diary of a drag queen: crystal rasmussen on writing a book "by a queer for queers about queers"
The brilliant debut book by Crystal Rasmussen is out today, and we're sharing an exclusive excerpt and intro by the fabulous author herself. This memoir is juicy and unapologetic. It might make you cry, and it will most definitely make you laugh.
Six years ago I met a man who was very attractive. We were walking through a bunch of
fields, over a hill -- something only younger me would do, as, since ageing, I have realised
the true mind-numbing reality of country walks -- and he was telling me about a book he
was working on. I forget the premise, most probably a crime thriller but with one very specific
detail that made it stand out from the other three trillion crime thrillers already published that
He had been working on it for five and a half years, and revealed that his parents were
funding him while he completed this magnificent tome. I remember being very jealous,
confused, and aware that I myself -- a queer, non-binary drag queen who was born and
raised in Lancaster, up north, with not a single connection in the arts -- could never publish
The year is 2019, and I haven’t been on a country walk for five years, but I have just (today)
published a book. This sounds like a brag -- but it’s not. It’s more a response to that man I
met on that hill six years ago, who is still funded by his parents, who is still writing his book,
and who yesterday sent me a patronising email explaining to me how "important untold,
strange stories are".
This, for many, wouldn’t be a problem -- but for people like me, that is so often all we ever
get to be: strange stories, untold stories, alt stories.
Since that conversation years ago, I have held an ugly kernel of resentment in my bowel for
that man on the hill. And every time I got a "no" from an editor, a publisher (lol got so many),
the accounts department, I thought of the man on the hill, and I thought of how satisfying it
would be one day to send him an advance copy of a book I’d written.
And that’s why I wrote this book, Diary of a Drag Queen -- to settle a deeply petty score with
him. No, I’m kidding. I wrote this book because stories like ours are never allowed to be told.
I have never really seen myself in literature, even queer literature: it’s either lofty or
laborious, steeped in either ‘fabulous’ or ‘trauma’, or only for thin white boys whose parents
take them on sabbaticals to Florence. And that’s great, and a very good start.
But I wrote a book because I wanted to detail both the utter mundanity and euphoric glory of
queer life, the deeply boring predictability of violence, the exhilarating feeling of societal
shame that comes with anal pleasure, and the even more exhilarating feeling of shedding
that shame all together. I wrote a non-binary, slightly wonky, imperfect book because I was
tired of reading tomes of entitlement: where people have to make up murders or stately
homes or, I don’t know, like one singular problem because they’ve never really known what it
feels like to be the strange story that’s never told, unless it’s been told for us by some
transphobic trash broadsheet. And of course this isn’t all literature, but that which is lauded
by the man on the hill.
My book is probably not as conventionally crafted, or grammatically impressive, as the book
being written by the man on the hill. But then I think about the lack of space for difference in
our culture, about the fact that for too long cis white men have decreed what ‘good writing’
is. I’m glad this tale is a little raggedy, fully iconic, honest to a (and I quote) “grotesque level”,
because that means I wrote a book by a queer for queers about queers.
Below is a little extract from the book, because I decided that the man on the hill didn’t
deserve a whole copy. But, really, because I hope you, dear reader, really like it and want to
read more. I wrote it for you.
I couldn’t decide on what to wear today. My go-to is over-accessorised with crap, but some days I want to preempt people staring at me, like today, and so I opt to tuck the more garish side of myself away for safekeeping.
And, yet, when I left the house and walked down towards Clapham Junction station, my first encounter with another person was a guy who kerb-crawled me for about three minutes, calling me a ‘faggot’. Such effort! Probably wanted to fuck me.
The thing is, all my life people have stared at me and I never really knew why. Because to you you’re just you and you don’t really stare at yourself. Unless you have a spot you need to squeeze.
These stares vary in their feeling: sometimes it’s like ‘woah, there’s a freak on the loose’ and, on the other end of the spectrum, it’s like, ‘I see you, oh beautiful gender non-binary body, and I accept you.’ I prefer the latter, but they often come with a pinch of the patronising, too, because I wasn’t asking for anyone’s approval in the first place. I think it’s an issue that we congratulate people for not being homophobic, for not being transphobic, for not being a misogynist. We say things like ‘God, your boyfriend is amazing’ because he does the washing up and believes in equal pay; or ‘Wow! Your parents are so supportive’ because they didn’t kick you out when you revealed your homosexuality. But you don’t applaud a fish for swimming, so why applaud someone for being a decent, non-violent human being?
With expressions of gender, we’re so often punished for how we transgress out of a role -- because we’re excessive, over-the-top, attention-seeking, we’re regarded as the rightful recipients of abuse because ‘you brought it on yourself’.
When I dress up it’s always for me, even though I’ve amassed so many stares because my very presence challenges other people’s beliefs about what bodies should look like, which makes them angry. But if those beliefs can’t withstand questioning, then they aren’t structurally sound.
When I dress up I feel authentic, like I’ve really questioned my beliefs and this is the result. I take ownership of the could-be wreckage of my body, after it’s dodged the insults of countless people, and cover it in things that tell people who I am in the way I want to say it.
On days when I get kerb-crawled, when the energy in the air is febrile, I remember that it is me, us, who are lucky. Because we have been lucky enough to peek behind the curtain of life’s binaries which are more of a lie than anything I’m putting out there. Isn’t it more authentic, more ‘real’ to fall wherever you want, rather than to fall into a preset, artificially constructed category that you had no agency over creating?
Diary of a Drag Queen is published today by Ebury, and is available online here, and in
all good bookshops.