Posted by Sanchi Mehra
Suruj Rajkhowa, also known as Glorious Luna is a drag performer, actor, and model. They are very passionate about queer art and performance, and have also founded ‘Queer Carnival’ which is a platform for queer centric events and parties. Through this interview with them, we explore the meaning of drag, the role it plays in their life, how they came to choose this form of art as their medium of expression and much more!
Do you think there is a difference between drag and cross dressing?
Glorious Luna: Cross dressing is generally when the opposite gender is playing the part of any other gender. Like a man who biologically was born a male, if he is wearing women’s clothes, that would be cross dressing or if a female is wearing a man’s clothes, that will be cross dressing. But drag is actually different. I would say that for me, drag would be more than a gender play.
I don’t really take gender very seriously. I don’t consider drag as cross dressing. In every character that I play in drag, I try to keep a name for the character so that it’s easier for people to understand. But for me and also for I think a lot of other queer artists, I think drag is more than cross dressing. Cross dressing is a part of it, but there is more to it. It’s like a character that you are going to play. It’s more to do with performance than cross dressing is. I think that is the main difference between cross dressing and drag—drag is delivering a character, and cross dressing is just when you wear another gender’s clothing.
What role does drag play in your life?
Glorious Luna: I think drag is kind of everything at the moment in my life because I was always a very introverted, timid and feminine boy, and I would be bullied a lot. I couldn’t do a lot of things because I didn’t feel strong enough to retaliate. But I think at the moment, drag is like my weapon. Drag makes it easier for me to make my point and say what I want to say. It kind of empowers me and gives me a voice. Every character that I play—it always has some sort of message to it. Sometimes it’s serious, sometimes it’s comedy. It’s like a variety act for me through which I can say what I feel as an artist. I think it’s purely that.
As an artist, why did you choose drag as your creative outlet?
Glorious Luna: I was always kind of experimental with my looks. I have done theatre for almost all my life as a child artist and I did some contemporary theatre with my friends. I became like a full fledged drag queen after moving to Mumbai which was like, let’s say about two years ago. I thought drag would be cool because that way I’ll get to be on the stage, I get to have the attention, I can experiment with my character and since I was always in love with makeup and extravagant clothing, I thought it’d be nice if I could bring all that into one platform.
So drag gives me that platform to channelise all my creativity because I try to create all my clothes myself, I do all my makeup, my hair, even you know, performance—it’s all a part of drag for me. Otherwise, at home I’m very introverted, and I don’t like to meet a lot of people. But when I’m in drag, it’s just a different feeling—I’m confident, and I could just say anything and people wouldn’t mind it because I’m in drag and I get away with it. I make a lot of jokes when I am on stage in drag and people are there to listen to me. Drag gives me that platform.
If we talk about gender roles on the stage, do you think the performance of drag helps break the stereotypes or does it in any way further strengthen them?
Glorious Luna: Drag has always been about breaking the stereotypes. If you see the early 80’s club kids—they don’t have any genders! Sometimes what happens to me, I don’t feel like anything—neither man nor woman. You can see that in my presentation because I would do makeup accordingly. Sometimes I try to create this gender non-conforming persona and some days when I feel like being more feminine, that day I would put more hair and put it in a certain way. I think that the purpose of all my characters is to make people laugh, to make people comfortable in their own way.
Sometimes I like breaking all the norms and you can’t tell if my character is a boy or a girl. But at other times, I feel more like a woman and I then enhance my femininity in order to make the character more real and more relatable. But it varies actually because I have a lot of moods and I don’t stick to one kind of look or one kind of performance. It’s just business freedom as an artist.
I think drag is anything that you want to do as long as you have something to say and something to deliver. It’s you, but like an extended version of you—beyond any gender norms. For example, I never wear artificial breasts when I’m in drag because that just makes it put in a box again. So I try to be very, you know, a little bit real when I play drag. A lot of people get me because for some people drag is just some boys dressing up as girls. But there are others for whom drag doesn’t conform to that idea. So I think I do whatever I feel like but I make sure that there is a certain message and I have something to tell my audience.
In your career as a drag queen, what are the challenges you’ve faced so far?
Glorious Luna: When people get to know you are an LGBTQ person, they would want to work with you but the experience is not very good. For example, if I get a job for an ad and I have to drag for that ad, these people would call me and be like, “We’re doing it for a reason, we want to empower the LGBTQ community,” and this and that, and, “Oh but you know what, we don’t have that much budget and it’s for a cause so if you would be kind to you support this…”
I mean I have been doing it all my life and I’m 27 now. 27 years, I’ve spent being myself and doing it. I cannot do it anymore—if you want to empower me, empower me by paying me. These people just do it for tokenism and that’s that problem. This is one problem that bugs me a lot. It’s the problem with the entire industry.
Another problem, for example is that, if I have a gig somewhere and I have to get ready, I cannot get ready at my house because my society people will see and I’ve already been thrown out of a house once in Bombay. So I have to find a place where I can get ready and do my things—that’s another problem. Also, drag is expensive. I want people to look at it differently and reimburse me for my costume at least, because it is all super expensive.
Do you think that drag kings face similar problems?
Glorious Luna: Yes, I think so.
Would there be any difference between your experience and the experience of a drag king?
Glorious Luna: I don’t know how to compare it because these things, these characters come out of a place in your head where you almost alienate yourself from the rest of or all the people. These characters come out of a very broken place in your heart or your head. So I don’t know how to compare, and I think the struggle is somewhere the same because we all feel alienated at some point in our lives. Most of the time actually, because when people see obviously queer people, they always kind of laugh at you or make fun of you. So I think you do drag because you have been oppressed for too long and you choose to do drag because it helps you fight this oppression. I don’t really know but I think the experience and the idea of alienation is the same for all of us.
Do you think drag artists in other countries also face similar challenges?
Glorious Luna: I think it is kind of the same on the base level. All the problems are the same. But if you see queens in the West—they get paid more and drag artists are considered performers just like other artists. They have more ways to perform and they also have more places to perform than we do in India. Here, we just have a couple of clubs that you can actually count it on your fingers—probably three or four. So the lack of LGBTQ friendly places is one specific problem Indian queens generally face.
What are your thoughts on the invisibility of drag kings in the emerging drag scene in India?
Glorious Luna: The invisibility of drag kings… I don’t know actually. I can never answer that because I know like two drag kings who are my friends but their performances are kind of non-existent because there are barely any drag kings here. It’s also probably the system you know, because women would make sure that whenever they’re going out, they want to go out to a safe space. But the drag queens are mostly gay men. They don’t really care if it’s night or day, they can go out and do their thing because they’re still a man. That gives them more strength to be drag queens. But because drag kings are women at the end, they would want to have a safe space—they want to feel safe, but it’s not really available.
Sanchi Mehra is a Sociology student who takes a keen interest in the themes of gender and sexuality and their manifestations in popular culture. When not over-analyzing a TV show, she can be found decoding social and cultural theories or acting on stage (or Zoom). Other interests include dramatic dancing, and calligraphy and lettering. An intersectional feminist, Sanchi hopes to work towards making educational and corporate spaces more inclusive and safer for all genders and sexualities. You can find her on Instagram.