People often get confused about people from the transgender community and drag queens and assume they are the same thing when in fact they are completely different. AASMA DAY talks to Anthony West, who is a well known North West drag queen with the alter ego Brandy Babycham.
“When a gay man has way too much fashion sense for one gender, he is a drag queen.”
His lips twitching with amusement, Anthony West, 35, feels this line from the film To Wong Foo sums up his definition of drag queens perfectly.
Anthony is a man who is happy being a man and has no desire to be a woman.
However, since a young age, he has had a huge fascination with drag and is a well known drag queen with the alter ego Brandy Babycham who has worked at Funny Girls in Blackpool as well as all over the UK and Europe.
Although Anthony now knows who he is and that he is completely at ease being male, he admits he experienced a bit of confusion in his teens before he came out as being gay.
I realised it was something I could do and still be myself
He explains: “I knew I liked boys from as long as I could remember. But at first I was confused and wondered if the reason I liked boys was because I actually wanted to be a girl.
“What added to my confusion was the interest I had in the drag side of things. I was a big Lily Savage fan and drag held a real fascination for me.
“Briefly, it made me think: ‘Is this because I want to be a woman?’
“But I soon realised I wanted to be a boy, but I happened to like boys.
“Now I am older, I know I am very content in a man’s body and very happy with my gender.
“I just enjoy the drag side of things and having that alter ego.”
Anthony was outed as gay when he was about 15. He remember ruefully: “I had always been taunted at school as I was very effeminate and into drama.
“I told a friend in confidence I was gay - but it did not stay in confidence.
“This made my last year at school a bit difficult and I ended up leaving school early.
“When I look back, I feel relief that I was outed as gay when I was, but I certainly didn’t feel it at the time.”
Anthony experimented with dressing up a bit in his youth and began going to Funny Girls in Blackpool when he was 15. Funny Girls is a famous cabaret bar with male dancers and drag performers.
Anthony says: “Funny Girls was like finding my Mecca.
“I thought: ‘This is it. This is what I want to do.’
“I realised it was something I could do and still be myself.
“By this point, I was experimenting with drag and if someone was having a fancy dress party, I’d go as a girl.
“In Blackpool, there is a big drag queen following and I loved being part of it.
“I used to order wigs from websites and my mum bought me my own PVC thigh high boots for my 16th birthday.
“My mum was great when I told her about my interest in drag. I found initially she dealt better with my alter ego and the dressing up side of things than the gay side of things.
“My mum is absolutely brilliant about everything now and really supportive.
“One tale she always tells is about one time when I went upstairs to get ready to go out one night and I came down wearing a long brown wig.
“My mum looked at me and said it was like looking in a time capsule of 30 years earlier as I looked just like she used to.
“I think it unnerved her a bit!”
Anthony sent a letter to the owner of Funny Girls asking if he could go and work there as a glass collector.
However, after they rang him and spoke to him and realised he was 16, they said no.
Undeterred, Anthony sent another letter when he turned 18 and he got asked into Funny Girls for a makeover which was filmed for a documentary for ITV called Funny Girls: Serious Business.
However Anthony was unsuccessful in getting a job at Funny Girls.
He recalls: “I was told by the manageress that I just did not have the persona and I would never be a Funny Girl. I felt completely crushed.”
Anthony’s sister then wrote a letter to Richard and Judy asking if Anthony could appear on the show and have a drag makeover.
The letter must have been passed on and made its way to the cable TV channel Granada Breeze who invited Anthony to come in for a complete makeover.
Anthony remembers: “It was amazing. I was featured throughout the show and Trevor Sorbie did my hair and wig and make up artists did my face.
“Jean Broke-Smith who taught Naomi Campbell how to walk taught me how to walk like a lady.
“Then they did the big reveal and Karen Franklin from The Clothes Show and Winnie La Freak, a long standing Manchester drag queen were there at the end giving their comments.
“I absolutely loved it. It gave me the confidence not to give up.”
Anthony began working in a gay bar and one day, they dressed up in drag for the day.
Anthony says: “I’ve had many drag names: Natalie, Shelley, Courtney Lust ... and Brandy Babycham which is my drag name now.
