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drag artist and model sgàire wood feels powerful as fuck

The Glasgow-based performer talks mental health and reclaiming her own narrative as a trans woman in fashion.

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15 February 2019, 4:00am

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To celebrate the launch of Maison Margiela’s Mutiny fragrance, we’re spotlighting the voices and talents of bold iconoclasts. Through their creative endeavours and by speaking out on the issues that matter to them, this group are challenging archaic norms and exploring diverse concepts of identity.

Sgàire Wood doesn’t really know how to describe what she does. She’s a model, performer, drag queen and artist who flits between the four mediums so often that it’s a struggle to articulate exactly what she’s up to at any given time. But there is one unequivocal consistency in this woman’s life: she is pretty great at all of them.

Sgàire's knack for showcasing her extravagant drag persona and everyday life through Instagram has earned her a loyal following that stretches from close friends to the fashion world’s most fawned over designers and stylists. Based in Glasgow, where she studied fashion at the city’s School Of Art, Sgàire is part of a new wave of artists who are thriving in The North; proving that creative excellence is something that is -- and always has been -- decentralised. Born in Ireland, where she transitioned as a teenager, her story has inspired her to find a multitude of ways to express herself.

Now in Scotland, a place, she says, that has “a low tolerance for sycophancy and pretentiousness”, she’s found a familiar Celtic home. Here, Sgàire tells i-D about her segue from design into performance, why talking about mental health is wildly important to her, and reclaiming her own narrative as a trans woman in fashion.

Hi Sgàire! So you started drag and performing while you were studying fashion, right? What does one permit you to express that the other doesn't?
I guess I thought I’d come to art school and not be the only weirdly-dressed gender-bender, but I kind of still felt like I was. I was studying fashion but realised I was uncomfortable with the pressure to reinvent the wheel every time you designed something, when all I wanted to do was put together a cute, wearable outfit and strut around in it.

I guess I realised that dressing up and experimenting with beauty and fashion was a kind of performance in itself. The logical next step was drag! Performing as a heightened, idealised, dream-sequence version of your innermost self and letting that be the gateway to some kind of shared emotional experience is really creatively fulfilling.

You’re outspoken when it comes to mental health. What's the biggest hurdle stopping people in art from speaking more frankly about it?
I think no matter what the current rhetoric is, we’ve all just been brought up to think it’s a sign of weakness to be mentally ill, especially when we see it in ourselves. The trouble I think is that if you’re going through a bad patch, you’re vulnerable whether you want to admit it or not, and not admitting it can be really dangerous.

I’m more comfortable than ever at this point with my own mental illness, but I still often cave into the pressure to stop talking about my feelings or my suffering because I’ll come across as attention-seeking or it’ll cost me an opportunity or make people look at me unfavourably. It’s important to communicate how you feel, both for yourself and others who might be listening, but when that means turning down opportunities or logging off social media or coming across flaky, it becomes a lot harder to talk about the realities of your experience.

As a trans woman, you've had to reckon with the boundaries and facets of your identity in an industry that's often discriminatory towards you. Do you consider yourself someone who’s oppressed in those spaces, or is that narrative something that you find people trying to write for you?
My artistic practice addresses gender and identity issues very directly, so I can’t say I’ve felt oppression from spaces that choose to work with me as an artist, but engaging with the fashion industry as a model has been a bit more difficult. You work with people that are either clued up on trans issues, or they aren’t. Beyond that, they’re either respectful of trans people’s differences and considerate of the difficulties we face, or they aren’t.

I try to be realistic and thick-skinned and grateful for the temporary period of modelling success I’ve been granted before it’s over. Like, I know I didn’t do too badly on the genetic lottery, but I’m no Naomi Campbell either!

As an artist whose work often seems intrinsically tied to identity, do you find it hard to separate the commodification of your creative experience from your personal one?
I don’t think so, no. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2015 and since then I’ve come to accept that my personal experience of identity isn’t something I have much of a grasp on anyway. Expressing that struggle in my creative work and having others bear witness to that, to whatever degree, feels more cathartic than anything else.

BPD is hugely misunderstood. I think the stereotype is that we are masterfully manipulative or selfish train-wrecks, but there’s seldom any attempt to really listen and work out what intense suffering is making those behaviours come about. If I feel able to articulate even a little bit of my experience through my work and it helps someone to understand how I feel, I’m happy to commodify my personal experience in that way.

You seem like such a strong person -- what is power to you?
Being able to forgive yourself; knowing and embracing and loving your weaknesses just as much as your strengths. I knew from a really young age that I was never going to fully live up to what my family or the society I was brought up in expected of me. I was being told every day in one way or another that the way I felt about everything was wrong and that I needed to change, but the feelings I had were only getting stronger and eventually you hit a breaking point and decide you just can’t deal with that anymore.

Coming out was pretty traumatic for me, but why would you ever go back to denying yourself things that make you happy and that you know to be true? Accepting who you are and making no apologies for it is very rock and roll. That makes me feel powerful as fuck!