Indian society still fails to consider drag performance as an art form. Many find it derogatory and have the misconception that drag is only related to the LGBTQA+ community. People have taken drag performances as sexualised acts of entertainment. However, Maya - The Drag Queen has a distinct perspective to look towards drag performance.
"The people have not grasped the concept of drag as an art form. I keep telling them it is just an art form. You can't mix it with gender and sexuality, but at the same time, drag makes you comfortable with gender and sexuality. If one wants to get comfortable with her gender and sexuality, try out drag," said Maya- The Drag Queen speaking with SheThePeople.
Further, Maya touched upon how people misunderstand him for being a transwoman, saying, "Many misunderstand me because calling myself an Indian drag queen, I choose to wear a sari and perform. For people, it is hard to digest. Men wearing saree usually fall under a trans woman category. But why do I have to fall under that category? Why can't I be known as Alex, who performs as Maya- the drag queen? She does that in a saree, and it's a great thing."
Maya- The Drag Queen, aka Alex Mathew, wants to set a narrative that drag performance or drag show is an art form to express emotions and works as an act of liberation.
In conversation with SheThePeople, Mathew touched on his Journey of Alex to Maya- The Drag Queen. Mathew said, "It is not like one day I woke up and decided to be a drag queen. It was a process. My mother inspired me by taking me to theatres, showing musicals like Sound of Music, My Friend Lady. I have been a theatre geek at heart, and it provoked me to think, why can't I sing, dance and act at the same time? So, I thought, let me get into the theatre. I was working at Deloitte in Hyderabad and came across theatre spaces. That is where I started. Initially, worked backstage and finally got my break as one of the cast members in a play where I played a blind Kathak dancer and got a few more opportunities.
Maya moved places and faced his challenges. While he was in Bangalore, he was criticised for having a thick accent and got more say in male roles. Maya was getting stagnant and decided to start watching movies. He came across the film Mrs. Doubtfire, where actor Robin William disguises himself as a female housekeeper. Maya said, "If Robin Williams can do drag, I can do drag too. Maya researched and came across Dame Edna in the UK, RuPaul in the US, and Queen Harish in India. He soon started working on his drag character. "I started making a character who was from Kerala and came to live with the love of her life in Bangalore and loves to perform. So that's how my journey as a drag queen started in September 2014", added Maya.
Mathew took the name Maya because his initial drag performing name was Mayamma which translates from Malayalam or Sanskrit as Mother of Illusion or Mother of Magic. Maya said, "It means I'm forming the illusion of a woman on stage. I'm not claiming that I'm a woman on stage but just an illusion of a woman."
The journey from Mathew to Maya was not easy for Alex; he had a lot to risk for his work life, family, and friends. In India, it is challenging to undertake unconventional careers; sexual orientation has a similar treatment. Career shift was not easy for him; Maya lost three jobs. For Maya to, deal with his parents, friends, and family was complex. His parents had a varied understanding of what he was pursuing, and it took a while for his parents to understand. He said, "My mother did not care about your sexuality, but was not fine with drag, whereas, for my father, sexuality was a sin, but drag is okay as long as you get paid. I lost friends as they did not understand me. It was tough, but all I did was give them time; with the abrogation of Section 377, my mother got okay. She gave dating advice- know a guy for a year and then decide to move in with him. My mother still tied my saree when I was up for a performance; my dad wanted to see me perform."
Maya worked as a PR marketing executive and artist manager from 2017- 2020 and is now a freelancer and a full-time drag performer. For Maya, drag means adrenaline rush. "When I dress up, go on stage, perform, and entertain people, I feel the energy, and I get adrenaline on stage," said Maya.
Maya culturally comes from a Malayali family. The Malayali culture has its patriarchal history attached to it. He has been breaking all the norms. Talking about it, Maya said, "People were putting me down and telling me it was wrong. I told myself, 'Who has written all of this? I am going to do what I want. This is my identity. There would be a queer kid like me in the future, thanking me.'"
Drag Queen Maya On Drag Ban
Discussing drag bans, he said, "bans are distractions by politicians; all drag queens just mind their own business. They carry on with their work of entertaining people. The whole idea of what they will do to our children is wrong. They are not doing anything related to guns, to paedophilia in churches but are ready to attack minorities."
Maya has big dreams moving ahead. Maya wants to build an empire just like his ultimate role model, drag queen RuPaul. "RuPaul built an empire and empower other drag queens. That is where I want to reach and empower other drag queens."
On opportunities, Maya said, "There is a peak, then a downfall, there is no consistency. We don't have more and more inclusive spaces like pubs and nightclubs that are open to drag queens' performances. Now, approximately India has over 50 drag queens and drag kings, and the number was low when I started. The increase in drag performers' numbers will create a demand for nightclubs to host drag nights."
Maya's drag journey was not built in a day. It took a village, and it took a village of allies to come across and help me build who he is right now. Maya's drag journey was not built in a day. It took a village, and it took a village of allies to come across and help me build who he is right now. Talking about Allies, Maya was recently a part of the Absolut Ally campaign which aimed at making people more aware of fundamentals such as queer pronouns and how there’s a right way to ask
Through the Absolut Ally campaign, Maya said, "Don't judge me the way I am; just come and see my performance and be happy."
Maya concluded by saying, "Drag performance is all about having fun; it is like taking all the crayons from the crayon box and painting a beautiful picture, which lies on your face."
Suggested Reading: Having Companionship Is A Universal Desire: Onir On Queer Love