By day, Southampton-based, 25-year-old Elliot Page, is a primary school teacher in training. By night, Page transforms into Intra Venus, a vivacious comedy drag queen known for her satirical, political comedy, and candid words.
On a warm, humid afternoon in a local cafe in the centre of Eastleigh, I met Elliot Page, a.k.a. Intra Venus. I was immediately struck by his femininity, and graceful, confident demeanour that seemed both intriguing and slightly intimidating. However, an easy smile, and an open attitude to some of my more personal questions put me at ease. With a regular spot at a zany new event in Southampton, and enough sass to make Bey quake in her platforms, we caught up with Intra Venus to find out what it’s really like to be a drag queen…
You’re training to be a primary school teacher. Do you find it difficult balancing your work life with your drag?
‘I’ve realised quite quickly that drag has become a lot more accepted, and that what I’m doing off the clock isn’t anyone’s business. As long as I’m not coming in to school at 8am with a hangover, I don’t think it matters. It’s like most things you do, that you feel passionately about, it’s hard to balance it whilst doing the 9-5 but I think I have a good balance right now.’
You’re based in Southampton at the moment, but where did you start drag?
‘For a long time, I was working with the Winchester Student Union. I did drag karaoke and events for the Spectrum Society, and one-off performances for certain events. I was doing events with Hampshire Pride for a while because I was part of the committee for the LGBT+ society as my friend, Amy, was crucial to the first ever Hampshire Pride. So, I was part of that for a while but it has been taken over by other people now. I’d say I ended up cutting a lot of ties with people in Winchester… I think, I often struggle to bite my tongue, and am not particularly respectable. I’m respectful but I don’t think I have been respected. If I have an issue, I’m not afraid to say it, I’ll even shit-post on social media if I have to! I’m happy to be in drag, and drag people. I’m relieved to have left Winchester. It’s time for me to explore, and divulge in a new scene. There’s an issue with queer art in Winchester not being represented, it’s nice to now be in Southampton.’
Is the scene big in Southampton or is it still growing?
‘It’s so serendipitous. My partner is a photographer, and he does a lot of shoots with drag queens, and LGBT people, generally. When we moved into our place in Southampton, a week later we were contacted by a drag queen who had literally just started a new event, called ‘How’s your head?’ at Suburbia nightclub. We were invited to their first event, and there was such a massive buzz around it. I feel like even in Southampton where there is a bigger LGBT population, there is still a real lack of queer space. The London Hotel is a drag bar, and a lot of the more established queens do drag there, but when you think of drag culture, there isn’t really a place for that kind of queer expression and queer art. I feel like there is a real need for it in Southampton, especially with a large student population, and also an increasingly more enlightened population. I feel like it’s the place to be in right now. ‘How’s your head?’ is monthly, and even though most the students have gone home for the summer now, there was still a relatively big turnout, so it’s just about building on that.’
Have you ever thought about expanding to the Bournemouth scene?
‘I know there is DYMK bar in Bournemouth, and Olympia and Crystal are drag queens that perform in Bournemouth. I was really tempted, and I spoke to Crystal at drag world last year, telling her about the lack of scene in Winchester. She invited me to an event but because I don’t drive, and public transport is a bit of an issue, I never got there. I mean, I look cute in drag but travelling on public transport for an hour is not high on my agenda. There are pockets of scenes, for that kind of expression and art, and I’m happy to branch out into those. But balancing my work life with my artsy life, I feel that it’s safer for me to focus locally. Bournemouth has a scene now, Southampton is missing that aspect of a scene. I feel like I can be integral in helping to create a scene. I feel that with my experience, I have something to offer the scene has it starts, and I want to make sure I focus on that because I want it to be successful.’
You said you have a lot of experience, what age did you start doing drag?
