Drag of faith

Drag of faith

It is a phenomenon that has brought men in gowns with kitsch Jewish names to the attention of your children, says one mother in the know

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Top: Sasha Velour. Bottom: Jinkx Monsoon
Top: Sasha Velour. Bottom: Jinkx Monsoon

Remember when being twelve was all about falling in love with Tucker on Grange Hill, buying drainpipe jeans in Golders Green’s Orange Hand and choosing singles in Our Price record shop? Well, things have moved on. Now, to be at one with the zeitgeist, it is essential to have a James Charles make-up palette, chunky Fila trainers and be able to name each season’s winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

It is an encyclopaedic knowledge of drag queens that impresses one’s peers these days  and, just as we learnt about the show Hamilton from our daughter, it was through her that I was introduced to Jinkx Monsoon, Seattle’s premier Jewish narcoleptic drag queen.

Jinkx (real name Jerick Hoffer) won season five of Drag Race and, when the interview was confirmed, my daughter was beyond thrilled, citing Jinx as a person who changed her life.

Such hyperbole is the norm for tweens, but there is no denying the impact and influence of drag queens who make our childhood obsession with Adam and The Ants look very twee. Strangely there is also a prevalent Jewish theme to these men dressed as women, be it in their performance, name, or heritage, as you will see from the Orthodox Lady SinAGaga. Alexis Michelle,

Jinx Monsoon

Miz Cracker and Acid Betty who had their moment on Drag Race in which host RuPaul occasionally wears a Star of David and regular judge Michelle Visage, who is also Jewish, shares Yiddishisms as a schtick. Michelle, who recently starred in the London production of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will be a judge on the UK version of Drag Race this year on BBC3. Whether Ru will still need the English-Yiddish dictionary he takes on the American show is unlikely, but few, if any Jewish drag queens have been identified in the UK. We can live in hope that someone as blatant as Sasha Velour will reveal themselves. Sasha (real name Alexander Hedges Steinberg) was the Jewish winner of season nine.

“Whenever there’s a Jew, it’s an automatic identity,” Michelle Visage told a US paper. “I love it when it becomes part of their [drag] identity. It’s mishpucha.”

Jinx Monsoon

Jinkx, the 2013 Jewish winner,only discovered her true faith when she was 18. “My late grandma, Judith, was adopted, so we didn’t know she was Jewish. Having not been raised Jewish, I have a limited knowledge of the heritage and culture, but as a Jewish contestant on Drag Race, Jewish people I met were very excited. Even when I told them I didn’t know much, they said: ‘You’re a Jew, we’ll take you.’”

Making Jinkx a single mother was also done out of Jerick’s admiration for his own mother, but also the many strong Jewish women he has known. “I was raised by three women, my mother, aunt and grandmother and now I am the matriarch of the family.”

Sasha Velour

With gender identity remaining the hot topic, how does it affect a long-term Jewish drag queen? “Most will tell you it is a double-edged sword. We were brought from the underground into the mainstream over the past few years, and that comes with responsibility.”

Jinkx has his own theory about why his community is adored by the teen audience, many of them girls.

“When I was 10, I was obsessed about X-Men,  who were outcasts from society but had superpowers. The younger generation look at drag queens as people who were shunned by their communities, but we all became our own versions of superheroes, channelling our own skills and techniques to get empowered.”

But it doesn’t all have to be serious, according to Jinkx, who likes the shows he creates with stage partner Major Scales to include  55 minutes of comedy and five minutes of tragedy.

He says: “I’ve always admired Jewish female comedians for their mixture of pride and self-loathing.”

This enthusiasm for drag continues in Israel, where at a recent club night in Tel Aviv everyone was dressed up to see the stage show of Drag Race winner, Alaska. Not that Israel doesn’t have its own drag stars in Nona Chalant, Kay Long, Suzi Boum and Joanna Russ, while Talula Bonet aka Israeli actor Tal Kallai was invited to guest at  Gay Pride in Tokyo.

RuPaul in a kippah

Whether there will be a drag queen hosting Havdalah at a Jewish day school in the near future – as there was at a school in Massachusetts – is hard to gauge. But I’m sure my daughter will know when, as she has already informed me that DragWorld UK, where Jinkx Monsoon appeared last year, is taking place at Olympia 18-19 August. I’ve yet to tell her father.

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