Note: I wrote this about a week ago as a way to vent out my frustrations. It’s unedited and I have barely proof read it which I may regret, but I want the initial message of frustration that I felt to be out then and unignored- this was written after I hosted a drag night at my university’s club, the Forum.
If you know me, you know that I have been attempting to bring drag events to my university located in a small town and a 22 minute train journey from London. As it so near to London, most students just go there and don’t question the lack of LGBT+ scene within Hertfordshire (where the university is located). Whilst I don’t blame them, I thought bringing drag to the university would be a great way to introduce people to queer artists they would not have gone out and seen for themselves, and a way for me to bring some of my London favourites to my town.
Being a university, the main crowd is straight cisgender white people aged around 18-22. This can be both a blessing and a curse: a straight crowd are the easiest crowd to impress, but it also means that I feel like the actual LGBT+ students on campus may feel underrepresented. However, we do have our weekly socials- and these are for anyone who may wish for a more safe space than a university pub, but they are often not for everyone. The events are completely free and open to anyone, so that is probably why they are often so successful- I rarely get the chance to chat to people at them, but the last two that we have done have been a huge hit and I am so, so excited to do more and introduce even more people to the wonderful art of drag.
There are still downsides though- recently, I decided to have a shot in the dark and host an event in the smallest room of the Forum (the university’s central club location) and see if people would be willing to pay money to come to a Halloween drag show. The night fell after our society’s Halloween party and, most likely our downfall, one of the most attended nights on campus- Cheeky Wednesday’s Halloween party. As soon as I saw how many people were attending, I knew we were pretty much screwed- add that to the fact that none of the details were finalised until the day (and even then some were still up in the air) and you have a night that is under-promoted and unorganised due to little and, in some cases, no communication.
I put everything I could into the event due to only planning it a matter of two weeks beforehand, got posters organised and put around campus (these would have been put out earlier if I hadn’t of been working constantly) and spread the word as much as I could. I asked my boss who works under events if we could mark it as a Student Union event rather than an LGBT+ Society event, because I know we don’t have the funds for it, and she said this was fine- she gave me little details, but I assumed everything was sorted as I sent her an extensive email that listed everything that needed to be done in detail. This didn’t end up happening, but I’ll get to that later.
On Wednesday night, after seeing our low amount of ticket sales and just simply looking at the amount of people leaving to go out for Cheeky, I honestly felt enraged. For a moment, I couldn’t place why- this event had already sold out, and it was easily going to be a big night, why did it make me so upset? The reason is because when I looked at the hoards of people walking there, and remembered that they had sold out (which means they would have had to sell around 2,600+ tickets, by the way) I realised that no matter how much blood, sweat and tears I put in an event, as long as it remains on campus, I can probably never dream of it being that successful. Selling out the Forum for a drag based, LGBT+ night would honestly be my dream- but I don’t think it can ever happen without intense promotion and probably a Rupaul’s Drag Race girl. It’s frustrating, to say the least. People will scream for drag artists, they’ll say they want more but are they willing to pay for it? Are they willing to give queer art, and the queer artists putting it on, their money? Lately, I feel like the answer is no- they are so desperate to see drag and revel in it and sometimes even co-opt it, but they are not willing to give back to the community that paved the way for it- and that’s part of the problem.
People will turn their nose up at a local drag show that costs more than £5- they’ll go to DragWorld and claim to love the local talent there, but rarely ever bother to make an effort to go and see them. Why is this? Do we only love queer art when we can take something from it, when we can gain something and we don’t have to invest our money into it? Drag takes too much work, time and money for those who watch it to not give back to the community- at least that’s how I see it.
The sad thing is, often, this lack of support can often come from other LGBT+ people themselves, even the ones I see every week at the society. I saw so few of them at the Thursday event that I honestly felt disheartened, but I thank the ones that came profusely. Support your LGBT+ friends around you, especially if they’re trying to put on LGBT+ events in a place that rarely has any- if the events don’t go well, it means even less queer events, and I feel as if people often struggle to understand this. The only LGBT+ events that have done well at the Forum are those that are not so ‘in your face’, those that are subtly queer rather than obvious. The ones that the gays know as an LGBT+ event, but the straights do not, so they can feel safe and unthreatened- a feeling most LGBT+ people rarely experience. I’m going to look into venues over the next few weeks that may actually let me organise a gay as f*ck event at their venue, because you can bet that I’m stamping the words of LGBT+ all over it- it isn’t about making things unthreatening for straight people, it’s about making it safe for us. Even though people may be turned away by an obviously queer night, they are people we would not want there anyways.
Support queer art. Support your friends and those who you don’t know either but are fans of their work. If you see a queer artist struggling, help them, even if you cannot give them money because that is not what everyone is looking for- I sometimes just want someone to lend a hand, someone who I can pass a job onto if I’m not feeling up to it or have too much on my plate. I actually had more stuff I wanted to include but I’m not going to turn this into a bitchfest; I, a queer artist, was hugely fucked over by my Student Union and I am going to be bitter about it until we are given the money we are owed back, but that is not what the focus is here. The focal point is that if you don’t support queer art, queer venues, they disappear. And I’m fully aware nobody wants that.