Drag Queen Kitty Tray discusses fashion, consent and reporting

Can you explain how you created the look of Kitty Tray?
When I started dragging I wanted to represent the best of British fashion. I looked to people like Vivienne Westwood, and one of my dresses was basically a Union Jack that I made to look very vintage, like it was hand sewn. But over the years, I started doing the opposite of what was common. I always look towards fashion and think, “I don’t want to do this, I want to do something different.” As a drag queen, you want to make a statement, and about three years ago I saw this documentary about transvestites in America. They weren’t drag queens — it didn’t matter the gender or sexuality of the cross-dressers — but they were a group of people who dressed up as babies. It gave me a fascination with doll dresses, and many of my outfits are now based on that silhouette.

You said Kitty’s look intentionally went against drag fashion trends. Why is that?
I don’t want to look like myself. The fashion industry is a bit of a paradox – it says “buy our brand, be individual, be yourself”. Then you walk down the street and half the people look exactly alike, because they’re all buying the same clothes at the same places. So I tend to walk the other way because I want to look different. It’s like in RuPaul’s Drag Race – there is a conformity to which one must adhere in order to be recognized. You are expected to look a certain way and act a certain way to fit in with the competition. I find it hard to conform – as a character, Kitty Tray is a bit 80s post-punk, she loves anarchy and having fun.

How has her clothing style changed over the years?
As a person, I hate jewelry, so Kitty stopped wearing it too. I don’t see the point of it, and all drag queens wear the same jewelry. But I saw someone in America who made a necklace that looked like a sausage link, so if Kitty was going to wear jewelry, it would be something absurd like that.

I started sexualizing Kitty, then I got more clownish, but now I’m trying to make her a little more sexual again. Show cleavage, show my legs, maybe show my panties a little more. Drag is all about extremes and emphasizes absurdity – there’s no point in having small breasts if you’re a drag queen.

I guess as a form of expression it’s not known for its subtlety…
Not at all! Some drag queens have political messages in their own way, some don’t. But we always try to defend gender and sexuality. Everything is changing all the time, and things are getting, no pun intended, more fluid. It’s all about education, isn’t it? One thing I’ve noticed as drag has become more popular is that people are becoming more knowledgeable about how to treat a drag queen.

As a society, we are re-examining how women are treated by men, especially after the #MeToo movement. Has this had an impact in the world of drag?
It’s not just the men, as women can be pretty tough on drag queens too. I had my hair pulled and people tried to grab my crotch or rub me dry. I had a bad situation when a guy tried to put his hand under my skirt. I stopped him in his tracks and asked him if that was how he treated all women.

Drag is all about extremes and emphasizes absurdity – there’s no point in having small breasts if you’re a drag queen

When you appear in huge, explosive outfits and wigs, is it sometimes hard for people to remember that you’re a person doing a job?
I think they can forget that, yes. I don’t think I fully understand or know why. Incidents tend to be one-off, but I generally think it’s a drinking problem more than anything else. But some people think that if you’re a drag queen, they have the right to touch you. The younger ones are definitely more educated – I’ve done 10-year-old birthday parties and student parties, and they’re always more polite and respectful of the art form.

How much attention do you pay to what you wear when you’re not Kitty?
Any! I hate shopping for clothes and only do it when I need to. I’m the worst homosexual you’ll ever meet. I used to, but now I’m just going to go for jeans and shirts that I like.

Do the different iterations of Kitty Tray’s style extensions reflect how you, Ashley, are feeling at any given moment?
No not at all. Drag is a job, and it’s a costume. It’s a bit of a contradiction, I guess, because in drag you feel 100% authentic, but at the same time you use and abuse it to get the most out of a performance. But at the end of the day, I take off the uniform. Maybe we over-contextualize the outfits – I’m thinking about it, but now I do what I want, which is a plus because I end up looking different from other drag queens. It’s also a plus because other drag queens spend hours getting ready, while I just have to put on my boobs and a dress and I’m good to go!

Is there a practical element to your choices?
I’m more of a comedian – running around the stage and singing. I did the pads and the brace, but it’s really uncomfortable. As a performer, I’m ten times better in whatever outfit I choose. So maybe what I said before was bullshit… But I think fashion is often bullshit! When I started I wore heels, but in the middle of the night they started to hurt, so I put on a pair of fluffy slippers or crocs. I used to get shredded for that, with people saying, “That’s not a proper drag.” But recently a drag queen came on TV with crocs and all of a sudden it’s all the rage.

Do you think Kitty was ahead of the curve?
No, I’m just lazy! Fashion is about being unpopular – look at someone like Boy George. He was ridiculed for the way he dressed before he became famous, then his music became popular and he was a fashion icon. The fashion industry itself is also changing. Growing up, you knew socks and sandals were an old thing. But the fashion industry embraced it and made it fashionable, and now that’s okay.

It happened with the fanny pack too. When I was in school, I would rather be beaten to death than wear one. Now you see people wearing them and don’t bat an eyelid…
Exactly! It’s like The Emperor’s New Clothes – all it takes is a fashion house promoting it, or a celebrity or influencer wearing it, and everyone starts wearing it. Fashion is only political.


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