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Scent of a woman

DRAG QUEEN IKSHAKU, WHOSE STAGE NAME IS KHUSHBOO, IS A GAY MAN WHO FEELS APPLYING MAKEUP AND WEARING HIGH HEELS IS LIKE STEPPING INTO A WORLD OF DREAMS

“I WAS scared. It’s a bit jarring and makes you feel odd also because you’re so used to being a guy,” explains Ikshaku, trying on a dress for the first time before his drag show. His stage name is Khushboo.

According to Ikshaku, it is a different experience, the way you cinch the waist, wear fake breasts and feel all those things on your body. “You start feeling different, you stand and walk different. It felt natural and it gave me a licence to feel otherworldly which I don’t feel in a pant and shirtWhen he is not shining as a drag queen, Ikshaku likes to focus on his work in an advocacy organization in Delhi and deals in Human Rights, Gender, Sexuality and Environmental issues. If one goes by the societal norms it would seem a perfect job but according to Ikshaku the drag shows he does (approximately twice a month at various locations in Delhi) hold equal (or more) importance to him.

The idea of becoming a drag queen dates back to 2015 in his final year of college — National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata — when his friend Lush Moonshine (stage name) told him about Ru Paul’s Drag Race, a popular American reality competition where people contest to become `America’s next drag superstar.’ He recalls that at first he didn’t like the concept. He found the contestants’ clothes tacky and hair messy. As he gradually started watching more and more episodes, his perceptions changed and he appreciated other aspects of the show.

“I realised it was full of colour,” he recalls. “Seeing all those people from different backgrounds with no privileges. It felt like a fantasy where you try to innovate something out of nothing to create magicHe realised he too has a powerful queer personality which was earlier hidden somewhere due to `acting straight,’ playing a certain role in society and in front of his parents.

All of this also helped him during his first drag show in Kitty Su club in Delhi, October 2017. It was Halloween night, when the whole world was trying on new costumes and personifications. Although his friends from college were there to support him and help him with his makeup, make his wig sit on the head and wear the dress, Ikshaku describes the feeling from backstage as “nerve-racking, terrifyingHowever, he felt confident before his entry to the stage when a song called `Hieee’ by American Drag performer and singer Justin Andrew Honard, who goes by the stage name of Alaska Thunderfuck 5000, started playing in the club. “She’s a queen and the song is about saying hi to the audience. She says, `If you see a drag queen, don’t squint’. It’s a comical song,” added Ikshaku.

During the performance, Ikshaku played gags which he had practised at home. He stuck a wine glass to his wig under the hat and then took off the hat in the middle of the act to surprise everybody. The performance, he says, was “catharticHowever, his performances had a lot more to do with expressions than dancing. He feels drag shows are akin to theatre. “As a boy I have certain limitations, but when I do drag, I can play with my imagination. To me, drag is about projecting my imagination onstage,” says Ikshaku.

As gender is a focal point in our society, every action, every expression gets associated with a particular gender. Drag performances don’t fit into any strait- jacket. Ikshaku says playing drag is about not taking anything seriously; one can play with gender on the stage and in the end it’s a performance, so it needs to be dramatic. He gives an interesting insight into the contrast between the beauty norms of female and drag queens. “To be a woman, the makeup usually has to be subtle whereas drag queens exaggerate,” says Ikshaku. winThat is why the makeup has to be louder, with big eyelashes and huge nails to make a conspicuous impact. It is somewhat therapeutic to him, comparable to a session with a counsellor. When he slowly starts painting his eyes with precision and affection, his face becomes a canvas ready for a new painting. “It’s the rhythmic motions when I apply makeup: I get a sense of peace out of that,” says Ikshaku.

As men have different facial structures, one needs to hide the eyebrows first as they’re bushier, then new eyebrows are painted. Contouring is another thing which makes the cheekbones like a female’s. Ikshaku says initially it was a struggle but makeup tutorials on YouTube helped him get control on his hand.

For his early performances, he took 3-4 trips to different markets in Delhi to find that perfect pair of heels. This was difficult, as his shoe size is 11. He describes one incident where he and Lush Monsoon from college who also does drag shows with him went to a store to buy a pair of heels. He says he had to lie to the shopkeepers — some complied, some didn’t.

“The shopkeeper didn’t like the idea of a man trying out heels in the shop”, says Ikshaku. Somehow he managed to get one pair of heels. Later, he used the tactic of telling them that that he does theatre, which somehow worked better.

Talking about the costumes which he has worn during his performances is also a story like other countless stories of `learnt from the Internet.’ Before he started performing at Kitty Su, he participated in an online competition called Charm School on Tumblr, where amateur drag queens compete. One of the challenges was to make a dress out of unconventional materials.

Ikshaku chose blue trash bags for their recyclable value. He started by creating a cage with cardboard, and then sticking on the trash bags one by one. The end result was a refreshed version of Princess Belle’s blue gown. As a child, he was an introvert and fat. He recalls that till class 9 class he had no friends and got bullied but not severely, and although he used to attract the sweetest kids in school. Initially they became friends but gradu- ally some of them became extro- verts and went on a quest to look for better company.

Ikshaku didn’t know about his orientation till the age of 13 and like most of the gay kids, he developed feelings towards boys in school. He used to spend hours on Google, searching news about the LGBT commu- nity. He counts this experience as a lonesome phase. By the end of class 12, he made a few friends to whom he came out too. That another friend came out acted as a saving grace.

After school, he went on to Jadavpur University, Kolkata, to study literature but dropped out after a year and then took admis- sion in National University of Juridical Sciences to pursue law.

He says his legal education helps him to understand the world better.

Law school was a totally dif- ferent experience; he made friends who are still there today and support his passion for drag performances.

During the second year of col- lege, he came out to his parents.

When his dad got to know about his sexual orientation he did not accept it. Ikshaku left the house and lived somewhere else for a week before he was called by his mother to come back. Somehow, she acted as a peacemaker between father and son.

However, every now and then his parents used to tell him to keep it under wraps, citing soci- etal pressure. But Ikshaku says he likes pushing the envelope and used to slide his sexuality into conversations to open a dialogue, which his parents didn’t like.

His family also found out about his drag shows one day when his mother saw a bra and some heels in his Amazon cart.

When she asked him whether he wants to become a female, he calmed her down, saying it’s a performing art. Gradually they accepted it as now they see a much stronger person in himself.

During one of the perfor- mances, Ikshaku played gags which he had practised at home.

He stuck a wine glass to his wig under the hat and then took off the hat in the middle of the act to surprise everybody. Another time he wore a revealing dress — the lights in it would lit up during the performance. The performance, he says, was “cathartic Today, if you ask him about his favourite performance, he says it was when he chose a song by Shirley Bassey called `The Greatest Performance of My Life’. The lyrics go like, `So I who had me dance, dance through the night, just like a gypsy, and I who seldom drink, drank like a fish till I was high.’ A good note on which to sign off.