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Happy queer Christmas! Drag kings and queens on their festive spectaculars

Drag king Mark Anthony loves Christmas. He always has – it’s a big thing in his family. Still, he says he found his Christmas “blighted slightly” in recent years since coming out as transgender and non-binary. “It wasn’t a big sob story of rejection,” Anthony, whose family fully accepts him for who he is, explains. “It was a discomfort type thing, from both sides, where you’re trying to work out how you fit into a different role. By this point, we’re pretty much adjusted now.” (Out of drag, Anthony, performed by Isaac Williams, uses the pronouns they and them.)

Anthony knows how Christmas “might have quite negative associations” for those LGBTQ+ people “who don’t feel they can be authentically themselves at home with their families”. It is a time that “puts a spotlight on anything that’s changed and makes it feel really kind of awkward”, for example, if someone has come out about their sexuality or gender identity.

‘A space where people can lose themselves in their queerness and Christmas at the same time’ … Mark Anthony.
‘A space where people can lose themselves in their queerness and Christmas at the same time’ … Mark Anthony. Photograph: Jody Whittle-Wyeth

It is the need to provide these LGBTQ+ people with a sense of community during the festive season that Anthony is hoping to harness as he stars in the festive show The Grotteaux at Woolwich Works, south London. Anthony is promising a “really big glitzy, glamorous, probably quite silly camp Christmas show”, with a cast of all-LGBTQ+ performers, combining drag, cabaret, circus, burlesque, comedy and other art forms. “We want to create a space where people can lose themselves in their queerness and Christmas at the same time, and for those things to feel fun and celebratory together,” he says.

The Grotteaux will be hosted by drag queen Lilly SnatchDragon, and feature performers including Leah Kirby (who performs as drag artist Cyro), drag king Len Blanco, burlesque performer Cleopantha, and others. It will incorporate the experiences of those who did not grow up celebrating Christmas, including SnatchDragon, who is from a Buddhist background and moved to the UK from Bangkok some years ago.

“When you don’t have your family because they live abroad, it’s very much a time where you feel alone, especially as a queer Asian person,” she says. “It’s really nice to have a show that has Asian representation, but that also focuses on the holidays. There are going to be so many different perspectives of what Christmas is to all of us.”

The Grotteaux isn’t the only show setting out to bring festive cheer to the LGBTQ+ community – and everyone else – this year. In London, drag king collective Pecs will perform a one-night-only Christmas show, called The Pecsmas Office Party, at Shoreditch town hall in London. In Birmingham, comedian Joe Lycett is hosting a “big queer Christmas house party”, a 90-minute set in his home city, broadcast on Channel 4. In Manchester, drag queens Donna Trump and Narcissa Nightshade will host a two-night festive cabaret, titled A Queeriosity Family Christmas. Also in the city, The Black Pride Manchester Vogue Ball is a night of drag, cabaret and music hosted by Rikki Beadle-Blair.

At the Pleasance Islington in north London, this year’s Christmas performance, Dog Show, stars drag queen Ginger Johnson, who describes it as “anarchic cabaret” that “exists in a world where queer people are represented by dogs and everybody else walks around on hind legs, like they own the place”. It will include burlesque, comedy and drag, and feature an original score of music by David Cumming, who co-created it with Johnson, inspired by the 1990s club scene.

Dog Show stars Mahatma Khandi, Ginger Johnson, Rudy Jeevanjee and Azara.
Dog Show stars Mahatma Khandi, Ginger Johnson, Rudy Jeevanjee and Azara. Photograph: Ali Wright

“LGBTQ+ people have always been part of Christmas entertainment,” says Johnson. “We’re central to the entertainment industry. But, for some reason, our queerness seems to be swept under the carpet a little at Christmas, like we should be focusing more on family and that maybe it’s not appropriate to lean into our queerness. I believe the opposite. If it’s a time for celebration, then we should be celebrating our whole selves, and the people that surround us.”

Anthony explains how he hopes the diverse experiences of The Grotteaux’s cast “project to someone in the audience who might feel the same way, and bring some joy to them by seeing someone like them reflected back”. SnatchDragon, meanwhile, has a couple of words of wisdom for any LGBTQ+ person who may be struggling at this time of year. “We’re here, you’re not on your own. We want to just give as much love and positivity as possible. We see you, we hope you see us and …” she pauses as Anthony, who interrupts in the background, adds: “Come and have a big, queer Christmas party with us!”