Presented by Saints LGBT+ and the University of St Andrews Charities Campaign, dRag Walk, which takes place tomorrow Friday 5 February, combines queens, fashion and fierceness.
The charity “tongue-in-cheek fashion show” is expected to sell out for a third year running, in what has become one of the most popular events of the St Andrews’ calendar since it was first devised in 2014 by Ruairidh Bowen.
The Saint caught up with its creator and this year’s host, perhaps more commonly known as Rujazzle, St Andrews’ very own drag queen, in order to find out more about the event, as well as about Mr Bowen’s own experience with drag both in the town and further afield.
The fourth year art history student, who is also Vice President of Saints LGBT+, said that he created the competition two years ago when “there was a renewed interest in drag in gay culture”. He remembered thinking, “this is a thing that [Saints] LGBT+ can do, and it’s become really popular.”
Despite its success, Mr Bowen was not always so sure of dRag Walk, explaining: “This is St Andrews, there’s never a demand for it [drag] here, but I’m the kind of person who makes people like things. You have to create your own niche in a sense.”
Mr Bowen thanks TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race for a revival in the popularity of queens, claiming “People are interested in drag nowadays.
“Obviously St Andrews is quite a conservative place so drag can seem a bit transgressive at times, but I think that’s a good thing because it does challenge perceptions of gender and sexuality.”
Describing the event as thriving on inclusivity and “not taking yourself seriously”, Mr Bowen believes that dRag Walk reflects what drag is really about: “loving yourself for who you are and not trying to be something you’re not, expressing all of the things you love about yourself and not caring what anyone thinks – which is a good lesson, I think, for life.”
Rujazzle first made an appearance on the streets of St Andrews in 2012, when Mr Bowen first tried drag, making up one half of the Jazzle sisters.
“One of our friends named us that back when TOWIE [The Only Way is Essex] was a thing, with the vajazzle. She named me ‘Rujazzle’ because my boy name’s Ru and my friend’s called Benjy so he was ‘Benjazzle’.”
Mr Bowen described Rujazzle as “glamorous, but a bit stupid too. My drag persona is a ditzy, blonde fashionista, that’s what she is.”
The duo’s popularity quickly amassed, with the pair often “going out and causing a stir in the town. We got booked to host events. We hosted The Lizard a few times – the glamour of it all,” Mr Bowen laughed.
It was when Rujazzle started going out in Glasgow, however, that she began to gain more fame and recognition as a queen. Now, she hosts an average of two shows in Glasgow each week as well as others across the country.
“I’m a full-time working queen,” Mr Bowen explained, “I do drag because it’s so much fun, I’ve made great friends through doing it, and I get paid to do it nowadays so I can actually make a living from it and pay my rent.”
When asked what first inspired him to try drag, Mr Bowen said that for him there was no clear-cut decision: “I was just doing it for house parties because it was funny.
“I suppose maybe, when you’re gay, every gay man tries it out at least once. Then you think, actually I’m quite good at make-up, and I’m good at dressing and things. Performance I came to later. I didn’t plan on doing it.”
He also told The Saint about more unusual sources of inspiration: “I study art history and involve that in my drag as well. I’ve done crazy things. I’ve done an Andy Warhol Campbell’s soup performance – bizarre things like that.”
Amazed by the rapid growth of drag in Glasgow over the past year, Mr Bowen said that he was confident drag will become “mainstream” in the near future, predicting “within the next five years, it will become really big.”
However, he stressed that “drag is more than just a physical thing. It’s more than just crossdressing.
“It’s a way of life, a philosophy, a state of mind and a political statement. It’s much more than just clothes or make-up. It’s about expressing who you are. It’s about self-love. It’s about making a statement about being different, about gender and sexuality and lots of different things.”
Mr Bowen was eager to point out the freedom which comes with drag, “There’re no limits to what drag is, that’s the whole point,” he said, explaining that the term drag denotes not only men dressing as women, but includes drag kings (women dressed as men), faux queens (women dressed as women), androgynous drag and club-kid drag, to name a few.
With this in mind, he encouraged anyone considering drag to simply go out and experiment.
Certainly, Mr Bowen explained, most of his family and friends “love it” and think Rujazzle is “amazing”.
The student smiled as he explained that his brother perhaps loves her the most: “My brother’s straight and he thinks I’m really hot in drag, which is weird.”
Rujazzle was also popular in RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Ambassador, a competition designed by RuPaul to scope interest in and boost awareness of drag in the UK. After submitting a video audition, Mr Bowen went to London and performed for RuPaul, “I didn’t win, but I got to be a finalist – top 20 UK queens.” He laughed, “And I’m from St Andrews!”
Mr Bowen fears people in the town “are not used to” and “don’t know how to react” to drag, whereas in big cities, “people are used to seeing arty people or freaks, whatever,” he laughed.
However, the student stressed that he has never experienced harassment in the town, “Obviously when I was starting out in drag, I would go to The Lizard in drag and no one really cared. You’d get the odd person who’d be a bit funny about it but it was fine.”
Overall, Mr Bowen claims to have had “more harassment as a gay man than a drag queen. When you’re a drag queen, people are too scared of you to say anything. You’re seven foot tall and you have a weapon, you have heels, you can stab them!”
By contrast, Mr Bowen explained that he has had many positive experiences as a queen, with one of the most touching coming in the form of a Facebook message in summer 2015.
As well as having come out as a queen in his first year of university in 2012, Mr Bowen was also the only person to come out as gay in his year group whilst still at school.
It is this openness that Mr Bowen believes prompted a boy who had been three years’ his junior at high school to contact him and explain that seeing Rujazzle “inspired him to come out.
“I think the confidence that I was exuding and the fact that we come from the same place and we both accept who we are inspired him, which I think is really special.”
Mr Bowen voiced hopes that the effect he has had in St Andrews has been similar, that he has helped to change how drag is perceived in the town, and has perhaps inspired more people to try it.
“I think it probably would have happened anyway because drag is becoming very popular in the gay community,” Mr Bowen continued, “But I’m so happy that dRag Walk exists and I do hope that it will continue when I leave this year. I think it will.”
The only concern which the student has regarding the event is that its popularity at times overshadows Saints LGBT+ and skews opinions of the society.
“We have had a lot of concerns from members of the community who believe, that that’s all we do, that we just do drag. In fact we do one drag event per year.”
Apart from this, Mr Bowen only expressed excitement for the coming event and renewed interest in drag overall, urging people: “Educate yourselves. Come to dRag Walk. Go see queens wherever you’re from – Glasgow, London, the US. Drag is becoming a big thing.”