Watch: Drag artist Joe Black talks LGBT+ History Month, RuPaul's Drag Race UK and adapting to life in lockdown
February marks LGBT+ History Month, with this year's theme being 'Body, Mind, Spirit'.
To mark the occasion, Fred Dinenage and Sangeeta Bhabra sat down to talk to drag artist Joe Black.
Joe grew up in Portsmouth before moving to Brighton. He has been performing for around 13 years now and is known for his dark cabaret drag. He most recently featured on RuPaul's Drag Race UK, a television show which sees drag queens from across the UK compete to become the next Drag Queen Superstar.
Thanks for talking to us Joe. So tell us, what does LGBT+ History Month mean to you?
I think it's a way for people to learn and celebrate all of the diverse and wonderful LGBTQI+ History that the world has to offer, both in the UK and internationally. It's full of rich, fruitful, exciting, sad, emotional, inspiring stories, and I think it's a month that people can learn things that you don't get taught in school.
It's a month to see how far we've come. And have we come far?
We've come a long way, but I think there's some way to go. I think that's why having the month of the history is important because as much as we can go 'Oh things are much better now', they're not perfect. So we can learn from the mistakes of the past and hopefully take it on to the future to be better and brighter and have a much nicer time, for everybody.
So what have we got to do then to make it better and brighter?
As much as we like to think that people are still open all across the board, I just don't think that is the case for everybody. There are still people that don't understand or agree with LGBT+ things and that's fairly ludicrous I think. People are just being people. I think that's where we need to go, for everyone to suddenly go 'Do you know what? People are just living their lives'. It shouldn't be a problem. It's 2021 now. It shouldn't have to be up for discussion.
We have to talk about RuPaul's Drag Race UK. It's a primetime show and everybody watches it. Why is the programme important?
For the longest time drag, especially in the UK, had a reputation for, you know, going to your bars and you see a drag performer, and that's where you see them. I think Drag Race broke down the boundaries to see the people behind it. Of course you could learn about the people behind it before, but that took digging and interviews and getting to know people. And I think this is a nice accessible way for everybody to see the people behind the drag, the facade, the glamour, the cartoonish aesthetics; to get to know the stories behind everyone.
You were the first person from Brighton ever to take part. Did you enjoy it?
It was a very stressful experience (laughs) but it was very exciting, because, Brighton is such a capital for all things drag and LGBT+ and unusual and different. It was really lovely to go on there as the first person from here and show what Brighton has to offer. And that barely scratches the surface; there are so many wonderful people here. I hope that as it continues they all get a shot at that crown!
How important do you think it is having drag queens featured on mainstream television?
Drag performers have always been some of the most outspoken and most political people fighting throughout history, for example Stonewall. Those were the ones at the forefront, really making it happen for trans people and people of colour. It's easy for people to look and go 'Oh silly drag performer, it's all just silly costumes' but I think there's so much more about the humans behind it and where people come from, and their individuals stories about how and why they do it.
You all look fantastic. How much work goes into creating that look and making sure that you stand out?
For me personally, I like finger-waving the hair, smacking that blue eyeshadow on and drawing my eyebrows up here! I'm going for that silent movie, ever so subtle make-up gun chic. Some people are ever so delicate, but I'm of the method of just laying it all gently out on a table and going *boof*!
Can we ask, are people confident to approach you? Because that's one of the things this month can explore...
I think it can have two effects for me personally. Some people see it as an invitation and they're like 'This is a larger-than-life character, I will go and say hello'. On the other end of that, for some people maybe it makes a barrier. There are some people that are just absolutely adorable that just look kindly, whereas my drag is a bit more sort of Disney villian-esque which speaks to some people, and allows them to come up and go 'I've got questions for you!"
What sort of questions do they ask?
Mostly 'How long does this take you?' and lots of 'Would you do my make up?'. I say if you would like to look like a scary clown, please do feel free to ask me! But if you would like to look gorgeous I have many other names I could recommend!
It's been a difficult 12 months for everybody in the entertainment business. How have you adapted to what's been happening?
I was very driven to continue to create. So I took to doing shows online, I've been making Youtube content, and things that are accessible for people no matter where they are in the world. I took it as a challenge to find a way around it and how best I can use this time to adapt. But I can't wait to be back in rooms with people and be having an absolutely stunning time. It has been really, really difficult. I'd love nothing more than to be in a dingy cabaret bar with a watered down gin with gorgeous people! But right now, I'm just adapting how I can.
Can we just end by asking you, this month is for everyone, not just for the gay community isn't it? You want everyone to embrace this and learn from this?
Absolutely everybody. We are all in this together and ultimately it's about everyone knowing the history and the people. Whether it's somebody that has never met an LGBT+ person, it doesn't mean the month isn't for them. It's for them to learn and grow their own knowledge and experience. So yes, absolutely everybody!
Watch RuPaul's Drag Race UK here.
The official page of LGBT+ History Month can be found here.
Useful links to charities and information:
MindOut - Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Queer Mental Health Service
akt - LGBTQ+ youth homelessness charity working with young people aged 16 - 25
Galop - LGBT+ anti-violence charity
Explore more of ITV's coverage of LGBT+ History Month: