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  • Lucy Faulkner and Rosen Pitman-Wallace

"Drag Race Is An Inside Joke For Queer People:" An Interview With Sister Sister

© Photography by Sister Sister

INJECTION spoke to Sister Sister: renowned drag queen, secret interior designer and outspoken critic of the toxic fandom.

If you’ve seen RuPaul’s Drag Race, you probably already know Sister Sister. And let’s face it, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen RuPaul’s Drag Race. But, for the uninitiated, Sister Sister, also known as Philip Doran, is a British drag queen who competed on the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.

We meet Sister Sister on Zoom, their backdrop is a stylish corner of their apartment, adorned with a Toshio Saeki illustration (“It’s like playing Sims in my own house!”) Their dog, Bambino (“a blessed angel! I adopted that dog the moment I could afford him!”), is an occasional guest star throughout our chat.

© Photography by Sister Sister

Empowerment within mainstream culture: discussing drag race & gender

To what extent did being on the show help you come to an understanding of your gender?

“I’m definitely on a journey with gender, which is one of the most fun, empowering things you can be, because it’s more or less just a relationship with yourself. At my peak when I’m feeling more fluid-presenting, I feel less confined. I’m still learning, and I really like that!’

They mention being called ‘manly’ by another queen during their time on Drag Race, and how their discomfort with that descriptor spurred them to be more open about their non-binary, fluid gender. “So I guess the show has led me on a journey to think more about my gender identity!”, they conclude, a little tongue-in-cheek.

From here, it’s an obvious segue to discussing one of the most iconic moments from their season, a conversation about non-binary identity between the queens.

“I remember it being the ultimate trending topic! We filmed during lockdown and there were people that had had to move back to their family homes and were just sort of trapped in their bedroom watching these people have a conversation on the BBC about gender identity, finding themselves and meandering the world as non-binary. When you scrape it all back that’s huge! That’s really really big!”

So why do you think Drag Race is such a successful vehicle for these conversations, which tend to be pretty taboo in mainstream culture?

“I think Drag Race is so accessible because it’s like children’s TV for adults. You can tap in and watch it for the empowerment stuff, the queer story lines, or you can watch it for the fancy dress.”

They elaborate: “Drag Race is a private joke for queer people and I think the hets are sort of in on it - or think they’re in on it but they’re actually not.”

“Of course, Ru Paul is a controversial character, but Drag Race is doing good, it’s doing positive things for the queer community. Even if it feels like sometimes it’s just at a heterosexual pace.”

© Photography by Sister Sister

The problematics of fan culture

Despite their praise for Drag Race, Sister Sister knows the toxic fandom that’s grown around it intimately. A big part of their story post-Drag Race has been about online trolling. They even wrote a thought-provoking piece for the Guardian about the hate and harassment they’ve received.

Why do you think a queer show has developed such a problematic fan culture, especially online?

“I think the gay community still has a way to go in terms of inclusivity. The toxic gay community, it seems like they have taken a leaf out of the patriarchy’s book and ran with it. There is room for love and acceptance but it seems to be overshadowed by male ego.”

“The set-up of the show being competition based encourages viewers to root for their favourites which is so idealistic because all you have to do is be the cheerleader for the one that you love. But, somewhere down the line, the door was opened for viewers to feel like they can provide an onslaught of hate towards the ones they least approve of.”

Besides, as we all know but often struggle to remember, reality TV isn’t always realistic:

“It’s classed as reality TV, but having watched it and then been in front of the cameras actually filming it, it’s so heavily edited that you sort of just wish the viewer could sit there and see through it for the sake of entertainment. Like “Okay we get it, this is the villain of the episode, that had to happen in order for this to happen.” But that’s just too idealistic I think, it doesn’t seem to work that way.”

Reflecting on their experience of trolling, they feel Drag Race and the BBC could certainly do more to protect contestants from backlash after the show.

“They absolutely could. I think they give crumbs. From personal experience, when I reached out and said to them, “I’m experiencing X, Y, Z”, they got back to me and said, “Well we’re the BBC so we’re impartial.” I was like, okay that’s not what I’m asking.

