The term ‘Drag Queen’ is something that has been around since 1870 and was first used to describe actors who dressed in women’s clothing. Since then, it has been used to describe men who dress as flamboyant women with an exaggeration on certain characteristics such as makeup and fashion, known mostly for its use in the entertainment industry.
Joe Curran Meller, a third year TV and Video Production student at Solent, partiicaptes in his drag act Jolene Curran. “My name use to be J.O because I used to just dress up in drag and surprise my friends; I’d knock on their bedroom door and they’d be like “Joe, oh my god!”. But the night I told my Mum about doing drag, we sang Jolene on karaoke and she told me if I was a girl I would’ve been called Jolene.” Asked about the second half of the name, Joe explains “I kept my Mum’s last name to carry it on. I feel like that’s why I have it.”
With cheekbones most women would kill for and a friendly smile, Joe walked into the studio with a suitcase the size of a small child and bags of confidence. “Don’t worry” he laughed, “it’s not all makeup”. After about an hour or so doing his make up, “it normally takes me about an hour and a half”, Joe strutted in front of the backdrop in heels, boxers and a white vest, on it stated ‘you can’t sit with us’. As a photographer, I’d done some research into the sort of poses and photos I wanted to get of Jolene but I needn’t had. “I thought we could do some androgynous shots first.”. Start as you mean to go on, isn’t that the saying?
Jolene took charge in a confidence but unforceful way. Happily posing; pouting, smiling, staring down the camera, in dress after dress and it was obvious this was not his first time in front of a lens. Jolene took instructions, though few were needed, under his wing and proceeded to explain how his start in drag came about. “Well my first ever shoot was when I was fifteen. It was at my mate’s house and we used a blanket as a backdrop,” continuing with a laugh in his voice, “I wore my black dress with the lace. My Mum actually wore it when she was pregnant with me and this is the second shoot it’s been in.”
Not knowing much about the drag scene in Southampton, Jolene explained how he’s met some fellow drag queens. “I became part of the LGBT society here at Solent [University] and I was Vice President last, which meant I organised the occasions and stuff. So we went out together and it was really fun.” Curious as to whether they swapped tips on makeup and borrowed one another’s shoes, I asked and got a reply I wasn’t holy unsurprised with “it’s quite a competitive community really. After all, we are men and men do have quite a competitive mentality!” Jolene laughed, which I found him doing quite often during our interview “I wish it was more of a sisterhood”.
Dress change after dress change, I soon discovered more and more about Jolene and Joe.
“For me, drag isn’t just about dressing up as a girl. I used to be new characters like Poca-huntress. It was a play on Pocahontas, who cared about all living things, with fur and zebra prints. But now it’s about being a higher version than yourself. When I’m Jolene, I’m funnier, cuter… Joe at home is quiet and timid.”
Not surprisingly, RuPaul Drag Race, a reality TV show where drag queens compete to be the next best American drag queen superstar, was when Joe first thought of becoming Jolene. “I was watching TV one night, I have really bad insomnia, and RuPaul’s Drag Race came on. It was an episode where they had to eat something and decide whether it was chicken or something else… Anyway, I just thought, how cool is it that people do that for a job?!” And so, Jolene was born.
Like most things recently, drag has become more mainstream. When asked if RuPaul and his seven series long reality TV show was the reason behind the growth in the act, Jolene said “oh definitely. Oh definitely. Everyone’s edging for it to come to the UK. People are becoming Drag Race babies! They watched the first ever series and they wanted to do it themselves and now it’s their career after seven years.”
Overall, meeting both Joe and Jolene has been educating and fun. “I’m not going to go to events anymore. I’m going to BE the event.”
Here at Sauce, we can definitely see that happening.
An Unknown Sauce
Not So Unknown // @ingraaam