The pandemic has triggered irreversible ruptures across society, revealing the artificiality of social norms once accepted as unshakeable. From the merging of home and work life, to normalising governments policing how far we keep from family, to a summer of protests decolonizing belief systems: little has been left unchanged. Yet the pervasive narrative of an overturned world negates how, for centuries, communities across the globe have confronted falsely fixed norms again and again. Drag has persistently proven the constructed nature of masculinity, femininity, class and race, defiantly disrupting gender binaries. With the pandemic beginning to destabilise socialised acceptance of norms, drag is important now more than ever as it continues to exorcise gender binaries from social imaginaries. I spoke to the Drag Queens Cheddar Gorgeous, Cara Melle, Mahatma Khandi and Velvet Caveat about their personal experiences, the disruptive potential of drag and advice for anybody seeking to join the powerful drag community today.

On Personal Experiences

Lily: I’d love to talk about how you started off with drag. What drew you to drag as an art form?

Cheddar Gorgeous: The first time I did something I’d now call drag was when I was a waiter in my twenties. The process of really being looked at is the first moment I recall feeling the spectacle energy I associate with drag. I was playing a part where I got to still be myself, but also have a distant role in somebody’s night, which allowed me to get away with experimentation! I was drawn to drag as an art form not to do female impersonation, but to use spectacle to amplify myself.

“With the pandemic beginning to destabilise socialised acceptance of norms, drag is important now more than ever as it continues to exorcise gender binaries from social imaginaries”

Cara Melle: I started doing drag because I was never happy concentrating my energy into one thing… I am a true schizophrenic honey! Drag combines every aspect of what I was doing, yet you never have to fit a mould. It lets you have different personalities without any restrictions - one night I can be a dominatrix and another night I’ll be a goddess or an angel!

Cheddar Gorgeous in an incredible look as part of a 'COVID' series during the first lockdown seeking to celebrate community and care workersINSTAGRAM / CHEDDAR_GORGEOUS

Mahatma Khandi: I started doing drag five years ago. I was drawn to drag as an art form because choosing to look inwards and visibly project that outwards is so powerful. I realised I wanted to show the world that I am one in a million and my voice deserves to be heard. But I really began drag because I want everyone to appreciate their own individual beauty, ignoring the archaic category society has given them.

Velvet Caveat: I graduated from Cambridge last year but I started doing drag five days before my second year exams! I remember being so exhausted from the workload and thinking ‘I’m out’, turning up to Glitterbomb - Cambridge’s LGBTQ+ club night - looking hideous. But I performed Lily Allen’s ‘It’s Hard Out Here’ and felt AMAZING... it really got me through the intensity of Cambridge.

Lily: Drag brings out amazing aspects of femininity such as solidarity and sisterhood. How has finding a sisterhood changed your life?

Cara Melle's fabulous golden goddess look shot by the photographer Jordana Barale INSTAGRAM / TASTEMYCARAMELLE

Cara Melle: Sisterhood changes your life completely. I’m one of the Bougie Girls and we’ve been working together for a long time. It was always when I was doing my makeup next to my sisters Tayce and Honey Foxx that I’d learn more tricks and it was always my sisters who’d get me the next gig. I can’t wait to get back to performing together – it feels like it was a millennia ago!

Velvet Caveat: I didn’t just have a Drag sisterhood at Cambridge but a second family. Cambridge is always changing as people are constantly leaving which means the drag community is permanently shifting and trying new things, yet my drag family was always there. Cambridge was and is an incredibly accepting and loving place.

Lily: The pandemic has ushered in never-ending lockdowns. How have you found this experience - have you learnt anything new about yourself?

Cara Melle: This experience has been a rollercoaster. When we first went into lockdown I was in shock - I didn’t want to invest my energy into social media. At one point I didn’t want to do online gigs at all because I wasn’t getting the same feedback online… I even got my mum to watch me whilst filming so I could feel like I was connecting with someone! But I realised I’m a real shapeshifter. I taught myself so many new skills becoming my own video editor, my own director, my own everything. This experience has made me a Renaissance woman and I LOVE that.

Mahatma Khandi: Before the pandemic, I was constantly hustling to make sure people knew who I was. All I wanted was to be in people’s minds and impact their lives. But I was so concerned about the outer perception of my drag and what people wanted from me: it was all about external opinions. The pandemic taught me to look inwards to understand my worth irregardless.

On Drag’s Disruptive Potential

Lily: Why do you think drag has such disruptive potential?

Cheddar Gorgeous: Gender norms are incredibly potent flows in people’s lives, but they’ve always been pushed and altered. We think about the current moment as one which has never happened before but drag has disrupted norms in the past. Drag has disruptive potential which is one of the most amazing things about it. There will always be an edge to drag in creating that reiterated moment of disruption.

Velvet Caveat: Drag has existed for ages and has always been based upon taking traditional stereotypes around gender and subverting them. It’s progressively modern by asking how we can take pre-conceived notions of gender and re-work them… there’s something really exciting about that.

