I’m a drag queen who hates attention. An oxymoron in terms, I know.
To clarify, I don’t hate well-deserved attention from large groups of people — I j'aDior the sound of the audience at Wembley, where my drag girlband and I have a fortnightly residency, yelping, fainting and screaming when I hit that high note; I love making people laugh at a dinner party for telling an outrageous poo story or garnering stony looks from the Prada Girls at fashion parties because they’re jealous of how well I’m wearing this lavender cardi from Warehouse in the late '90s.
No, I’m good with that kind of attention; let’s call it ‘natural attention’. The kind I really can’t stand is undeserved attention.
This fact is reified once a year, every year, on my birthday. I fucking hate my birthday. Other examples of this kind of attention include asking your parents to tell you they’re proud of you; asking your friends to tell you you’re beautiful and, when they do, feeling really disingenuous because you forced it upon them; asking for a specific gift and then receiving it and feeling guilty because you’re disappointed the gift-buyer didn’t actually get you a better, more expensive surprise. But the most tangible example is birthdays.
But not for the obvious reason of hating growing older, which is many people’s reasoning for going into hibernation at the same time of year each year. Ageing doesn’t scare me; I think there’s something exciting about slowly bulldozing through the age boxes on official forms because the best people I know are older people: my radical grandma, Vera Duckworth (RIP), Madonna, Celine Dion, Gandalf The Great, Cher. It’s easy for me to say, I know, as someone who is male presenting, as there is far less societal pressure on me to stay ‘looking young’. But personally, there’s something liberating about accepting that your days as a stinky, broke adolescent are over, and instead gliding shamelessly towards the days where you own walls full of really smart-looking books that you've never read. Those heady days when your niece’s boyfriend comes to visit you “in London!!” and is kind of uncomfortable because of the amount of tasteless homoerotic art you have brazenly around the house (and, obviously, because you’re making very unmistakable come-to-bed eyes at him every time your niece goes to the loo).
Like many people, I was surprised to find, I just hate the specific type of attention your birthday brings with it. As this amazing quote I just found on Instagram and posted out to all my fucbois says: “If I have to ask for your attention, I don’t even want it.” And that’s the point.
Birthdays are this weird coercive system where you force your friends – and their annoying plus ones who never pay their share of the goddam bill – to come somewhere, spend money and celebrate you for doing nothing but managing to jack up your carbon footprint over the course of a year. That’s the only thing that’s changed in a year. That and the fact you’ve probs gained weight and have nothing palpable to show for the money you've broken your back earning.
Now, there are some people who love their birthdays and I’m not judging you. One of my best friends, let’s call her Emily (lol that’s her name), loves her birthday. She revels in it, each year throwing massive jamborees and literally putting the fun into organised fun. For her it rolls into one everything she loves: her friends, her family, presents, queer space, drinking, and organising parties, as well as taking time to look back over the past year, reflect and grow. And that’s great for Emily.
But for me, this kind of unwanted attention, which you feel like you’ve asked for, is something I’m used to in the bleakest of ways. That’s right folks, it all comes back to homophobia. It’s a classic liberal trope to bring everything back to what oppresses you, and of that I’m guilty. But for my whole life I’ve been the recipient of a lot of attention for literally just (trying) to be myself. From how I dress, to how I speak, to the way I walk, to the way I think, to the people I hit on: everything about me, for as long as I can remember, has attracted unwarranted and direct violence — whether it's vicious slurs, bottles thrown at my face, or being attacked outside my front door. Being camp, femme and queeny aren't affectations, they’re just part of me now, as is my birthday. None of that is my choice.
And, yes, although all of these heinous acts of homophobia I’ve experienced are far less beautiful than my wonderful, supportive friends and family rallying around to celebrate my coming into being, I have come to relate that kind of undeserved attention irrevocably to the years of unwanted, undeserved attention I have received for being gay.
On the flip side, birthdays always bring with them a huge amount of guilt. Growing up we didn't have so much money, so every time a birthday rolled around it always brought with it this horrible feeling that your parents had spent a fortune on you, even though they couldn't afford to. This guilt continues today because, as a drag queen, I often demand that my friends show me attention and adoration during my shows, so it feels excessive to ask for it on another day for doing nothing.
So here we are in between feelings of inexplicable unwanted attention and huge guilt, and the result is a birthday spent feeling overtly emotional, deeply ungrateful, and terribly guilty for weeks after. What a spoiled queen.
So what can we do about it? Well, first off I am calling on Jacob Rees-Mogg to step down. Nothing to do with my birthday, he’s just a grotesque example of douchebaggery. Secondly, I’m going to give a shout-out to my mum – it was her that did all the work, and still does, on my birthday, undergoing her fourth caesarean to spawn a drag queen who spent 18 years plus draining every penny from her bank account. Mums, and dads — for the sperm, the money, and love, if you're lucky — are the real heroes of birthdays.
Ultimately, however, I think the key to solving birthday hate can be solved one of two ways.
1. Cancel your birthday and don't organise anything yourself. Don’t tell people, and let those close to you tell you they love you and do nice things for you and don't feel guilty about that. As long as you would do the same for them, then that’s fine. If you wouldn't, then buck up!
2. Get blotto and repress all emotions. That’s less advisable.
I’m aware this is possibly the most inconsequential problem anyone has ever had but if you've ever hated your birthday, I want you to know that you're not alone. That I stand with you in solidarity on this day, on your birthday, and always.
It gets better.