Meet Amsterdam's new generation of womxn and non-binary drag queens
These five queens are claiming their rightful spot in the Amsterdam drag scene by turning otherworldly looks and giving fierce performances.
All photography by Jaimy Gail
There hasn’t been a moment in history in which drag community has been more visible or represented in the media than right now. Shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race have helped the historically queer art break free from the underground and enter the mainstream -- the wider worldtongue-popping and finger-snapping along with it.
But while the show has massively contributed to the emancipation of the community, it has also drawn criticism over the last few years. In particular, for its strong focus on cisgender men in drag, and the subsequent reinforcement of the longstanding stereotype that a drag queen is ‘a man dressing up as a woman’. RuPaul might see it as that, but in reality? That’s a narrow-minded vision.
The art of drag has always captured a community far greater than that. In Amsterdam, a new generation of AFAB (assigned female at birth) drag queens are making waves in the local scene by turning otherworldly looks and giving fierce performances. With their drag, they find a way to express themselves in a way that hasn’t been commodified by big entertainment conglomerates. They experiment with their creativity and explore their identity -- free from the rules and conventions of drag. We met with five of the Netherland’s most prominent AFAB queens, who are leading the way in redefining drag as something more democratic, accepting and creative than ever before.
Eleanor Aurora (22)
I started doing drag about a year and a half ago, after a friend took me to the Drag Olympics in Amsterdam during Pride. Surrounded by these beautiful queer and free spirits I immediately felt at home. I knew I had found my people and that drag was my calling. When I started going out to clubs in drag, I could finally feel free in my creative expression -- without being labelled as weird or different. My drag aesthetic varies a lot but some of the key ingredients are bold colours, hyperfemininity and otherworldliness. One day I’m an eyeless rainbow alien, the next a BDSM demon hooker.
As an AFAB queen, I feel really welcome in the Dutch drag and club kid community. Everybody here is very supportive of each other, as long as you express yourself with authenticity and just do what makes you happy. The possibilities are endless now: you don’t have to shave your legs, you can have a beard, your gender doesn’t matter, whether you want to look masculine, feminine or neither -- anything goes!
I'm a freelance make-up artist and started experimenting with drag make-up a few years ago, after discovering Drag Race. Unfortunately, there’s no representation whatsoever of afab queens on the show, so it was by researching on the internet that I found out there’s way more than just cismen doing drag. As I began to recreate looks from Drag Race queens, I slowly started to define my own style. It can be best described as a Monster High doll meets Tim Burton character meets clown meets sleep paralysis demon in the corner of your room at 3:00am, but… feminine.
I think people are quick to reject what they don’t understand, and I feel like a lot of people don’t understand us or like us, because as AFAB queens we supposedly have an ‘advantage’ over cismen who do drag. However, I put as much time, money and effort in my drag as they do -- the only difference is what’s in my pants. An artform that’s all about self acceptance and creativity should not be dictated, or judged, by that.
Eli Express (19)
The first time I went out in drag was when I went to Sasha Velour’s Party Monster Ball in Amsterdam. I felt a huge connection with Sasha -- when they took to the stage I couldn’t take my eyes off them. That night stuck by me in so many ways. It became the catalyst that really got me into drag. My aesthetic is very genderful, and at the same time very genderless. I’m inspired by my trans siblings and their gender expressions and heavily influenced by the punk and grunge scene. Eli is colourful, masculine, feminine and nonbinary, all at once.
At the start of this year I came out as trans nonbinary and from that moment on I have really tried to explore my identity even more. A lot of cisgender people don’t believe in a nonbinary identity, because they don’t know anyone with that gender identity. I’m still being labeled as a woman on a daily basis, even though I’m definitely not. I hope people will stop trying to put me in a box, because I will just as quickly climb out of it.
What a lot of cismen who do drag don’t understand, is that afab queens are not here to be a burden to them. We’re here just as much for ourselves and other minorities as they are.
Minx Genesis (19)
When I discovered Drag Race back in 2016, as a young queer girl it immediately resonated with me. I was super inspired by the queens’ makeup looks, but didn’t know you didn’t have to be a cisman to do drag. A year later I started recreating some drag looks and that’s when I found out through social media that there were also women who did it too. That was around the same time I met my current group of friends, whom I now call my family. Together we started to explore the local drag scene, instead of only painting our faces in our bedroom.
Often I feel like AFAB queens have to work harder to get recognised for their drag, because most people just don’t take them seriously. If you’re not doing ‘the most’ they just see you as a girl instead of a drag queen. For instance, I have to walk around with eyeliner as high up as my hairline to be seen as a ‘valid queen’, while there are cis male queens that wear less makeup than I do out of drag.
We are finally getting a platform for our art. AFAB drag queens have always been around, it’s just that hardly anyone outside the drag community was really talking about them. I think a lot of people are starting to realise that female queens can just be as fierce as cis male queens, now that they get to see us perform. The future of drag is female, it’s trans, it’s nonbinary, it’s everything you want it to be.
Bek Holden (24)
My drag name is Bek Holden, a play on the Dutch saying ‘hou je bek’, which means ‘shut up’ -- which is very fitting since I talk a lot. I started doing drag two years ago, after discovering Drag Race on Netflix. I am a super creative person, so I was instantly infatuated by the craft. I was also a really big fan of makeup and used to draw on paper a lot in my free time. So I decided to challenge myself, and combine the two by trying out drag. I do drag for the artistic aspect more so than the performative. After a lot of trial and error, here we are. My looks depend on my mood, since the process of getting into drag is super cathartic for me. When I’m feeling sad I’ll paint myself blue, when I’m feeling trippy I’ll turn myself into a mushroom. My looks are always different and, although I am an outfit repeater, the concept and context always changes. One thing I can say though is that you’ll always see me wearing tulle. I love tulle.
When I became obsessed with Drag Race, I started going to shows to see my favourite queens perform. But in all honesty, I was more impressed by the local talent that made up the opening act. Shortly after my second Ru-girl drag show, I started going to more local drag shows to show my support for the craft and the community. That’s how I met the Mermaids Mansion, one of the biggest drag houses in the Netherlands, who quickly took me under their wing. Abby OMG is now my drag mother. She is the one that gave me all the tips and all the guidance I needed to start out, and she still helps me to this day with anything from wigs to outfits to glueing my lashes on when I feel lazy.
Since I started doing drag I started feeling way more comfortable within myself and more confident. I always struggled with my body but drag has really helped me to appreciate and love myself more, my body in particular. The future of drag has no gender and it’ll be a community of people enjoying the same craft and contributing to it in different forms. There will be no separation between drag queen, drag king, club kid. We’ll just have drag.
Photography Jaimy Gail