Drag queen Beni Lola is perched in her canopy bed, describing her outfit for a performance she is doing later in the evening.
“At the moment I’m standing in my house wearing three layers of tulle in the form of a wedding veil and my housemates can’t see my face. They keep telling me I look creepy,” she told SBS Sexuality.
Beni Lola is not your typical drag queen. While she does dress up in an exaggerated form of the female and lip syncs onstage, beneath the layers of tulle and makeup she is, in fact, a woman.
For many years, drag has been the domain of gay men, but the phenomenon of bioqueens has risen in popularity in Australia over the past few years.
Bioqueens are female-identifying women – whether they be cis-gendered, trans, queer or straight – who dress up and often perform as what the world has come to recognise as drag queens.
Bioqueens should not be confused with drag kings – women who perform in drag as men – they are very much women who become drag queens.
“I like to use the name faux-queen or biodrag, but I think at the same time, we’re just drag queens and you can put as many labels on it as you want, at the end of the day we’re just drag queens,” said Melbourne based queen Bella Nitrate.
“And that’s where I want to sit on the scale of girl to boy. I just want to do drag and be in that position where gender disappears.”
The concept of drag began in the theatre, dating as far back as Ancient Greece, where men would play women’s roles and wear women’s costumes.
From its theatrical roots, drag has evolved into the art form practiced by drag queens, which until recently was dominated by queer men.
Beni Lola – who also performs under her real name of Natasha Jynel – does not believe the gender identity of a person affects their ability to be a drag queen.
“The reason I’m drawn to gender performance is that I’m interested in exploring the kind of woman I can be, which I don’t always think I can do in the day to day world,” she said. “In my everyday world when I talk the way I do, people think I’m a weirdo.”
However, bioqueens have not always been welcomed in Australia’s drag scene.
In 2013 Bella Nitrate became one of the first bioqueens to go up against conventional queens in a drag competition called Dragnet.
During the 13-week competition, she had to constantly explain that she was in fact a real drag queen, just like the other girls on the stage.
A well-known drag queen told Bella to “please get your filthy c--t off our artform”, but she did not let the harsh words deter her.
“Drag queens have said to me, ‘fuck those people, at the end of the day, we’re men in dresses. People will get a laugh out of us no matter what’,” Bella said. “When I say I’m a drag queen and people tell me, ‘no you’re not, you don’t have a dick’, I say, ‘isn’t drag about the art of it, about being amazing, glamorous huge and artistic?’”
Internationally renowned Australian drag queen - Karen from Finance - is a massive supporter of biodrag and believes people’s fear of messing with tradition is what makes them critical of bioqueens.
“Drag to people can mean many different things, and to me it’s the performance of gender or the performance of character and there’s no reason why genitalia should stop anyone from partaking in that performance,” she said.
“It kind of goes the same way on things in society like marriage equality and trans acceptance. They’re scared of the unknown and they’re scared of the drag changing from what they’d like it to be already.”
Bioqueens have been around for years overseas, but their increased visibility in Australia is partly due to the popularity of reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Hosted by RuPaul, arguably the world’s most famous drag queen, contestants are pitted against each other to win the title of America’s next drag superstar.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race really amped up the visibility of drag and exposed a lot of women to drag nationally,” said bioqueen and cosplayer Janelle Dazzlepants.
“It got girls interested in going out to see their local queens and also see the Drag Race queens when they toured here.
“They have then fallen in love with drag even more and started playing around with it, transforming into another person every night. And doing it on the regular created a bioqueen movement.”
So, what exactly does the High Dame of drag, RuPaul think about bioqueens? When asked by a fan on Twitter if she would allow bioqueens to compete on her show, RuPaul replied, “That show already exists. It’s called #Miss Universe.”
A typically subversive RuPaul response, it could be tongue in cheek or totally sincere, but when season five drag race contestant Monica Beverly Hillz came out as transgender on the show, RuPaul was supportive, telling her: “I invited you on this show because you were fierce. You deserve to be here and that’s why you’re here.”
According to RuPaul, drag does not follow the conventional rules of society.
“Drag is punk rock, because it is not part of the Matrix,” she recently told Vulture. “Boy, girl, black, white, Catholic, Jew, Muslim. It's none of that.
“We shape-shift. We can do whatever we want.”
Malibu Stacey is a baby queen – someone just starting out in drag – for whom biodrag is a movement of drag that is becoming more inclusive.
“I think it’s the drag community moving from when it was all about gay men dressing as women and more about the whole community being allowed to express themselves through fashion and makeup, kind of resembling the female form in some loose description,” she said.
“One of the things I like about RuPaul is that she says: ‘we are all born naked and the rest is drag’, and I find that to be really true.
“I see Malibu as a character that I get to embody and my biological sex shouldn't inhibit me from being able to perform as her.
“I do everything that the other queens do. I pad my ass and breasts, I cinch my waist and I wear wigs.
“The only difference it that I don't have to tuck.”