traditional Chinese household affect your movement into drag and gender performance? Did it light a fire under you to pursue your work or do you feel that it made you more cautious?
Growing up in a Chinese family, gender was heavily instilled. My brother and I were treated very differently and I was highly aware of that. My grandmother was obsessed with my looks and suitability for marriage, and my father was really oppressively overprotective of me. It made me really angry and I think made me think about gender a lot from an early age. But my mother is white, and I think growing up in a western society with a white mother made me think equally about how whiteness is bound up in ideas of femininity.
You’re incredibly eloquent and well-read on gender theory, do you feel this is necessary to navigate culture and society as a performer that some see as ‘controversial’?
Yes, having the ability to articulate people’s negative opinions back to them when they try to invalidate me as a performer has helped me immensely, it’s also helped me navigate within a racist and misogynist world, but it’s not always enough. It’s important for people who are not affected by these things in the LGBT community to be allies and stand up for ‘controversial’ performers and members of the community, especially when we’re not there to defend ourselves.
FOLLOW VICTORIA ON INSTAGRAM: @SINFORVICTORY