It’s Tuesday night and the heels are out at the rehearsal space of Drag-Súgur, Reykjavík’s latest and greatest drag performance group. The queens are gearing up for their upcoming performance at Reykjavík Pride, which will be their biggest yet, and the excitement is palpable as they swap makeup tips and reflect on an exciting eight months.
Drag-Súgur has only been around since last November, but their monthly performances at Gaukurinn have already become a fixture in Reykjavík’s queer arts calendar. It all began after Hafsteinn Himiljómi Sverrisson and Sigurður Heimir Guðjónsson met last year and discovered they both wanted to improve the spaces for queer art in Reykjavík.
“When we started this, we wanted to make an impact and really try to revive the queer community, and not have it active just around Pride,” says Sigurður, who performs as Gógó Starr. By all accounts they’ve succeeded, with Gaukurinn regularly at capacity for Drag-Súgur shows as people flock to watch drag queens and drag kings strut their stuff on stage.
“Before Drag-Súgur there was nothing happening, nothing!” says Hafsteinn, who performs as Ragna Rök. “Queer people wouldn’t hang out. We only had Kiki, and then you’d show up and you were half a vodka bottle in, you know? Every queer person I knew was screaming for something more to happen.”
What is drag?
There isn’t a long history of drag in Iceland, so for some people Drag-Súgur is their first introduction to the form, says Hafsteinn. This has meant a lot of explaining the “what” and the “why” behind drag.
“It’s most likely going to be light and funny and silly,” says Richard Chapman, who performs as Wonda Starr. He says he thinks most people coming to Drag-Súgur shows are just looking for entertainment. “But then there’s also the other side, where you’re coming to have your ideas challenged.”
For Hólmar Hólm, who performs as Drama, drag is about embracing his femininity, which in the past has been used against him. “It’s not that I want to be anything other than I am,” says Hólmar about the misconception that dressing in drag is an expression of gender identity. “You’re just putting on a costume, you’re putting on a show. It’s just like an actor on a stage, it’s no different from being in a Santa costume.”
“It’s a magical fucking tool,” Hafsteinn says about drag. Before doing drag, he says he was feeling depressed, but now he’s been able to connect with his identity in new ways. “It’s opening doors in my mind and my life that’s making me feel more appreciative and powerful,” he says. “Who’d have thought that a pair of heels would make you feel better!”
The RuPaul Effect
The royalty of Drag-Súgur say they see themselves as part of a drag “renaissance” that’s happening in Iceland and around the world. The re-emergence of drag as a popular form of art and performance is undoubtedly thanks to the television show ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’, which in recent years has become popular even beyond the queer community.
“Queens everywhere in the world are so much further along just because of all this exposure,” says Hólmar. When he first did drag in secondary school, Hólmar says he only had his female friends to help him with makeup and outfits. “I never did it again until two years ago I was watching ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and I was like, ‘Oh, this is what it takes to be a real drag queen,'” he says. “I really loved the show, and I wanted to do everything like they were doing it.”
As opposed to other cities such as London, where there is a particular style of drag performance, Richard says Icelandic drag clearly finds inspiration from the queens on RuPaul’s show. “Because there hasn’t been such a long history in Iceland, you can see it with Drag-Súgur that people aren’t just basing it off of traditions that have already passed,” he says. “There’s a complete diversity of performers.”
Introducing: Queer Reykjavík
One of the Drag-Súgur’s main triumphs has been reuniting and revitalizing the queer community in Reykjavík, says Hafsteinn. “I feel like I’m at a reunion sometimes because I’ll see queer people that I haven’t seen in years and then they just show up to our shows,” he says. Drag-Súgur has grown to about fifteen regular performers, as well as a growing network of other queer artists in Reykjavík.
Australian comedian Jonathan Duffy has been hosting the drag shows since they started at Gaukurinn last year, and agrees that Drag-Súgur has been important for building community. “I’ve been doing comedy for twelve years and as a gay comedian, I would say this is the only time I’ve ever seen an audience that is just so mixed,” he says. “It’s such a massive variety of cross-sections of society who have all come to watch this one thing that brings all of them joy.”
Although Hafsteinn says he doesn’t know how Drag-Súgur will evolve in the coming months and years, he hopes it will continue to be an inclusive space in Reykjavík. “People come to the show to find respite from being weird,” he says. “Nobody’s going to come in and feel bad about themselves when there are so many strange things happening. It’s a place for outsiders to come and just breathe.”
Drag-Súgur will be performing at Iðnó on August 2 as part of the Reykjavík Pride programme. They will also be part of the Gaukurinn float in the Pride parade and will be performing in the festival following the parade.