Since Prime Minister Orban took power in Hungary in 2010, the politician has created an atmosphere of intolerance towards LGBTQIA+ communities in the country, last year taking a number of decisions to push back rights for gay, bisexual and trans people. In December 2020, same sex couples were banned from adopting children and, earlier that year, legal recognition for trans people was stripped away. In 2021, the landscape is no less bleak: on 15 June, the government passed an amendment banning the depiction of homosexuality among under 18s, a decision which impacts films, television, advertising and more.
Against this startling backdrop, HUNGER spoke to Hungarian drag queen and makeup artist Matheos Szabo about the situation in his native country.
Tell us a bit about your personal and creative background?
I am Matheos, I was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary by my mum and grandma. Both of them supported me in everything since I was child. I’ve always felt a little bit of an outsider and different than others. I got really interested in fashion at a young age and I remember watching fashion shows and reading all the fashion magazines I could get my hands on, though there were not that many at the time in Hungary. So from pretty early on I knew I was going to work in the fashion industry one day.
When did you first become interested in makeup and drag?
That special moment came in my life when I went to my first drag show in a local gay club. I was shocked and amazed by the fact that someone can transform into a different persona with makeup. The following few days I tried to recreate their looks with my mum’s makeup and my school art supplies and I totally fell in love with it from the beginning on. I started to buy make-up products from my pocket money, and started to create looks for my social media. After a while, doing makeup for others became my job. First I started working as an assistant and later on I just started working for myself.
How does your passion for makeup feed into your drag practice?
Makeup is definitely my favourite part in doing drag. Drag keeps me being creative and makes me try out new ideas and experiment with things. In drag I love that I can be free and do whatever I feel like in the moment: to become someone else and I can be my own canvas and create new personas.
And how would you describe your drag persona?
My aesthetic is really high fashion, gender-fluid glam and sometimes with a little camp in it. I’ve always wanted to confuse people. I never wanted to look like a woman, I wanted to look like an alien supermodel. My drag is inspired by 1990s supermodels and iconic fashion designers like Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen, and fashion illustrators like Pater Sato.
Can you talk us through this fashion story?
This story was a creative collaboration with my favourite Hungarian colleagues, fellow creatives, who also work in the fashion industry. We had Wanda Martin on board as photographer, whose fashion and personal body of work is all about sexual identity, love and gender, and we had this idea to create a gender-fluid shoot together to celebrate and highlight the beauty of fluidity. We thought it was especially important to do so now in the light of the recently passed anti-LGBTQIA+ law in Hungary. Fashion is not only about a beautiful person in beautiful clothes in a cool location, we truly believe it needs to dig deeper than that and it should reflect on what’s happening in society as well.
As a Hungarian drag queen, what should the world know about what is happening in Hungary right now?
In 2020, a Hungarian law was introduced that eliminated trans rights. The media was not talking about this restriction last year and just a few people protested against this law to support our trans sisters For me it was clear that this was just the beginning, as the political situation in general was not developing in the right direction. Currently Hungary is facing the darkest time in its history for LGBTQIA+ people. The government has decided that gay couples are not allowed to adopt children and they have compared homosexuality to a sickness and to paedophilia. In additional to this absurd comparison, they have banned all gay “propaganda” in order to “protect” children. This means that no books, movies or advertisements containing LGBTQIA+ people or scenes are allowed to be published or sold to minors under 18.
What do you think the long-running ramifications of that will be?
This is a very sad and negative development that will have a huge impact on the young LGBTQIA+ community. They will grow up not seeing LGBTQIA+ people in movies or TV, they will not learn about it in school and they will grow up not knowing that it’s ok to be, as many people would say, “different”. These young kids will have a hard time accepting themselves and this will cause a lot of other, already existing, problems in the community such as depression, drug abuse and even suicide. It was already not easy for me growing up in Hungary, with being gay and being a drag queen. Hopefully the community learns at least to be more supportive to each other in these hard times and I hope that some famous and influential people in Hungary who actually have the platform and power to spread the awareness of what is going on would stand up for their friends.
How do you want your art to influence the world?
I know that I can’t change the world alone, but I would love to inspire many more artists, and many more young people to be brave to live their dreams, to have a goal and go for it. I would also like to help [challenge] gender roles in fashion and everyday life. I want to show that drag is so universal and such a unique art form that needs to be appreciated more.
What does the future hold for you?
My heart is always going to belong to the fashion industry and I would be really happy if in the future I would still be able to do what I love the most.