Interview with the Drag Queen
Alex Mathew is a PR & Marketing Executive by the day and a fierce Drag Queen by the day. This queer charmer stands strong grounds for his fights for the LGBT community. Alex has done talk shows with Ted Talks and at many other prominent forums. He has a talk show called “Chaya with Maya”, where he alter ego Mayamma discusses the struggles of LGBT individuals of the country. What makes Mayamma stand out in the exciting Drag scenario is, she performs Indian Drag mostly. She does parodies of popular songs that also have messages to inspire.
Influencer Speaks is where we aim to bring Influencers on board with us. This series will focus on knowing the influencer journeys more closely. Here are some questions on which Alex interacted with us.
How was Mayamma born? (2:52-4:30)
She was inspired by women I saw in my daily life as a child, aunts, grannies and my own mother. It happened during a time when I was between crossroads and not getting significant roles. I had researched a lot and came across a movie called “Mrs Doubtfire”. I thought if Robin Williams could do it, I can too. And I created this persona of Mayamma who was from the fishing community of Kuttanad Kerala. She falls in love with Anandaraja and moves to Bangalore to follow her dreams.
But then I wanted to make sure it was only a character I am playing in a parallel world. I could become a widow or Rekha as and when I wanted.
It’s unusual to see Drag queens performing in Saris. What caught your fancy? (8:13-9:52)
I was very inspired in my mind by the women I saw growing up. Indian women are approachable, caring and fierce. I wanted Mayamma to be playing that role. It has worked in my favour too; people see me as an approachable individual. In today’s date, people do not connect to a façade. Indian drag is something very unique and suits me well.
What are the misconceptions attached to the LGBT community in general? Drag is a very misinterpreted concept or art form. Tell us about that. (10:12-11:14)
The most common and hurtful assumption people make is Drag queens are transgenders or cross-dressers, which we aren’t usually. I am an openly gay man who hasn’t or doesn’t plan to go through a sex Reassignment Surgery. People assume we would hurt them or be rude to them, which is plain stupid.
You work with schools and colleges. What do you do? (11:40-13:19)
Children are the most non-judgmental yet an influential lot. I want the next generation to know people like me exist and it’s absolutely normal. They ask questions and adore me as Alex more than as Mayamma. It will take a generation to change the thought process, I am just doing my small bit.
Are you seeing the right changes yet? (13:33-15:30)
More and more drag queens are coming out lately, which is a good thing. People are open to understanding now. It takes time for the change to happen, but it’s happening.
How do you manage the hurtful comments people pass on? You can certainly slap or punch when someone does that. (16:00-16:58)
I certainly can but I don’t. At the end of the day, it’s all about giving love. It’s important for people to understand and you can’t do that with violence. I use sarcasm and take these with a pinch of salt.
What’s Chaya with Maya? (17:00-17:41)
It’s a talk show that I do in an attempt to educate people about the LGBT community. The intention is to clear misconceptions, tell their journey and struggles. They need to be recognized and appreciated for what they are and who they are.
What are your advice for newbies? (17:50-18:35)
It’s extremely important to be independent first. Chances of your parents not supporting you initially are higher, being independent will give you that freedom. Be courageous and be kind. Go ahead and make sure to have fun in life. Don’t take it too seriously.
Why do you think people are interested in you? (18:40-20:00)
My journey of coming out is what people find inspiring and courageous. I came out during a time when the society was not prepared for me. I struggled my way through and came out strong. I do various kinds of songs and performances that have a loud message. I believe people are interested in knowing that. I aim at inspiring at least 1 person each time I give a talk. I believe in the power of the ripple effect. I hope to see the right changes soon.
Here’s the new song I have on iTtunes.
I see you are most frequent on Instagram as compared to other platforms? (20:40-22:00)
Mayamma came on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, all at the same time. I saw that Instagram was more engaging and that’s more important. Instagram allowed me to put more visuals which is crucial for a drag performer. I do lip sync videos and go crazy with my content. Instagram allows me that flexibility.
I am genuine about what I do and try to spread knowledge about the art form I do.
What is your experience working with brands? (24:18-26:18)
I don’t put my content with an intention to attract brands. Brands that see me as an inspiration work with me. For example, E-bay had approached me with a campaign named #thingsdontjudge. Working with a brand gets you on a larger platform and makes it easier for you to connect.
Do these brands pay you well? (27:00-30:23)
They usually love the story but aren’t willing to pay for it. They assume they are doing a generous act by just providing a platform to someone from the LGBT community. Sometimes we work for free, just to have the attention or platform. But lately, I am negotiating. At the end of the day my bills need to be paid, brands need to understand that.
This could have been a mistake from both ends. They should have understood I am a performer who has worked hard for that story they love. I should have understood that I can monetize when people are using me as a promotion strategy.
Which kind of brands approach you? (30:30-32:00)
Brands that go with my aesthetic. Designers have approached me in the past. I have worked with Ajio, ebay and many other small brands. Presently I have a big sponsor, World Wide Hair Hub. They provide cap less wigs that are made from human hair. I promote their brand and get to wear their wigs which I couldn’t afford otherwise.
It’s basically a give and take relationship with brands.
Which event was the turning point in your career? (32:10-33:22)
Last year I performed in front of a massive crowd of 1900 people in Kitty Su Delhi. I was asked to open the show by Mr Keshav Suri. He is the brainchild of Kitty Su and was the Executive director of the Lalith Group. I performed in front of some great personalities from our community and there hasn’t been no looking back since then.
Which tours are you doing presently? (33:15-33:45)
I will be performing in Kitty Su Bangalore on 5th July. Then in Kitty Su Mumbai on the 12th, Kitty Su Chandigarh on the 19th and finally in Kitty Su Delhi on the 26th of this month.
How do you manage your work and passion? (33:40-34:30)
I have an extremely understanding boss, with whom I have worked out my work schedule. It allows me to work, sleep and perform.
What keeps you motivated among so much negativity? (34:40-36:00)
I have my go-to movies and music that I listen to when I feel low. My mother had brought me up teaching, “No matter what, you are never supposed to give up in life.” I have stuck to that. If this is rock bottom, I know I will strike harder and rise.
What’s Mayamma’s plans for the future? (36:00-37:20)
I see myself doing TV shows, Chat shows and movies. I want to do movies where I can perform as a drag queen and not roles as satires of women. There is no looking back for me. Who knows what is waiting out there?
What mistakes have Mayamma and Alex made in the past? (38:46-40:00)
Both of them haven’t listened to their hearts enough. I did my MBA and did jobs with corporates, only to realize I was just minting money. That resulted in a lot of turmoil and confusion later on.
Can you imagine all this without social media? (40:30-41:15)
It wouldn’t have been possible. Social media has made it possible for me to be existing. I would have faced a lot of hatred and resistance. I might have had to flee the country. It’s easier to bring in the change with social media around to help and educate.
Audience Question. Pratibha Sharma. Why are drag queens more popular than drag kings? (42:11-43:15)
We live a patriarchal society where men are more glorified. When men come dressed as a woman, it doesn’t make for a man’s fantasy. This is just the opposite in case of drag kings. Probably that’s the reason you see fewer drag kings in our society. But recently we had a drag king perform at Kitty Ko. The change is coming.
Where do we go if we want to see a drag artist perform in India? (43:20-44:00)
Go to your city’s Kitty Su or Kitty Ko, in any Lalith Group properties.
SINGS HER PARODY (44:20-45:25)
Who does your make up and handles your social media marketing? (45:25-47:25)
I do both myself. My makeup takes a good amount of time, 2.5 hrs. to be exact. I manage my own marketing too.