Having trained in Performance and Visual Art at Brighton University, Sam Pearson went on to found the award winning performance and video collective ‘Me and The Machine’ in 2009, gaining an international reputation as an innovator of new storytelling techniques. More recently he has completed a Masters Degree in Documentary Production at The University of West of England. He is currently based between Bristol and London.
A year ago, one of my best friends Tom Maccoy introduced himself to me for the first time as a woman. While I initially assumed that it was simply his attempt to make a political statement, it later became apparent that his crossdressing was spurred on by more personal reasons; to satisfy an inner desire he had carried with him since childhood. It was this that helped me begin to understand the deep interconnection between how we are perceived on the outside and how we feel within. I started to wonder how else this interconnection could play out, and it was in search of answers that my journey into the world of drag began.
Over the following months, I set about meeting with a number of drag queens. As a naive outsider who had little knowledge of what being a drag queen was all about, I was humbled by the unfaltering shows of openness and patience I received. I was also amazed by the diversity of motivations that people seemed to have for being drag queens, be it artistic expression, finding a sense of community and belonging, making a political statement, or as was the case with Sarah, exercising a part of oneself that would otherwise remain suppressed. No matter how much the list grew, not once did I hear anything disagreeable. What is there about drag, I began to wonder, not to like? What about it can possible cause so much opposition?
Whereas the drag community used to exist on the fringes of society, it has now made its way into the mainstream, helped along by social media and the popular television series, RuPaul’s Drag Race. At last, patriarchal attitudes that once repressed those who do not fit within society’s mould are starting to give way to a more tolerant and openminded approach. Whereas individual expression was once demonized, it is now starting to become something to be celebrated. However, while the field of what is acceptable within the mainstream has widened, so too has the gap between those who have been taken along with the new wave of individualism, and those left behind. In forging a more tolerant and inclusive society, we risk excluding and alienating an entire generation of people who for whatever reason, just don’t get it. For that reason, I hope this film will help, by offering some explanation for why some of us feel the need to do the things we do by shedding some light on the often buried and complex motivations for doing them. As Sarah reminds us in the film, “being different isn’t something dangerous, it isn’t something scary,” but creating a society with a higher degree of diversity and individual liberties will only be beneficial if we are all prepared to take the time to try and understand each other by listening to each other’s stories. In doing so, we might realize that we aren’t so different after all.
As for Sarah, her willingness to tell her story on camera was truly brave, especially given that she has struggled for so long with anxiety. I hope the film can help her come to terms with the person that she is by offering a constructive and insightful reflection of her life, and, just as drag itself, act as a platform to “present a part of [herself] to the world”.