The term drag queen dates back to 1870 and refers to an actor who wears the clothing and gender role associated with a person of the opposite sex in society. A 1971 article by American drag queen and activist Lee Brewster defined drag queen as a homosexual or a transgender person characterized by hyper femininity, defiance, and colourfulness.
Over the years, drag has acquired more purposes, expanded its boundaries, and today not only men, but also women and people of other gender identities are involved in drag culture.
Drag is characterized by excessive theatricality, make-up and clothes. Through lip-syncing, live performance and dance moves, drag queens challenge gender stereotypes and seek to amplify the voices of the oppressed.
Georgian drag appeared only recently, and the number of people who try to adapt this culture to Georgian reality is increasing day by day. One of the first Georgian drag queens is Gerilyn Stone, who appeared on the Georgian underground scene a few years ago. As the 23-year-old queen says, everything started with cross-dressing (wearing clothes associated with the opposite sex), which later turned into drag.
Queer.ge spoke to Georgian drag queen and presents Gerilyn’s story about drag, identity, LGBTQ+ activism and self-discovery.
Crossdressing, Identity and Queer Nights Series
There are people for whom drag is just a form of expression and an art form, but that’s not the case for me. Drag is not only an art form or a form of expression, but also a part of identity. My story as a drag queen begins with cross-dressing—I loved dressing up as a woman since I was a child, and once I became an adult and gained my independence, I often expressed myself in this fashion. It gradually turned into me becoming a drag queen.
Everything started when a series of queer nights appeared in Georgia. At first there was Horoom organized by Club Basian, where once a month I was given the opportunity to dress as I wanted and express myself as I perceived. It brought me kind of a relief and I felt at peace all month knowing that there was one night when I wasn’t bound by society’s norms and I could feel free to be who I am for a few hours. It made living amongst transphobic society the rest of the month easier.
A series of queer nights allowed me to free myself and express myself as much as possible, but since it only happened once a month, I tried to make the most of those few hours, and that most was becoming more and more extra, and that extra always ended as drag.
Drag as a form of LGBTQ+ Activism and the Birth of Georgia’s Marilyn Monroe
It all got more serious after Nia Gvatua, my Drag Mother, suggested I do a show for Halloween. I agreed without much thought, because as an LGBTQ+ activist, I felt that I could not take a better step than this for people who live under the constant pressure of society and do not dare to realize their wishes and dreams. To this day, I receive evaluations from many people that my performances help them be more courageous, brave and fearless. This makes me very happy. The name Gerilyn Stone came from American Vogue. They were interviewing me, I still hadn’t chosen my name yet and suddenly it was decided that I was Georgian Marilyn Monroe, aka Gerilyn- Georgian Merilyn.
I always try to convey different important messages to the audience through music, make-up, costumes, story and movements. It’s not just a beautiful sight—behind every performance there are small, hidden mine-fields. In the beginning, when I started doing drag, my shows were mainly aimed at caricaturing women who are trapped in a masculine world, who only think of love and relationships and don’t want to reach out to other aspects of life. That is why the shows were characterized by excessive drama, grotesqueness.
The audience always has the impression that my performances resonate with my life. This is often not the case. For me, as an artist, it is a bigger challenge to go beyond myself and touch on topics that are far from my personality. I always try to get into a role and convey emotions that are foreign to me.
Mental health and stereotypes surrounding drag queens
Messages are always changing. Nowadays, I am involved in trans activism and try to speak about the needs of trans people through my shows. In the beginning, when I decided to do drag, it raised a lot of questions in the LGBTQ+ community as well, and they stereotyped the issue that because I was doing drag, I was necessarily a binary trans person. I kept having to explain that this was not the case, that drag identity/culture and trans identity are different. There was a case when personal relationships also interfered with my drag work, but I soon realized that it is not worth giving up what gives one pleasure and is an integral part of one’s life.
GERILYN helped me develop a lot. I’ve always been an introvert, but due to my work and interests, I had to be very social and surrounded by people. There were times when my mental health became very unstable and GERILYN built a kind of wall that took the hit and did all the things I couldn’t do. It ultimately helped me become better. It’s hard for me to describe her because GERILYN ‘s character often changes, but I’m sure of one thing — she has good intentions and wants to bring good to the queer community.
The difficulties involved in doing drag
Fortunately more people are aware of the existence of this culture now and the demand has increased, although this was not always the case. In the beginning, when we started doing drag, there was no budget and we had to buy everything at our own expense. A few years ago, we were putting on a look for 5 GEL and there was no space to keep the props— one friend was carrying the shoes while the other held on to a dress. I had to go to street stands to buy all the accessories I needed on a budget, and I also had to find a place to do my makeup before the show.
Today everything is different, making shows is not so difficult anymore. I’ve learned a lot over the years, but I’m always thinking about what new things to offer my fans, how to attract more viewers, and how to expand my opportunities. However, the most difficult part of doing drag is removing the make-up after the show and returning home without showing how “fishy” you “were” not long ago.
Drag culture, the mainstream and a history that is still being written
Drag culture differs from other art forms in that it leans more toward mainstream and popular culture, but that doesn’t detract from it at all. Although drag only appeared a few decades ago, it still has a rich history and an entire queer liberation movement behind it. Drag tells the story of people who have been oppressed and marginalized for centuries.
Plus, other directions of art are mostly already developed, there are strict norms, dogmas. As for drag, everything is just starting, and it is very interesting to play on it, to contribute to its development.
KOSA and future plans
I am currently working on my showcase KOSA. So far we have only had one event at club KHIDI, but we already have an offer from Armenia and we will do a second show there. I curate all this.
KOSA shows deal with social issues and problems that exist in our society.
KOSA is focused on making people think more about the issues facing the LGBTQ+ community, as well as discovering new talents. Our goal is to find people who want to become famous and don’t know what steps to take to get there—who to contact, how to start working on their shows, etc.
Advice for aspiring queens and a journey of self-discovery
Doing drag helped me find the right people and find a community where I feel comfortable. Perhaps this alone is worth taking the step. However, at the same time, be prepared that your life will change radically and you will have to make many discoveries about gender, sexuality, and identity. This experience is like a journey that will bring you closer to yourself, you will become more accepting, more informed and better understand what your desires are and what you need to do to make them come true.