‘I’ve always been a little cross-dresser! I think I started as a Halloween drag queen. I remember dressing in drag when I was younger… I looked like a hot mess. I had my mineral foundation, which was not a good look, and I used my own hair when I put extensions in. It was tragic. But I was always into make up, I practiced in my room all the time. There was this MAC shade stick, that this YouTuber I loved used in all her videos. One day, I saved up and bought it and I was obsessed with make up. It had a really good base for making pigmentation pop. So, when I was 16/17 I dabbled around. After that, I did fancy dress, and then in 2012 I performed in Winchester’s Got Talent as a Britney Spears impersonator. I had performance experience, and back up dancers that were choreographed together. I looked good, but I was still a bit of a mess then. Even though Ru Paul’s Drag Race had been going, I didn’t know who Ru Paul was, so I was kind of fishing around in the dark. It was cute but I came second. And I’m still bitter… But I got a buzz for drag from there. It was cathartic, I like being able to express certain appreciations through my own gender. It escalated from that moment.’
How did you come up with the name ‘Intra Venus’?
‘I was a bit naughty when I was younger. I probably did a lot of things I shouldn’t have done. It was a really dark time, where my life was out of control but somehow I got into university. So, I decided I can either stay here and be tragic, or move on and actually do something with my life. My drag name came about through my explorative and naughty past. ‘Intra’ is latin for ‘into’ and ‘Venus’ is the Goddess of Beauty, Love and Femininity. I like that juxtaposition of divine femininity and being an absolute trash bag.’
A lot of people watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race now. Do you think we often only see the contestants as their drag personas?
‘I think for some people the distinction between their identities can be a bit complex, and there are a myriad of reasons for that. As queer people, our gender identities are experienced differently. So, you aren’t just a lesbian, in the sense that you aren’t the same as a heterosexual woman because of your sexuality but there is an element of the fact that people will view you and your gender, not your sexuality as being different. As a gay person, your gender identity is always viewed differently as well; you’re effeminate because you’re gay. Those stereotypes play into cultural ideas about who we are. When LGBT+ people do drag, the difficulty they face is that sometimes they are expressing and exploring aspects of themselves that are either reflected culturally or are also effectively parts of themselves. In the same way, the irony and the thing that makes no sense but that’s actually true of drag, is that the point of drag is to mock identity and mock how ridiculous this idea of constrained gender is. It’s almost like these two things can’t be married. How can you be mocking identity and living more authentically? The reason it’s easy to blur characters or personas or people is that freedom, and self-expression is actually more authentic. I certainly find that within myself, as I am mocking the notion of gender while I’m doing drag. If we lived in a different society, I’d probably express myself very differently. I don’t feel like a trans woman but I think a lot of queer people relate to trans-ness because it relates to the idea that gender is not something that sits very comfortably with us.’
Do you feel that through shows like Ru Paul’s Drag Race, there is more acceptance of drag?
‘I think it has made LGBT+ issues be more palatable… But my honest opinion is that drag as an art form is supposed to be the opposite. It’s supposed to be like; ‘f**k you I’m not going to conform. You’re living a lie. F**k off I’m not going to fit into it’. It has a punk rock element. The idea that it is now mainstream means that people either aren’t understanding it or that the message is appealing to people in a different way. I don’t know whether it being mainstream is actually good or bad. Are they seeing drag as a commodity? As something that can be bought? It’s an idea that can be digested easily in a commercial way. A polished version of drag. Or is it that they’re appreciating it for what it is, as a subversive art form? It’s not supposed to make people feel comfortable. I’m talking very generally about drag, but a lot of people suddenly seem very comfortable with it. Are people actually understanding what’s going on, or are they not understanding the message? Ru Paul’s Drag race is like candy floss, it tastes great, enjoy it. But you can’t sustain a diet of candy floss. And what I hope is that people don’t stop enjoying candy floss, but get something else in their diet.’
You didn’t know about Ru Paul when you started drag. So, which drag queens did you know?
‘I think when I was younger, the only examples of drag I had were people like Lily Savage. She is an example of subversive drag. A lot of old school drag like Dame Edna- maybe not explicitly her- are heterosexual males who’ve brought drag into mainstream culture, and there’s a lot of misogyny surrounding it. There’s a lot of, ‘aren’t women funny?’. Sometimes it does achieve that but I don’t think it’s what drag is trying to achieve. I had people that helped me, but I didn’t have explicit idols. When I started watching Drag Race, I was a supporter of Ru Paul, and obviously you pick up people as you go through. But when I started I was coming from my own invention and where I wanted to be.’
Were you influenced by any icons of popular culture?
