In Christeene’s world, we’d have fewer video calls and more good sex. The performance artist – a self-proclaimed “drag terrorist” – unleashes an unfiltered and filthy combination of throbbing electronic music and between-song patter, whether performing at London’s Barbican or in a dive bar. She looks a bit like a lost swamp creature, all ripped clothes and smudges of kohl. This is not the high femme, precisely arched brow of RuPaul’s Drag Race. In fact, Christeene bristles against being called a drag queen at all. “I find it very hard and very cheap to have that label put on me,” she says in her languid, southern drawl. Instead, Paul Soileau has used Christeene as a vessel for both rage and humour for more than a decade.
She is known for kicking off about celebrity culture, the religious right, and hyper-consumerism. “There’s so much to talk about,” especially as another recession looms and political polarisation solidifies. As Christeene prepares to release her album Midnite Fukk Train, she shared a few life lessons (over Zoom) distilled from years as an outspoken queer performer. Consider it her guide to modern life.
Good sex has to be playful. There must be humour! Everyone’s on all of these apps – what are the straight ones? OkCupid? Be Gentle With My Hole, I’m Straight? I think the secret of good sex is that it must be fun. Play games. Run around. Hide under the bed and get pulled out. You should be able to have sex and then fart in front of your partner, laughing about it together. It feels as though the pursuit of sex and connection has been boiled down to a list of things you must be, on an app. And that’s not fun.
On post-Trump politics
One thing that alarmed me the most during Trump’s presidency was the amount of rallies he threw. People can really get to know each other at a rally; it’s all very involved. I saw then that he was building his future. People laughed at the rallies, or at not as many people showing up as Trump would say. But we’re now seeing how many dedicated soldiers there are in his army. We’re in a perfect cocktail for extreme, rightwing fuckery, between media, and social media moving into more billionaire hands. I won’t let myself be hopeless but that cloud is hanging over a lot of people’s heads.
I don’t care about trends this, or the fashion week that. I’m very amused by the industry of fashion, though. I’m interested in the individuals making fashion because I find them to be fucked up creatures like myself and other creative people I know. I’ve been photographed by Juergen Teller, for i-D, and I like how he somehow has access to many guarded women: Charlotte Rampling, Björk. [Designer] Rick Owens also got me involved in [caring] about fashion, back in 2011. When we’re talking about courage and self-expression, I like to think that many of the people creating looks like Rick’s have spent time with themselves and understand what they desire. Their product is like my look: they’ve found something that allows them to express themselves. Don’t get me wrong, though, there are some terrible practices in fashion. Everything’s got a shitty side. That’s life.
I’ll talk to women I know in the south and say, “Oh, you voted for this Trump man. He’s a racist. What’s that about?” And they’ll say: “I’m only voting for him because he’s against abortion and that’s very deeply embedded in my religious beliefs.” It just makes me sad – how long until we let women do whatever the hell they want with their bodies? That step backward we took on abortion in the US by reversing Roe v Wade was mind-boggling. It feels very dangerous when you then see women backing that overturning of the law, based on religion poisoning the political, all fuelled up the ass by money and power.
People have said to me that my confidence inspires them. But the truth is I have so many fears, as much as everybody else does. In regards to speaking out, and standing flat on your two feet (or in heels), it very much starts with a family and with the people around you. Often, you end up finding your chosen family, and travelling in that pack. Confidence is, I think, very personal. You have to take time to understand who you are and what you have to offer this world. Then you can use those ingredients to psychologically build yourself the armour, the outfit, to walk that talk.
It’s difficult. I believe in some form of compassion, to try to view a bully as a child who probably had a fucked-up upbringing. To understand that they’re a human. But that doesn’t excuse what they’re doing. I cannot abide a bully – especially a young bully – and I think they’re usually the most scared people. The ones that scream the loudest? You’ve gotta watch them. I scream about sex so loud. You know why? Because I don’t get that much sex.
I’m not really into other people’s advice right now. I’m not into the television or politicians telling me things right now. I’m into conversation, as a way to process some shit. But I’m finding more and more that we’re all very different from each other. And for us to be strong and confident, it’s really nice to shut everyone up and really listen to yourself for a little bit. That lets you understand what your desires and your needs are.
On RuPaul’s Drag Race
I don’t like to pooh-pooh drag. I think it’s a beautiful expression. But I’ve really distanced myself from it. Stamping a label on someone, then shoving them in a box and shipping them out always feels like the lazy, easy way to go. And a shift has happened in drag, where it is very stamped, boxed, shipped. The perks are that children can see drag on TV. That they have access to seeing something that may later inspire them to think, “I can do that with my life.” But I’m always a bit concerned with a young person getting thrust into the world of reality-based television that’s designed very similarly to Miss America. Personally, I like to stay away from reality TV drag.
On Gen Z
Older people might go, “I can’t believe those children are injecting their lips, and plumping their cheeks and all.” But I think I would’ve done that when I was a kid if I’d had access to it! Let them do it. Those things are accessible now – why wouldn’t you? Now, kids don’t need school or big institutions in the same way older generations did. They can learn it online, while all the structures break down and the world rapidly changes. So I’d rather sit back and see what the children do. It’s a very big shopping mall of madness for the kids today. You’ll be OK as long as you have a mental and spiritual guide.
I will walk away from anyone who has a temper as a forefront of their expression. As an emotion, it is a potent fuel, though. Anger is the worst when it erupts in social discussions around transphobia, racism, forms of bigotry. If someone doesn’t understand, say, what a gender transition is, if someone has never heard about they/them pronouns, they’re going to stumble and fall many times before they get their head around it all. If they choose to try, of course. More and more I see young people attacking in anger when people don’t respond perfectly. And the people who might be trying to learn will then pull back, shut down and never go there again. We need to bring some more compassion into those conversations, even when anger or frustration feel like the most natural response.