Art & Culture

The Things That Made Me Queer

Producer MNEK, Ru Paul's Drag Race alum Detox and Le Tigre's JD Samson give the lowdown on their pivotal pop culture moments.

Since appearing on the first season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK, Crystal has continued to dominate the UK drag scene — even through the pandemic. Alongside streamed drag shows and the killer looks she pulls on Instagram (one part club kid, two parts high fashion) she has recently launched her own podcast, which asks LGBTQIA+ icons — from novelist Juno Dawson to producer MNEK — about the cultural moments which led them to explore their own queer identity. 

Titled “The Things That Made Me Queer” it’s a rowdy, important reminder of the power of representation — we round up of our favourite moments so far… 

DETOX – VH1 Fashion and Music Awards, 1995

“I was 9 or 10 years old and watching the first-ever VH1 Fashion and Music Awards and it was incredible. The opening alone was this huge Thierry Mugler retrospective of his Fall [1995] collection. I get goosebumps even thinking of it. My eyes were bugged out of my head, I had never seen anything like this before. I was like ‘This is the world I want to live in’. As soon as his iconic robot suit woman comes out, this huge trench coat and huge hat, she just throws it off, strips off the trench coat. I was like ‘Oh my god, that’s what I want to be when I grow up – that robot woman!’ And I did.

It was completely life-changing, that whole awards show was so iconic. You have every huge player in the fashion and music industry. I watched it again last night to refresh my memory and I felt like a kid again watching it. RuPaul is there to give the award for Supermodel of the Year, Madonna is there to present an award for Rising Star in Fashion. The nominees for Rising Star of Fashion are like Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Tom Ford, Miuccia Prada… What? It was an insane moment for fashion and pop culture and music – it was amazing!”

JD SAMSON  Fist City by Tribe 8

“As a musician so much music affected my identity and how I learned about myself as a kid, from Wham to Janet Jackson, even Skunk Anasie were huge for me. I chose Tribe 8 because it was an introduction for me to this punk world of gender non-conformity which was really integral to my development as a human being. There was so much play with gender – both in the record and their live performance.

Tribe 8 is a punk band from San Francisco, the lead singer is Lynn Breedlove and they would wear a strap-on in shows and make people suck it! They were really important to the queercore community and I think in a lot of ways, for me at least, they introduced gender queerness in a really performative way. There was an element of performance art that sparked my interest in making music more in the context of conceptual art and in a more contemporary way.”

JUNO DAWSON – Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman

“I’m not the only person to have been obsessed with Michelle Pfeiffer. You’d think because she is wearing head-to-toe rubber that she would be something of an awakening for young straight men. I wanted to be Michelle Peiffer as Catwoman in that I started to convince my friends and family that I was telepathic with cats. It went really far. I started making gloves with metal claws like she has in the film.

When something has come from the mind of Tim Burton, I don’t think any other Catwoman is quite like Pfeiffer’s in that it’s very dark and very strange, as you would expect from Tim Burton. But there’s a lot of feminism to unpick with that character in that she’s killed by a man, comes back to avenge him. And it’s so camp! Now, as an adult woman, who transitioned 5, 6 years ago, if I were making a costume to terrorise Gotham City, would it be a latex catsuit? No. Would there be 5-inch heels? No! It’s a costume designed by men for men, but she looks gorgeous, she looks incredible, and it was Michelle Pfeiffer at her most extraordinary.”

MNEK – Room Service

“[Room Service was] a night that was held in Soho, a gay night. It was where all the first time basic gaybies were going, it was a fun time. Jodie Harsh would be DJing, Munroe [Bergdorf] would be DJing from time to time back then, this was a long time ago. That was the first gay club I ever went to. I was the tiniest bit underage.

I was partying with my friend Amy and we’d gone out, gone to a few places and then we went to Room Service. This was me at 17, I hadn’t come out to anybody. I go to Room Service, dressed how I was dressed at 17 – awful, the fashions were not – and I saw all these men in nothing but shorts and I was like, ‘OK, are we doing this, am I going [to put on a] poker face and act like nothing is happening?’ I went there, and [my friend] Amy was with me and I don’t know what happened but something came over me and I said ‘Babe, I have something to tell you’. At the time I said I was attracted to men and women, and truthfully I was, I genuinely didn’t know if I was simply attracted to both women and men.

That’s when I first came out and she was like ‘I always knew’ and that she loved me and [for us] to have a great fun night. I was getting to be a bit looser… and I was actually able to let go that night.”

PEACHES CHRIST –  John Waters

“I was about 13, they were filming the movie Hairspray in Baltimore and so it was where John crossed over. It was his first movie with a studio backing, and he was shooting in in Baltimore and bonafide stars were coming [there], so it was a legitimate news event while they were shooting. For me, it was so exciting to know a movie was being made because it was so unusual and then, when I discovered Divine was Divine, and doing local news when I grew up… It was really life-changing, it blew my mind because it was only a few short steps to renting Pink Flamingos. Watching Pink Flamingoes, really truly a whole world was opened up to me because it was so revolting and vile and horror in a whole new way.”

Listen to ‘The Things That Made Me Queer’ here

3 February 2021