Meet Kiki, a 29-year-old drag queen living in Galway City. She spoke to us about the growing drag scene in Galway, the importance of self-love and inspiring social change.
Photos and Words: Julia Monard
How would you describe drag as an art form?
I think it has so many art forms in it! From make-up, designing clothes, to styling. Some queens are involved in fashion and music. It’s just so broad, which is really exciting. If somebody wants to start drag, they can fit themselves in somewhere. If you play the ukulele, you can put a dress on and do that. Confidence is half the battle – that’s all drag is.
How much of your identity is Kiki?
I keep it very separate – any socialising isn’t done as Kiki. They do overlap sometimes, though. I always say that Kiki is like a drunk version of Simon, but without any drink involved. I think I’m the most unlikely person in the world to do drag, in my opinion. I can be quite an introverted person, but I think my drag can bring me out of that sometimes. It’s a good escape and a good character builder.
How would you describe the drag scene in Galway?
I think it is a glittering scene at the minute. In the past three years, it’s gotten really good. It used to be just me for a while and then a few others came along. Now, I can put a show together with ten Galway queens, which is amazing. And it’s expanding – two new queens started last month and there’s more to come. There are always good vibes; any of the girls we work with, there’s no drama. It’s just fun – sisterhood, brotherhood, we just get on.
Can you talk a bit about Galway’s drag night Club Gass?
It started out as a gay techno club night originally. About six months into it, I came along and I went, ‘Right, we’re going to shake things up a bit’. I knew drag was becoming more mainstream, so I wanted to focus on that. I was struggling to put a show together; it was still just me and maybe one or two other queens. As time went on, we were able to get guests in from Dublin, Cork, and Limerick, so it grew to what it is now. The shows are always busy – it’s something different in Galway. The reception is so nice, and people are so sweet about it. We had our third birthday in November.
How would you like to see drag represented in Galway 2020?
It would be amazing to have a special Pride in 2020. I think we’re on a good path now at the minute, and we could build into something big. I like to keep it down at the West End because we find it super gay-friendly; they’ve always supported us and our events over the years. It would be nice to expand at the same time, to possibly do something in the Black Box or put on a giant street party. With more funding, we could do a bigger parade, we could include floats and motorised vehicles. I would love to see a cool gay act at the parade – some of the RuPaul girls possibly.
What is your process of preparing for a show?
My drag would mainly be lip syncing. You can do a pop song and it can be really upbeat, but I love to take on a good ballad and bring loads of emotion into it. For the last show, for example, I was watching a movie on Netflix called Dumplin’ which was inspired by Dolly Parton. I always used to listen to Dolly when I was growing up and the movie reignited my love for her again. So, I just threw together a number with Jolene. I started it off really slow, and then because it is a nightclub, it sped up into a dance version. When you listen to the words, it really is an emotional song and there are many ways people can relate to it. I sometimes try to correlate the look with the song, but sometimes it’s just fun. I like to give myself two weeks to prepare for a new song; I need to be able to lip-sync the house down.
“Confidence is half the battle – that’s all drag is.”
What is your favourite aspect of what you do?
I think I like the social aspect of it, getting to meet new people, getting to do different things. It’s opened a lot of doors for me that I never would have got into otherwise. The performing aspect of it is amazing as well. People are so sweet when you meet them after a show, that’s such a good feeling.
How did you get into drag initially?
It was about eight years ago. There was a very small drag scene in Galway at the time, probably one recurring drag show. I’d only come out at the time and going to the gay bar was really exciting. I’d seen the show and it just kind of clicked with me then. All those years in my room, dancing in front of the mirror – this is what I was supposed to be doing. I’d kind of wormed my way in there, won a drag talent competition that was on and built on it from there.
What inspires your visual style for Kiki?
I think eight years in, I am slowly settling into my own aesthetic now. Clearly, I am into leopard print and victory rolls at the minute! I’ve started working on my own costumes now and I’ll get to work with a designer pretty soon. I’m excited about that – it’s nice to have somebody else’s influence as well.
