By Annie Grudeva and Jacqueline Hedges
Last night, the two of us went to Sink The Pink at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. Down a seedy looking back alley and in an equally seedy looking old building…
“Is this it?”
“I don’t know…it has to be….this is the only building on this street that it could be.”
“It looks like a place where we’re going to get mugged and raped…”
“Oh no wait, look, there’s the Sink The Pink banner. This is it.”
we found a little piece of paradise.
When we arrived, it was ridiculously early so that we could talk to everyone involved in the running of the night, and the building was cold, empty. A few hours later, it was filled with the warmth and love of a crowd who didn’t care about the opinions of the society that went on a few hundred meters down that dark and dingy road. It was a celebration of freedom, self expression, and everything that didn’t fit in the box that traditional society places us in.
We sat down and started unpacking. Camera – set, mike – set, Tesco meal deal dinner – set. We watched the ladies getting ready and it was like magic. The make up, the conversations between them, the laughter at the big pink wigs – it all felt so… natural. I’m saying this because I grew up in an environment where we were told that ‘the gays’ and especially the cross-dressers spread diseases and sell drugs. And there we were, sitting with them, laughing with them. Oh if my grandma could see me now she would probably have a heart attack.
What was even more amazing about the whole experience was how accepting those people were of their own bodies, how comfortable they felt with showing them, dressing them, adoring them without fear of being shamed, shouted at or attacked. We watched them as they were becoming just girls who are here to have some fun. (This makes you amazingly comfortable in your own skin in a way.)
We tried to start filming but we really couldn’t – the dressing room was full of screaming, laughing girls, singing along to Beyonce. So we were on a new quest – finding a quiet spot in a drag club.
We bounced from hallway (which filled up), to ladies toilet (same story) to finally landing in one of the smaller rooms down by the smoking area. I went fan-girly over an Instagrammer who is doing a project made up of portraits of striking people around London and had also set up in the same space. Each time, we settled, grabbed as many people as we could, and got them to tell us about their perceptions of the culture that they were in.
Amongst the people that we talked to, there were some that didn’t fit the stereotype of what a drag queen supposedly should be. The societal perception is that a drag queen is a gay man who dresses up to impersonate a woman. This is far from the reality. I made the mistake of blindly asking the female side of the partnership who runs Sink The Pink what she felt was her place in this night. She almost declined to answer. This wasn’t just about boys in girls’ clothes. This was about having a place where you were free to be anything. One of the Queens had a wife, who also came along sometimes and dressed up just as fabulously; and no, this wasn’t out of the proverbial ordinary.
As we were putting our gear away I looked towards the room and said out loud, almost surprised at my own thoughts: “I just realised we’re in a room full of men.” Trust me, it didn’t feel like it. There was no shyness or gender to be found around here. We laughed about it, as I remember I even discussed my boobs with one of the girls earlier in the evening. I wish I could do that in the pub.
At the end there were hugs, tears and a lot of laughter. As one of the Queens said: “Bring everyone in here for 15 minutes and the world would be a different place.” We don’t know about the world but it feels we left the club a little bit different. A bit more open-minded; content with who we were. We said we’d come back, not for work but because we felt like we belonged.
* we are currently working on a documentary about London drag and queer culture. If you would like to know more or know of anything that would help us in our search, feel free to contact us. (twitter handles listed at the top)
The aforementioned video of the heterosexual Queen who met his wife while in drag. What’s your excuse?