Non-binary drag artist Virgin X on challenging Catholicism with new single 'Splinters'

The American singer talks growing up queer in a conservative town and the "fetishisation of violence upheld within the Catholic church".


Words: Cliff Joannou; Image: Eivind Hansen

The new album from Virgin X, The 4 Corners of X, is a manifesto on how institutionalised ways of thinking have corrupted our relationship with our authentic selves.

As they release the music video for their new single 'Splinter', they talk about this deeply personal collection...

Why are these songs more important now than ever before?

I was raised Catholic in Southern Oregon, in a small town called Talent. I was visibly queer from a very early age. I learned quickly how institutionalised ways of thinking can be a highly toxic environment for people who grow up queer. I would share a pew with a guy I would go to high school with and shake hands saying “Peace be with you” on a Sunday. By Monday he was bashing my head into a locker for being queer. The culprit of this behaviour, to me, lies within the institutionalised ways of thinking that cultivate prejudice and a lack of tolerance. Burn it to the ground!

When did you realise you were different?

I was different from the start. I wore dresses to school from preschool age and felt deeply uncomfortable as a child if I wasn’t presenting in a femme nature. Luckily, I had accepting parents who allowed me to express myself, but unfortunately, I was raised in a small town with a smalltown mentality. People there are vastly conservative and Christian, and for someone as outside the box as me, it wasn’t easy. I found comfort in the creative arts and so I began working as a child actor from the age of six. As someone who was ridiculed and bullied from an early age, it was comforting to pretend I was someone else.

Tell us about the album’s lead single ‘Splinters’.

‘Splinters’ is a track I made with producer Jack Mudd. Pretty much all the sounds you hear on the track were produced with my voice exclusively. Jack brought it all together brilliantly. The song is a comment on the fetishisation of violence upheld within the Catholic church. I also worked with Glen Burrows, who is both a creative force and an incredible engineer. We did ‘Panic’ together on this EP, and we’re currently working on another EP that will be released this winter. ‘Splinters’ was made with zero budget.

How was that creative process for you?

The video was a collaboration between me, photographer Darren Black, artist Darkwah Kyei-Darkwah, and videographer Joe Wood. Darren shot the video, Darkwah directed it, and Joe edited the footage. The song feels like a monster to me, so using the masks of Marco Tullio Siviglia only seemed right. I wanted it to be visceral, animalistic, but also minimal and to the point. It’s a beautifully produced song with dense lyrics and I didn’t want anything complicated. And who doesn’t love a bit of simple black latex on a holy Sunday?!

Sadly, we lost one of the people you worked with on the record, Steven Santa Cruz, to Covid last year.

This EP wouldn’t have been made were it not for Steven’s belief in me, and pushing me to try new things. Steven encouraged me to improvise, play, and just have fun with it! I honour Steven’s contribution to my work by keeping his memory alive in both this and all my future work.

You first broke out on the queer scene as a performer. How did it help with forming your identity?

I came to London to train as an actor, but only really stepped into myself as an artist when I began performing as Virgin — my version of the Virgin Mary — as a gender non-conforming drag entity. Through working within the queer arts, I have learned so much about myself and my own identity… I didn’t even know what ‘non-binary’ was until a few years ago, and suddenly once I did, so much made sense!

Which contemporary artists are you listening to?

Kim Petras is serving some seriously filthy pop right now!

And which classic artists have inspired you?

Tori Amos is my queen. Her audacity against Christianity, the religion she was brought up in like me, and the intelligence with which she challenges the institution will always be a huge inspiration for me.

Favourite album?

Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd.

The ultimate dance record?

The Teaches of Peaches by Peaches — celebrating its 20-year anniversary this year — hands down.

What’s on your Saturday-night playlist?

Andrea di Giovanni, Sailorfag, ELOÏSE mp3, Arca, Snow Tha Product and, for a little emo edge, Ruby Wednesday.

'Splinters' by Virgin X is available to stream now.