Article 19 – Day 1 – Alex Mathew the Drag Queen

 

“I am not a crossdresser. I am a drag queen.”

By definition, a crossdresser is a person who dresses in clothes normally only associated with the opposite gender, while a drag queen is a man who ostentatiously dresses up in women’s clothes. These are two similar terms that should never be mixed up, especially by the media. Bangalore-based Alex Mathew, one of India’s few drag queens, talked about sensitivity in the media coverage with regards to issues concerning the LGBT community and how they are often misrepresented. The talk was held on 9th February at School of Communication as part of their core communication fest, Article19.

Alex is communication officer for an NGO during the day and a drag queen by night. He said, “Being a drag queen has nothing to do with sexuality. I put on a crisp white cotton saree, tie my hair into a bun with jasmine flowers and entertain people.” His character is a malayali woman, who performs in Bangalore, around the issues concerning individualism, gender equality and feminism. When he performs, he serves up an illusion, so he gave his character the name ‘Mayamma’, which means ‘Mother of illusion’. Being Mayamma is his way of protesting through performance activism. He identifies as being a queer man and is known especially for the malayali twist he brings to the stage.

He spoke on how the media should get the facts and get them right. He spoke about how the biggest problem is that of mistaken identities, and that we have to keep in mind that gender and sexuality are fluid; and once we do that, it is easier to understand these identities. Ignorance to the community has lead to people becoming insensitive to the issue, and we have to devise ways to sensitise the people by educating those who are ignorant, instead of sensationalising or using TRPs to gain something from the community. Alex believes that visibility of the LGBT community is very important right now, especially since the government keeps saying that they are a minuscule of a minority – when they are, in fact, not. “They are everywhere and scared to come out. If only there was a huge icon, preferably a celebrity, who would come out to help encourage those still in their closets.”

The NGO he works for is called Solidarity Foundation, and deals with better livelihood for sex workers and the LGBT community. One of its projects is dedicated to increasing the representation of the community in the parliament. The aim is to start off small at the Panchayat level, by encouraging people who are ready to be politicians from the LGBT community. In the Indian society, before the British came in, people were quite fluid in terms of gender and sexuality. It was after the law called Section 377 came up, that the people have not been able to open themselves up. Section 377 stands for the entire society and the fact remains that the LGBT community is actually fighting for the entire society. The law was given by Queen Victoria, who believed it was against the bible – which called it an abomination and a sin.

“My plea to the government would be to scrape it off and one day, I know, the law will be struck down by love,” said Alex Mathew. “I’m ready to fight the battle and I’m willing to wait 50 years for the results. Even if I’m on my death bed, and I watch on T.V. that finally Section 377 is struck down, I’ll have known that I was a part of the fight.”

– Aishwarya Sunjay for MTTN

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