Lily: What makes you feel your most powerful when you are in drag?

Mahatma Khandi looking amazing in a stylised fringed blue dress and matching tie-dye boots INSTAGRAM / MAHATMAKHANDI

Cheddar Gorgeous: Drag is powerful because you are taking control of being looked at. It reveals the constructed nature of beauty and so disrupts the idea that there is a ‘natural’ beauty… you learn that the prism through which you judge yourself and others is a mere construction. Instead of transforming into something beautiful, drag is reaching into yourself to bring out what people can’t see and making them the ONLY thing they see. I can pull out such confidence within me whenever I need it. If I can walk down the street in drag which defies definitions of beauty, maybe I can go to the shops and face being misgendered. That is the power of drag.

“Drag is powerful because you are taking control of being looked at. It reveals the constructed nature of beauty and so disrupts the idea that there is a ‘natural’ beauty… you learn that the prism through which you judge yourself and others is a mere construction”

Cara Melle: I feel powerful when I feel the energy of an audience. After a performance, I’ll often come off the stage in pain and barely able to stand up because I’ve put my whole heart out there, but the roar of the audience makes it all worth it. Drag Queens are like Tinkerbelle… if you don’t clap for us, we’ll die!

Velvet Caveat: I’m already six foot three so when I’m in drag with heels and a huge wig I’m nearing seven foot. Soaring above others is in itself so powerful, but the most powerful thing is how people cannot help but look and stare. Not everybody is going to get it, but I’ve made them think by saying I’m here, I’m huge and I look amazing! I’m confronting them with new ways of seeing, which is really reclaiming all the years that I tried not to be seen and shut myself down.

“Drag queens are challenging binaries sitting at home or walking down the street”

After a summer and winter of protests, I’d love to ask: does drag and social activism go hand in hand?

Mahatma Khandi: Drag is so powerful because it is political as soon as you put lipstick on. I’m a typical Pisces constantly trying to escape from the world, so last summer opened my eyes more than it should have! There were so many beautiful moments during the Black Trans Lives protests when it felt like we were all truly doing something for our community. But everyone has the power to create change regardless of where you are. Drag queens are challenging binaries sitting at home or walking down the street!

On Advice to Young People

Lily: What advice would you give anybody struggling with their sexuality or gender identity at home during the pandemic?

Cara Melle: It’s important to remember that there are other people just like you going through similar things... if you feel like you’re alone, I promise you’re not! When I was coming out as a gay man, I thought I was all alone as a Southern black boy in Atlanta, but I realised there were people I could speak to really close to me. Some family members will shock you and your friends will always have your back. Talking about your internal struggles is the only way you can heal and flourish to become that beautiful butterfly!

Velvet Caveat: Gender and sexuality is a real journey and there is no right or wrong answer. We have this idea that we have a true self which we must find right away, but that is not true! Rather than focusing on a great realisation, accept it’s okay to try something out and realise it isn’t you. It’s also tempting to look at other people’s transitions and tell yourself you’re never going to get there but it is okay not to fit the Hollywood beauty mould. There is always going to be representation of somebody who is white and passing to please heterosexual audiences. If that’s not you, don’t force yourself to relate to something that isn’t universally relatable.

“In learning that there is a regular person behind drag, people can realise there is not an innate specialness to me but an innate specialness within us all. We can all be powerful beings”

Lily: What are the main messages you wish people could learn from your drag?

Cambridge's own Velvet Caveat opts for a classic look reminiscent of old Hollywood glamour INSTAGRAM / VELVETCAVEAT

Cheddar Gorgeous: I want people to learn that all beauty is delusion and all beauty is a construction. I don’t want people to see me on stage and think I’m beautiful: I want them to understand that there is a me who takes it all off. In learning that there is a regular person behind drag, people can realise there is not an innate specialness to me but an innate specialness within us all. We can all be powerful beings.


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Cara Melle: I want people to learn that everyone has their powerful sexual goddess within them and deserves to be WORSHIPPED! I promise you there’s a piece of Cara Melle in everybody.

Mahatma Khandi: I want people to learn to let go of the constant pressure around how you present yourself and how you’re perceived within the queer community. We refuse to be labelled by a cisgender white man, but we still put people into categories and construct barriers. I just want people to release themselves from societal stereotypes and celebrate their beauty.

Velvet Caveat: I’d love people to know that drag is about how it makes you feel, rather than how you look. People want to see flashy and expensive drag nowadays but there is a real financial barrier in drag… I want people to appreciate that drag isn’t just its expensive components but it is art! Everything I do is individual and everything I do is 100% me.

Fashion Editor Lily spoke about drag, disruption and the pandemic over zoom with Velvet Caveat and Mahatma Khandi

The potential of drag to both empower individuals and topple internalised beliefs surrounding gender, sexuality, class and race is omnipotent. Whilst populations may finally be waking up to the constructed nature of norms during the pandemic, drag always has been and always will be a defiant force in society