With any other workplace, they would have something in place to be a protective barrier between somebody who is going through a traumatic time at the hands of the workplace and the general public. But it was kind of left to me to figure it out for myself. My god, that’ll put hairs on your chest! You really do figure it out.

I think they could be a lot more caring and a lot more transparent about the safety and protection of the people on their show.”

But even if the show didn’t offer much support, after speaking out about their experience, they did receive support from the community, and things changed for the better.

© Photography by Sister Sister

“The response was brilliant, it was read by a lot of people and shared by a lot of TOWIE people, a lot of Love Island, a lot of Drag Race, our Lord and Saviour, Jinkx Monsoon retweeted it as well!

All I wanted to do was just change the temperature of the water a little bit and I think it did make things different going forward. Where that protective barrier wasn’t coming in from the Drag Race producers, I kind of had to invent my own!

When I still get trolls now I don’t say anything, I just link them to the article. I had one the other week actually and he got back to me after a few weeks and just replied “got it.

They also share their advice for behaving better online:

“It’s totally human to have these thoughts! If something doesn’t sit well with you that you’ve just seen on a TV show and you’re thinking “I hate that person,” you’re allowed to feel these things! You’re allowed to say it out loud, you’re allowed to say it in group chats with your friends - “Ugh, isn’t she annoying?” - it’s part of the spectator sport of Drag Race. But that’s so different to reaching out to that Queen or that person and telling them “you’re a c***” and then expecting no backlash or consequence. All it is, is just be considerate.”

From interior design to style of drag - sources of inspiration

To what extent is your style of drag influenced by your past life as an interior designer?

“For interiors, I go for big white walls, high ceilings, uncovered loft windows and everything is white but I’ll keep decorating with art, paintings and furniture and constantly shifting it around. I find that my drag aesthetic is kind of similar: I can build a look just by using accessories.”

Both in interiors and in drag, they love to keep “switching up the energy;”

“I’ve got this babydoll dress I had made recently. It’s hot pink, it’s a lot, it’s big and flouncy and if I could perform a Dolly Parton song in this one outfit it would absolutely fit. But then it’s like, hold on, if I wore this outfit and did an Alanis Morisette song instead, how would that be perceived?”

But interior design certainly isn’t their biggest influence… “Have you ever seen Jem and The Holograms, the original 80s cartoon?” they ask, audibly excited.

“If you haven’t, I implore you to go away and Google it. I grew up with two older sisters as well as, so all these fabulous, ridiculously camp cartoons were just thrust upon me, I couldn’t escape them!

So it’s an 80’s cartoon with Jem, she’s in a band and she has two personas. She’s the epitome of drag: she has earrings she presses and they transform her and her friends into a band called Jem and the Holograms. They were like 6 foot, so leggy, ridiculous outfits, huge hair and the most obnoxious makeup you’ve ever seen in your life. What I loved about it was that they would just walk the streets with lightning bolts painted on their faces - it was very David Bowie style! They were just serving every single day.

Jem and the Holograms is probably the reason I’m queer now!”

© Photography by Sister Sister

What's next for Sister Sister?

Having explored RuPaul, trolling, their drag inspiration and even their queer root, there’s just one big question left: what’s next for Sister Sister?

“I am finding that I’m thinking about interior design more and more these days, it’s like an itch I have to scratch all the time. I’ve downed tools for a little bit with drag because it’s been quite full on but I do have an itch to start decorating again - watch this space!

For now: I’m going away for 3 or 4 months starting in September. My agent was like “okay…you can but you’re going to have to take your phone with you and do some documentation”, so I’m going to be a travel blogger - let’s see what happens there!

And also, I’m going on tour with the biggest bastard I’ve ever met, Ginny Lemon! We’ll be starting our tour in February, tickets will be on sale any minute now. That’s going to be pure and utter chaos which is something to look forward to as soon as I get back from my spiritual retreat!”

Follow Sister Sister on Instagram, and find more information on their website.


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