Tom Rasmussen is the non-binary writer and author of 'Diary Of A Drag Queen' behind the 108-year-old drag superstar, Crystal. To say that Tom and Crystal are two sides of the same coin is too basic an analogy – it only works if that coin is a chocolate one from Poundland because they are far more fun, an impersonation of wealth that kind of mocks capitalism and is utterly delicious. Here, Tom sits down with their alter-ego/muse/other self to talk about queer bodies, being a political commentator and why you really, really want to read this book...
Tom: So, Crystal, how are you feeling?
Crystal: About what?
Tom: The book coming out!
Crystal: Oh, yeah! Really excited. You know, as a lifelong memoirist and poet laureate you forget how exciting these things really are. I guess I haven’t even taken the time to register what a moment this is for me. But after 217 books — all of which have won the Nobel Peace and Literature Prizes — you lose count!
Tom: That’s amazing! When my editor told me we’d secured time with you, I was so excited. From your first book — The Bible — to this — Diary of a Drag Queen — what can we expect that you’ve not revealed in your other tomes? Your epic War and Peace was so personal, it’s hard to think of what else you could say.
Crystal: Well, you know, [Crystal leans over and whispers to her PR] this one is all about life. You know. About [her PR whispers to her] love, honesty, you know? I think in this time we really need honesty.
Tom: Yes! I mean reading it — it’s just so brilliantly honest about what it’s like to live in 2019 as a queer person, a non-binary person, someone having lots of sex. You talk about family, relationships, monogamy, presentation, violence, the queer community.
Crystal: Do I? [Her PR leans in once again.] Yes! I do! I think when I wrote this one, I desperately wanted to let people in on what we as drag performers face on a day-to-day basis — whether that’s the glory of finding your people or the mundanity of trying to find a job in the arts as a working class person. Whether it’s about money, or the lack thereof, or about sex — I think candidness for me has always been a tool to dismantle shame that society has placed upon people like me because we don’t fit into a preconceived, pointless normal. And, you know, the bit about when I was in a fight with a kangaroo in the outback — that’s just so raw! You know?
Tom: Oh, I don’t remember that part. Is that a metaphor?
Tom: So, are you nervous about the book's reception?
Crystal: You know, Alan, it’s always nerve-racking. Especially when you can’t quite gauge how this kind of work will go down. I have always felt quite alienated by books — I always feel too stupid to really understand literary works, and I always get so bored when something feels daunting or too clever for me. So I really wanted this to be a book that would help you keep reading, but also allow people like me access to theory through lived experience rather than lofty academia. That’s important, but it’s also so important to speak to people wider than those who already understand. I also think that work like this is always treated as niche or alt, but I think our experiences as LGBTQIA+ people are very human, and they speak to a kind of humanity that only people on the fringes have felt — one which I would say is much richer and full of culture and colour than if you’ve always been on this inside. I hope people like me will read this, and feel seen and loved by it. I hope people who aren’t like me will enjoy it, laugh with it, learn from it. And I hope people who don’t like me will file lawsuits just so I can wear my brand new leopard print skirt suit and bust their asses in court.
Tom: What about rumours that you’re releasing an album of nudes with the book?
Crystal: They’re true. But everyone’s seen them anyway, so no big.
Tom: Can you tell me about the things you had to overcome to write this book?
Crystal: Well, a severe case of gout. But also, publishing seems somewhat conservative. When we first pitched the book out, it was met with a lot of people who found it too niche, perhaps too grotesque. Maybe that’s my fault: I did start the proposal with a long story about this time a poo of mine floated onto the restaurant floor of KFC (it’s a corker, you’ll have to buy the book to read it in full). But one can’t help but feel like a niche story, a story that perhaps nobody wants. I think as queer people, and anyone from marginalised communities, we feel that. So overcoming a feeling of having your work undervalued because you’re not, I dunno, as fucking dull as Kerouac is something that took some time — and I’m so lucky that I have the most special family — both biological and chosen — and they really were the people who helped me keep thinking the work is valid. I also think that, in general, as a community we are always having to overcome, and as an individual there has been a lot of homophobia in my life, and so overcoming that from the age of 13 to now both helped and hindered when writing this book. I hope I’ve done people proud with it. Once the writing process started and I had an amazing publisher who was very behind the book from the off, it felt so freeing to be able to talk about this experience fully on my own terms. It was one of the first times I’ve written something so personal that it didn’t feel like I was selling my trauma. It was a space for me to speak on it, how I wanted to speak on it.
Tom: Speaking of speaking, is it true you’ve been asked to be the voice of the London Underground?
Crystal: Yes. But I said no because I can’t support anything related to a government that is essentially funding something as racist and xenophobic as Brexit.
Tom: So you fancy yourself a political commentator?
Crystal: Well I was PM for six days last year, but my Insta was disabled at the time because Instagram seems intent on censoring queer bodies, so none of my friends, fans or followers know about it. I decided to leave politics, though, because of a scandal called 'Crystal-Gate' — you’ve heard of it? — which is when I tried to get every cis, white posh dude fired from parliament. Shame it never happened.
Tom: (As the interview continues, I become increasingly aware that our narrator perhaps can’t be trusted. But as I have read the book I can confirm it’s a work of nonfiction.) Are you excited that your book is the first book to be nominated for an Oscar?
Crystal: Well, it’ll be my 33rd [Oscar]. I prefer a round number so that’s a bit frustrating.
Tom: Who is this book dedicated to?
Crystal: It’s dedicated to my community — the LGBTQIA+ community. To my mum and dad and siblings. To my grandma. To my partner, and queer siblings. To people like me who’ve ever felt lonely and lost because the world doesn’t get their difference. To 13-year-old me who was very worried.
Tom: Are you still worried?
Crystal: For the safety of myself and my community: yes. For myself and my community: no. We are the best thing ever.