(Full video file of interview can be found here on google drive)
Interview with Matthew Ray on 10/18/2020 at 1 PM
- What top 3 things do you think have allowed for the acceptance of gay rights in modern society?
- Do you view drag as an art form, entertainment, or a form of identity? Why?
- How do you think drag culture has impacted civil rights throughout history? Today?
- What images/symbols/events/people come to mind when you think about drag culture?
- What do you think is the most common reaction to drag queens among mainstream society?
- How do you think the queer community impacts the progression of civil rights today?
- How does the history of drag balls and houses in NYC affect the queer culture of modern day NYC?
Matthew Ray Interview Transcript
ELLA: Would you like to say a bit about yourself?
RAY: My name is Matthew Ray, I’ve lived in NYC for about fourteen years. I’m originally from Michigan. Born in Chicago, raised in Detroit. I started drag when I was like two or three- I would dress up in drag- my character was named Matilda- and my parents loved it. Even my southern conservative grandma loved it. Then I moved to New York- I’m an actor, so dressing up and playing characters has always been big in my life. I’ve been a huge fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, in every variation. I go to a lot of drag shows as often as I can- I went to one last night. I love it- I love the artistry, the transformation, and I like the commentary.
ELLA: I definitely want to attend some drag shows in the future- especially in New York City.
RAY: Yes!! It’s so much fun.
ELLA: What top 3 things do you think have allowed for the acceptance of gay rights in modern society?
RAY: I love that question. I think it was honestly visibility- when Will and Grace premiered it was like, “whoa, gay people are just as messy and sloppy and complicated as everybody else.” It’s been about visibility because for so long it was illegal, for example, to be walking around holding your partner’s hand, or cross-dressing. There were literally laws against it, so I think people kind of kept it in the shadows. People wanted it not mainstreamed so as it became more and more mainstreamed, and made its way into characters and movies, people were like, “oh, they’re not some scary inner-city thing that doesn’t exist in farm country.” They saw that gay people exist all over the planet, in every culture. So visibility is first and foremost. That led to people question their own thoughts- why does that bother/affect me?- and the answer was “it doesn’t.” But I don’t think people really questioned it before. They were like, “guys like girls and girls like boys” and that’s how it’s been, but that’s not always how it is. I think number three, gay people demanded it. They said they weren’t going to sit in the shadows anymore. They got politically motivated- got some clout. We started to run for office, we started to force our way into the mainstream. Visibility, questioning, and assertiveness.
ELLA: Do you view drag as an art form, entertainment, or a form of identity? Why?
RAY: It’s all three. It’s definitely an art form- I come from the makeup artist background so I know the skill it takes to turn an ugly guy into a gorgeous woman- that’s not easy! It’s entertainment too. People go on Drag Race and are an “Instagram Queen” and they’ve never done a show before, and then they’ll be the exact opposite like “I only do shows.” Bob the Drag Queen- she is 100% entertainment, people aren’t going to her shows for makeup tips. Versus someone like Pearl, an awesome makeup artist, but you don’t really go to her shows because she doesn’t really do them. As a form of identity it is interesting because when RPDR started, I thought drag was just men dressing as women, then I realized now how narrow-minded that was. Drag is for anybody. There are trans performers that do drag- you can live your life as a woman and become a glamazon and live your life as this alter ego. I definitely think that there’s a lot of identity in it. When I do drag (not that often)- I play in a football league and we have a drag party once a year- it’s weird that you become a different person; I become not a nice person, like I become the biggest diva in the room. The next day you’re like, “where did that come from? Who was that person that came out of me last night?” I think people have identity in their drag, and I also think a lot of people have their identity in their appearance in general. How you present yourself to the world is your identity in some way; how people engage with you without even knowing you, so drag is an extension of that.
ELLA: How do you think drag culture has impacted civil rights throughout history? Today?
RAY: Oh, yes. I love this question because I am sure you know I love the story of the Stonewall riots. Drag queens meeting up at a bar and then said not today. RuPaul talks about drag being like an FU to society and societal norms. We wouldn’t have gay rights without drag queens. They started the Stonewall riots. Earlier when I said “gay people demanded it”, I think it comes from that. If you’re living your life as one gender and you tell society, “I am not going to accept your standards/who you tell me I should be”- that’s a pretty powerful political statement to make. Drag, being like “we are not going to accept who you tell us we have to be,” that’s such a political feat in itself. Dressing against your gender- almost like heresy. A lot of the straight man world think their masculinity is their biggest gift from god. So for someone to be like, “I don’t want that/I’m not going to accept that/no thanks”, is like heresy to them. I love seeing drag artists getting into politics, like, Marty Gold Cummings. I just think it’s so powerful, like you come in and look amazing and own the whole room. People pay attention to you. It’s brave to do that- to not go with what people expect from you. I think that bravery leaks into people demanding their rights, civil rights. RPDR being so popular is impactful.
ELLA: What images/symbols/events/people come to mind when you think about drag culture?
RAY: First, RuPaul. Then, I think of myself- at three years old, young kids down know any better, we just do what comes naturally to us, we’re not concerned about what society tells us to do. For me, I had an older sister and she wore dresses and I was like, “I wanna wear dresses too because you look cool in them and I wanna look cool.” My first thought when I think of drag is just pain. I mean, shoes look so uncomfortable, girdles look so painful. When I do drag, the next day my body hurts. Like your feet hurt, you have ingrown hairs, even your wig gets heavy after a while and your scalp starts to hurt- they’re very binding. That’s my first thought. Then I just think of “beautiful.” You don’t necessarily have to be a beautiful queen but I feel like even Landon Cider (drag king), even when he’s really terrifying I think he’s handsome and beautiful. You can be an ugly dude and put on makeup and become a beautiful woman. You don’t have to, but you can.
ELLA: What do you think is the most common reaction to drag queens among mainstream society?
15:47/23:41 so far (11/1)