'So much of the queer experience is spent spinning': Read an exclusive extract from Crystal Rasmussen's Diary of a Drag Queen

In an exclusive extract from her funny and moving new book, drag queen Crystal Rasmussen addresses identity, self-worth and Madonna

Friday 08 February 2019 10:18 GMT
(Courtesy of Crystal Rasmussen)

When you’re not like everybody else your life story, your narrative, is often decided for you. When this happens, it becomes evident that those doing the storytelling are so tightly tethered to those good old cis heterosexual binaries that they can’t see beyond them. How can I state this as if it were fact? Because people like this mis-tell the tale of people like me so bombastically wrong.

From anything as boring or predictable as being described as ‘fabulous’ or ‘crazy’, to things as harmful as physical violence or transphobic hatred spread across the front pages of broadsheets, when people misunderstand people like me, like those in my community, it narrows our opportunity for both safety and celebration of our differences.

And people always believe themselves, or people who look, sound and think like themselves. So once this narrative is written by, say, Mr or Ms. Right Wing Newspaper Columnist, it takes endless work to rewrite it.

That’s why it was so unnerving to write a book, as a queer, non-binary drag queen. When I sat down, with the gift of 80,000 words to tell people what it’s like to be like me, to be a part of the drag and the LGBTQIA+ community, I was daunted, far from my comfort zone, yet relishing every word I got plonk out on my laptop, about me and mine on my own terms.

I realised then that my story has always been told for me, and it’s always been told wrong. It becomes a debate, not a life. A headline, not a day full of terrible mundanity. A rock in the schoolyard, not usual child’s play.

This is why so many of us have such a desire to speak — whether it’s online, in writing, in the media, books, performance, in your local cafe where there’s a queen spilling the truth — because we’re always spoken for. And for me, these misplaced narratives cast dark clouds over so much of my early life — believing that because I was like me I was shameful, all the things bullies said on the schoolyard.

It’s much the same today, but more pathetic because those bullies turned into adults who should know very, very much better.

But that’s why I wrote a book. So I could write my story for me, so that others like me who might read it can feel their story on the page, so that those who misunderstand can listen to someone who actually knows for once.

Also, because, y’know — fame!

(Courtsey of Crystal Rasmussen
(Courtsey of Crystal Rasmussen (Courtsey of Crystal Rasmussen)


There are few things that make a queen twirl like vintage Madonna. I hate being reductive, because then I’m just the same as pretty much every single media portrayal of anything LGBTQIA+ or aligned. For some queens (and also some queers, femmes, butches, bull dykes, trans women, transvestites, faggots, trans men, asexuals, leather daddies, fisting pigs, campy twinks, aromantics, bisexuals and radical faeries) their tonic might not be a Madonna: it could be a Judy, or a Lady Gaga, a George Michael or a Beyoncé, The Cure, or a niche riot grrrl group who should be way more famous than they are, or Lou Reed or Alaska Thunderfuck.

But for me, a proud cliché, it’s Madonna. She’s always been an escape route when things feel uncertain: going back to this noise that set you aflame as a child.

Generally it’s all Madonna, but right now it’s "Ray of Light", to which I’ve just finished spinning around in thigh-high silver lamé boots that chafe my thighs to within an inch of the bone. I’m wearing a red wig and a lime green muumuu that has dried sperm down the back from a story for another time. And this kind of spinning has ignited a sensation I haven’t felt for a while – a deeply sexual, emotional fury just south of my belly – and it reminds me of the first time I heard ‘Ray of Light’, aged seven, sitting on my dog-hair-covered lounge carpet, at home in the north of England while my siblings fought over the remote. I remem- ber not understanding that deep belly feeling.

All I remember is being both terrified and obsessively desperate to spin so fast I would hurricane through the roof and onto a giant stage with thousands of people watching me the way I was watching Madonna. Spinning the way I am now.

So much of the queer experience is spent spinning.

I remember the song being the soundtrack to my teen years, it blasting out on a yellow CD player that used to skip-skip-skip if you so much as inhaled, me sitting in my room flipping through Glamour or Cosmo or Heat wanting to be one of the girls, practicing how to do so on my own.

I remember turning it up on the 555 bus home from Lancaster as homophobic, mean-spirited school-kids pelted oranges at the back of my head or dropped fag-ash into my hair from their endless Lambert & Butler Blues, me in a world light years away from the top deck of that bus, imagining being adored the way I had adored Madonna since I’d sat on my dog-hair-covered carpet years before.

I remember kissing a boy – who had a big beard that hummed with the scent of clever queer theory books and craft beers and vegan moisturisers, and who eventually moved to France with a much older guy to do a PhD in gender studies – in my room at university while the song and my insides crashed hard like fireworks.

I remember all the times a song saved me as I twirl here on my own, spilling dollar-store rosé all over the dark sanded wood floors of this apartment I’m illegally subletting. I might not be on the stage, with thousands of adoring fans looking up at me the way I looked at Madonna, but I am twice as wondrous as the me watching that Madonna video two decades ago ever dreamed I could be. That me would be so, so glad to be this me.

When your identity is so fragmented, sometimes it takes an old song, the old song, to cram all the pieces into the same place at once.

Diary of a Drag Queen by Crystal Rasmussen is published by Ebury Press (£14.99)

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in