What words would you attach to your art?
Emotional. Passionate. Fashionable.
What is your Galway story?
I moved here when I was 17 from Offaly, studying business and religion. In my fourth year, the drag had started; I had just come out and I knew I didn’t want to be a business and religion teacher anymore. I got caught up in drag and working at the gay bar and I’ve been pottering about since then. Galway just feels like home; there’s a safe feeling to it – the community, the culture, the people. Going on a night out and meeting new people – everyone’s so sound, there’s no agro about the town. It’s just safe and sound and vibrant.
What do you think is missing in Galway in terms of culture?
I’d love to see the drag scene grow a little bit more, although it’s getting there. I’d love to see more people getting involved. I encourage more baby queens to come along – the more the merrier!
What would you like the legacy of Galway 2020 to be?
That people get to see Galway for what it is – a cultured town with really warm people. I hope that 2020 will push that forward to the rest of the world.
How would you describe Generation 20 in your circles?
They’re quite politically-driven in the sense of social change, which is really good to see. There is still a lot of work to be done, even within the gay community; there’s still racism, there’s still transphobia. There’s a lot to work on but I believe it will happen; there are people out there fighting hard and it will be great to see the change take effect. The people I surround myself with are funny; if I couldn’t laugh in life, it would just be terrible. I have a really dark sense of humour; I love black comedy, the edginess of it all. I’m not a comedian by any means, but I appreciate the art of it so much.
“Training myself to live in the moment, appreciating what I have and only worrying about the future where it matters has been my big ‘aha’ moment.”
How do you feel European?
I feel European in the sense that Ireland is viewed more as a modern society now than it was 15, 20 years ago. I feel like Ireland has caught up now with the rest of Europe in terms of views and stances. I think it’s as a result out of the new generation stepping back and looking at what went on in the past and being so enraged and impassioned by it, that they’re fighting for change. As evolved as Ireland has become, it’s made me feel more European. A lot of people travel to and from Galway; there are always so many cultures here. At the Gass shows, there are so many people from different walks of life, different parts of the world – that’s cool.
Where do you feel most free?
On stage, definitely. I can’t think of any other situation in life where you’re so caught up in the moment and letting it all out there. It’s a really freeing experience. The feedback from it is an even better feeling.
What is a daily struggle you face?
Getting out of bed – starting off the day, I can have a bit of a negative view. I started to train myself out of that. I wake up, smile and get on with the day. I like the idea of having a little mantra just to put your brain into a bit of a positive mode.
When were you the happiest?
I remember years ago, we had a really big Pride in Galway, and there was a huge street party. I got to go up on a trailer stage and do a little number with this song ‘Let’s Have a Kiki’ in front of all these people. It was crazy, just the best experience ever – the crowd, the atmosphere, it was amazing.
Is there a quote that represents you right now?
There is a RuPaul quote, ‘If they aren’t paying your bills, pay those b*tches no mind’. I was always worried about what people think of me – to let go of that would free up my mind so much. But I’m starting to learn how to do it. There’s also another one, ‘If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love someone else?’ It’s simple but it’s so true. You need to be able to accept yourself – your body, your mind and only then will you be able to open yourself up to loving somebody else.
Has there been any defining moment that has altered the way you look at things?
The fact that I am turning 30 next year. I was always terrified of getting older. I think in the past year or two, I’ve been so worried about the future. A big part of anxiety is always looking into the future. Training myself to live in the moment, appreciating what I have and only worrying about the future where it matters has been my big ‘aha’ moment.
Shot on location in Halo, Galway.
Generation 20 is a photo and interview series focusing on the new wave of artists in Galway. With each interview and portrait, we aim to uncover their motivations, aspirations and frustrations. To get the full authentic picture and find their common link, bring them all together and into the light. How does their journey relate to Galway and where would they like to see it in 2020? We want to see the people in the budding stages of their expression, those that are quietly grafting and doing wonderful things.
Open, bold and colourful, this is #generation20.
Photos and interviews by Julia Monard.