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Drag Race Down Under’s Etcetera Etcetera on calling out racism in the LGBTQ community

Exclusive: "Being queer doesn’t absolve you from being prejudiced," the drag star tells Attitude.

By Alastair James

Word: Alastair James; pictures: BBC Pictures

In a week of big conversations on the previous use of Blackface by some of the contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under, Etcetera Etcetera has said that “it’s an opportunity to look at the wider more systemic issues of racism in the queer community.”

The Aussie queen, who identifies as trans-non-binary, says the conversation is an opportunity for the whole community to explore these issues. Prior to the show’s debut, Scarlet Adams apologised after being called out for using Blackface in past shows.

Fellow contestant Karen from Finance has also apologised for a tattoo and her collection of dolls that depict racist caricatures.

The fifth episode of Drag Race Down Under saw the queens create commercials for yeast spreads, which is always a bit of a Marmite topic… The judges certainly didn’t love Etcetera’s advert, criticising her for going too far (see Etcetera’s thoughts below!) In the end, she landed in the bottom alongside Maxi Shield and sadly had to sashay away.

Speaking exclusively to Attitude, Etcetera Etcetera talks about interaction with her fans, identifying as trans-non-binary and what’s next…

First question: Do you still hate Kita Mean’s Ry-cycled look?

Haha! Yes! Haha! No! On the show, I was there and was like, ‘you know what, this ball look has rubbed me up the wrong way’. At the end of the day, it was coming out of me thinking why my look didn’t do well. I don’t understand. It was more coming out of the fact I didn’t understand the whole situation, less about her look specifically. I think anyone could have been in that position being safe and I would have wondered, ‘Why are they there?!’

But yeah, it was an ugly look. She can leave that look in the McDonald’s children’s playground and I’ll keep my lovely lilac couture, thank you!

You mentioned a couple of times on the show that you weren’t getting feedback because you were safe. In terms of the feedback you did get, have you been able to use that since leaving the show?

I’m kind of a d*ckhead in that I love to take the things that people don’t like about me and turn them into my entire personality. Ru and Michelle said it’s a bit far to piss into a cup on Drag Race, so I went and released a song and music video about piss. They said, ‘don’t do this or don’t do that’.

I look at that and think ‘how can I take it to a point that it becomes so ridiculous that it does become good?’ I think the only reason they didn’t like my commercial was that I held back. Had I let the Pit Crew pee in my mouth they would have liked it a bit more. I could tell that’s what Ru really wanted.

So, do you agree at all with the feedback you got about your commercial?

I think it was the funniest commercial! I think it was so funny. I watched it back and I was laughing and the room full of people I was having a screening party with, which are my local audience in the inner west of Sydney, were, as we say in Australia “cacking” themselves. They loved it!

That’s the drag I do. I started my drag career around filthy, unconventional, irreverent drag queens and that’s my sense of humour, I guess.

And is that the same for a lot of drag Down Under?

We do get down and dirty. We are a bit disgusting and that’s not for everyone. 

You were part of a big discussion about the use of Blackface by drag queens in the past. What was that like in the workroom?

That was followed by me saying ‘I’m not going to talk anymore on this because I’m not a person of colour’. I suppose I’m just being an ally and sticking up for communities of colour by saying this and calling [Scarlet] out. At the end of the day, the conversation needs to be continued by people of colour. This is an opportunity for allies to look at their own behaviour and how they’re supporting their friends of colour and it’s an opportunity to look at the wider more systemic issues of racism in the queer community.

Why did the clubs that Scarlet worked at allow her to perform those numbers? Why did the queens backstage when she was putting on her Blackface not say anything? It’s easy to look at Scarlet as the one source of this problem, but it’s everywhere. And I think it needs to be addressed as a wider systemic issue and people of colour need to be platformed generally and their voices heard.

Were you happy it was called out on the main stage in that forum?

I think it’s good to start a conversation on such a big show as Drag Race. Obviously, it’s horrible that Scarlet acted in that way and those things happened.

But I think it’s important to have these conversations on a wider scale and that white people are aware of the fact that you can be a misogynist if you’re queer, you can be a racist if you’re queer. Being queer doesn’t absolve you from being prejudiced.

There’s been some criticism online of the way the show has handled the issue. What do you think about that?

I think these topics are very nuanced and require a lot of detail to fully deconstruct and I don’t think you’re ever going to get that on a reality TV show. I think that people need to look into other resources to find that conversation. They need to look into academics of colour that are discussing issues of race on a wider level.

No one’s going to watch a reality TV show and get all the education they need around an issue. If they do, they’re simplifying the issue too much.

Are you happy with Scarlet’s apology?

It’s not for me to accept. I’m not a person of colour, that apology is not for me to accept. I have no opinion on it.

Moving on, what was it like being on the show?

It was very overwhelming. It was like being put in a washing machine and tumbled around and spat out! It was very crazy! Especially being the youngest contestant coming from a little club in the inner west of Sydney and performing silly numbers every week to being on the world stage. It was a very big change from my everyday life, but I loved it!

How does it feel being someone who identifies as non-binary being able to showcase that on such a platform?

For me, I’ve become that person I never saw growing up on TV. I think it’s important for everyone to speak their truth and show their true authentic self.  I think everyone would benefit from understanding a little more that you don’t have to conform to certain set boxes in life. You can identify and live your life to make yourself happy and to give yourself the freedom to express yourself.

And is that something drag has helped you with?

Drag for me was a gateway drug to realise I was trans. It was a playground that allowed me to explore the vast intricacies of gender. I think that’s why a lot of conservative people are so worried about drag and get so affronted by it because it really is a tool of self-expression and self-discovery. It allows people to understand who they are, their true authentic voices and dig deeper into what it means to be a human being. 

Is there anything you learnt about yourself on the show?

I can stand in heels for a lot longer than I thought I could. I can hold my pee in for a lot longer than I thought I could. And I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was, and I can stand there and really stick up for what I believe in and hold my own.

What reaction have you had from fans after being on the show?

A really amazing reaction. I think a lot of younger fans have seen someone who believes in the same things as them and identifies with them. I love having conversations with fans and the people who love my work, it’s so fulfilling for me. I wouldn’t even describe them as fans, I would describe them as people I want to hang out with.

They’re all such young, cool, queer people (most of them) and it’s just so validating seeing myself reflected back in the people who love my work. It’s really, really cool.

And what’s next for you?

My single (‘Flush‘) is up and streaming all over the world. Fans are eating it up! It’s so nice to see your work appreciated. I’m walking in Australian Fashion Week this week, which is really exciting being a drag queen on a huge runway, especially in Australia – it’s a big thing. I’ve got so many cool collaborations with brands coming up.

And most of all I’m excited to go on the tour. We get to tour Australia and New Zealand in September, which is so exciting! And I can’t wait to, hopefully, in the future come to the UK and Europe, and America and go all around the world and spread my filthy little [cock]roach juices everywhere!

Am I right in saying you’re part Welsh and Irish?

Yes, I’ve got a lot of mixes, but those are my UK mixes.

So, you’ve definitely got to come to the UK!

I know! My great-grandfather’s family came from Cork in Ireland, so I’ll have to go visit and bob along the river! I’m very buoyant!

RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under is available on the BBC iPlayer every Sunday.