“The bar asked me to DJ a couple of night a week and I loved doing this.”
Anthony then left and went into the hospitality industry. He then wrote to Funny Girls again and told them it was his dream to work there and that he was available to work.
He says: “I got a phone call from the same manageress who told me I’d never make it as a Funny Girl and she told me the owner had heard I was good and asked me to come in.
“I then started working there on week days. It was everything I had dreamed of.
“At the time, it was quite a status to be a Funny Girl in Blackpool.
“However, it was a killer on my feet working six hours behind a bar on heels!
“After a month, I was offered a full-time job there.
“But at the same time, a friend of mine was taking over a gay bar and asked me to be resident DJ there, so I took that instead.
“All this was the beginning of my drag career. The gigs started coming in.”
As well as Funny Girls, Anthony has worked as a drag queen at other bars in the resort as well as all over the UK and in Turkey and Spain.
Anthony explains that for him, being a drag queen is like a job and is completely different from a transgender assigned a male who identifies with and wants to be a female.
He added: “As much as I love being a drag queen and adore the glitz, glamour, sequins, shopping and the shoes, it does very much become like a job and my two personas are very separate.
“It is like a uniform that you like to take off once you have finished work.
“I have always been into drama and studied it at college and being a drag queen is a bit like being a performer.
“I was very lucky as five years ago I was asked to join Bobbie Kent, a longstanding panto dame as an Ugly Sister in Cinderella a the Lighthouse Theatre in Poole.
“I have now done three professional pantos.
“That is completely different to being a drag queen. It is acting with a touch of drag.”
Anthony is now semi-retired as a drag queen but still chooses to do some gigs.
He is now working as a sexual health practitioner LGB and T lead for Blackpool for Renaissance under the Horizon Partnership.
Anthony says: “I work with a lot of trans clients and for them, it is a gender issue and it is about what is in their heart, not what’s on the outside.
“For me and the drag community, it is all about the performance and the style and drag is a lifestyle choice.
“Transgender is not a choice. It is what the person was born feeling.
“Some transgender people experience many difficulties such as trouble coming out because of a lack of understanding.
“I hope myself and the service can help and that we can let them know that there is support out there and light at the end of the tunnel.”
Different types of transvestism
Transvestites are completely different from those who identify as transgender both physically and mentally.
There are essentially two different kinds of transvestism.
Dual-role transvestism is the wearing of clothes of the opposite sex for part of the individual’s existence in order to enjoy the temporary experience of membership of the opposite sex, but without any desire for a more permanent sex change or associated surgical reassignment.
Fetishistic tranvestism is the wearing of clothes of the opposite sex principally to obtain sexual excitement.
Transvestites are typically heterosexual males who wear traditionally feminine clothing.
Drag queens are not usually labelled as transvestites. People that dress in drag tend to be gay and cross-dressers tend to be straight.
As with all labels, nothing is black and white and there is plenty of grey area.
There are also people who don’t identify as any gender.
‘Stereotypes have mostly died away, remnants remain’
Carolyn Mercer, chair of trustees at Lancashire LGBT, explains trans and non-binary.
“Trans is an abbreviation for transgender. One of the better definitions is: ‘Denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender.’
“Gender is a social construct and is different to biological sex.
“In the past and to a degree, even now, gender stereotypes have led to an enforced conformity.
“Examples include men wearing trousers and women wearing skirts, men working and women staying home with families, boys going to school and studying maths and sciences while girls studied home economics and needlework.
“Of course, most of those stereotypes have fortunately gone but remnants still remain.
“Engineering is still, for example, a relatively male preserve and men don’t wear skirts in the Western world.
“A Trans person, in the main recognises the ‘conventional notions’ of binary gender (male/female) but feels that their self-identity is best expressed in the other gender.
“This can be on a part-time or full-time basis.
“The term ‘gender fluid’ is used where the expression of this self-identity changes - sometimes even within the same day.
“Some people argue that gender should not be considered as binary, ie just two.
“‘Non-binary’ is an assertion that there should be no need to identify as either male or female.
“Gender free pronouns such as ‘they’ and titles like Mx rather than Mr or Ms are preferred.
“This has been increasingly recognised in the UK and across the world.”