• Nelson Baker AKA Natasha St James. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
"All of us queens who do work full time have already left our day jobs, we can't go back."
Samuel Leighton-Dore

24 Mar 2020 - 8:19 AM  UPDATED 24 Mar 2020 - 10:03 AM

With all bookings cancelled into the foreseeable future, Australia's drag queens are facing deep uncertainty.

It comes as sweeping new measures were introduced to curb COVID-19 transmission rates, like closing down pubs and clubs. 

"It's been detrimental. Immediately detrimental," says Gold Coast resident Nelson Baker, who performs as his drag alter-ego Natasha St James.

"It's wiped out everything," he adds. "In our industry, we don't have any rights. Many of us wouldn't be on contracts. Some of us don't have superannuation. We don't have sick leave, we don't have annual leave. If I don't work, I don't get paid - it's simple as that."

Baker, who has been performing drag for six years, says it took four years of juggling late-night bookings with his casual retail job before he was able to support himself full-time as Natasha St James. It wasn't easy, not least because the Gold Coast is the only one of Australia's six largest cities to not have its own gay bar. 

For many drag queens, especially on the conservative Gold Coast, it not only means losing income, but the loss of a hard-won safe and celebratory space for drag community and culture. 

"The Gold Coast is a major city, but it's not a metropolis, there's no centralised CBD," the drag queen and choreographer explained in a previous interview.

"We don't have those areas like Newtown or Darlinghurst in Sydney or Spring Hill in Brisbane. We're limited by the clubs we have, but we're most limited by our hetero-normative masculine bullsh*t, which is everywhere."

Still, the 28-year-old's career had been bolstered by the success of his weekly dinner and show, Dragalicious, which had been pulling local crowds steadily for the past year.

Overnight, it's gone.

"I'm trying to be calm about it all and just wait for the government to give a solution to this problem," Baker says from self-isolation on the Gold Coast. "If I don't perform, I don't work, I don't get money. Every day is money out of my pocket at the moment."

Baker says he "hadn't really considered" how else to make money as a drag queen, with an indefinite shut on venues robbing countless locals of their livelihoods.

"I've got at least 55 other girls in Queensland who are also needing to go onto an online medium. All of us."

"If I don't perform, I don't work, I don't get money. Every day is money out of my pocket."

It's not just drag queens, either, with Baker saying the entire burlesque and performing arts community has been "absolutely ripped apart".

There are unique challenges involved in monetising drag performance for an online landscape, Baker says, including strict copyright restrictions around mainstream music on most social media platforms.

While some are using PayPal donation links to monetise performances on social media, others are turning to subscription services like Only Fans and Patreon.

Stanmore local Shay Evans, who works full time as drag queen Felicity Frokcaccino, tells SBS Pride that social distancing restrictions have been a devastating blow, with many of his regular venues forced to either close or limit service capacity.

"As a Kiwi who doesn't get government assistance anyway, I'm really up s***'s creek," says Evans, who has lost the majority of his bookings over the coming months.

"I do have a little bit of money (stored) away, which was going to be for a holiday, but now that will be going to rent. All of us queens who do work full time have already left our day jobs, we can't go back, we can't just call them up."

In an effort to monetise his drag work online, Evans has been hosting a weekly variety show called Felicity and Friends, which is streamed live on Facebook and Instagram. It's a show Evans once performed at Sydney venues like The Midnight Shift and The Imperial. Now he's doing it for free, providing a PayPal link for those who'd like to tip.

"It's hard, because nobody else has money either," he says, noting that other local drag queens have begun selling extra merchandise online in an effort to regain lost income.

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