‘The reason I performed first was because I was impersonating Britney Spears but I wouldn’t say she was an influence for me, particularly. I admire a lot of popular figures. I used to love Destiny’s Child growing up, Beyonce is the queen, I used to love Christina Aguilera, I used to watch all the Pussycat Dolls’ music videos over and over again, and actually learn the choreography in my room, and then perform to people who would watch… Usually terrified family members, who definitely didn’t deserve that! I really should apologise, actually. So, I’ve always looked up to strong, empowered female icons. But there was no one physically who I emulated, a lot of it came from my own being queer. I’ve always felt very feminine, which might come as a bit of a shock to you…’
What events are you performing at soon?
‘The event at Suburbia, ‘How’s your head?’ I’ll be performing at on the 4th of July. But I’m having major surgery at the end of July so I won’t be performance ready in August for any events coming up then.’
What is your performance?
‘My performances tend to be satirical and quite political. The theme for ‘How’s your head?’ in July, is American themed. So I’m channelling Kathy Griffin, a comedian who got in trouble about a year ago because she had a picture of Donald Trump’s head. She was basically black-listed for performing in America, and she was under FBI investigation, for trying to assassinate the President or something ridiculous. Anyway, so I’m going to perform an American mash-up of songs, hopefully doing something with a Donald Trump mask. I like to be political, I like to make waves with my performance. But then sometimes I just lip-sync things that are funny. For example, I try to include spoken word in my performances as well. So I’ll lip sync Dua Lipa’s, ‘New Rules’ and then I’ll add some ridiculous nonsense from Gemma Collins. I like a chuckle.’
Are there any Pride events that you’re attending?
‘I think I’m performing at Southampton Pride at the end of August, but not officially yet. If not, I will be going socially to Pride, and put drag on in the evening for some events. But we’ll see. I’m so consumed with life at the minute, that I haven’t really thought about which events I’ll be attending! It’s definitely something I’m interested in, and will be doing something for.’
Do you think Pride helps people accept the LGBT community?
‘It is a very complex question. It used to be, ‘we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it’, and now it’s very much, ‘we’re here, we’re queer, we want to be just like you.’ I want to be clear that I’m not dissing Pride or Gay Rights, because I’m certainly not. But a good example of this is marriage equality. It’s something that should have been fought for, and I’m so glad it’s been legalised. I’m also still aware that it’s still a very conservative aim, because really as a queer person, my question is, why should we get married? Why should anyone get married? It’s an established idea of heterosexual standards that’s been around for a long time that most heterosexual people aren’t happy with… So, why are we trying to shove ourselves into a cookie cutter that might not be effective? That’s not to say that LGBT people shouldn’t get married, I think they should, if they want to. Pride has become accepted within our society. In the eighties, Pride used to be more radical, there was a lot of social progression being made because of the AIDs crisis, a lot of activists died out, and I think the aim switched from being radical to being assimilated. There’s nothing inherently wrong with assimilation, I can understand the desire to be assimilated, there’s an element of safety in it as well. There’s an issue with the way Pride has gone; it overlooks trans issues, it overlooks people of colour, it’s incredibly white-washed, and part of that is because Pride has become a sales pitch for white people. I think ‘sales pitch’ is the appropriate word because it’s down to the commodification of our identities, an idea that we can be cleansed in some presentation that makes us more appealing. I’m not saying that Pride shouldn’t happen, but Pride needs to remember that it’s political. It should appeal to the needs of LGBT+ people first and foremost, particularly for those on the fringes without voices and political power. I’m not anti-Pride, I just want it to go back to its roots. It seems like a negative view, but it’s the most honest I can be about it.’
What does the future hold for Intra Venus?
‘I’m going to be very wealthy one day. I’d like to think I’d have some notoriety eventually in drag. I worry that my views and my attitude might get in the way of that though. But most importantly, I want to continue to be an educator, I want to help raise awareness. This is why I’m so passionate about teaching, I feel like I can have a positive impact on the development of young people, and teach them to be kind, teach them to be accepting and understanding of difference in an authentic way. I think as I move forward as a drag queen, I want to make sure that I’m always pushing people to think critically about certain things. If I could make some coin while I do that, it would be great… but I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.’
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. It has been both enlightening, and hilarious! We can’t wait to see what the future has in store for Intra Venus!
Interviewed by: Millie Bull
Images: Intra Venus, Wired, EW.