On a weekend night, Zac Van Tienen can most likely be found at Flamingos Dance Bar, Hobart.
But you probably wouldn’t recognise him. From the tip of his painstakingly styled wig to the heels of his stilettos, Van Tienen will have transformed into his drag queen alter-ego, Aurum Argentum.
A resident queen at Tasmania’s most high-profile gay bar, the Launceston local hears one word used most often to describe his on-stage persona: fierce.
“The creativity comes out a bit more, the inhibitions drop back a bit, and I get to express ideas, feelings and emotions that I don’t get to express in everyday life,” he said.
When not in drag, Van Tienen, 22, is a junior doctor at the Launceston General Hospital.
His two passions seamlessly co-exist, he said, in funhouse mirror images of the whole person he is.
“You’re never going to get a standing ovation or a round of applause or laughter when you’re on the ward,” he said.
“Well, there might be the odd occasion,” he laughed. “But it’s seldom.
“[Drag] is something that’s so far removed from what I do in my day-to-day that I get a second wind if I go home and do something completely different. I don’t feel tired at the end of the day if I’m going to do that.”
Drag as an art form is experiencing an explosion of popularity at the moment, thanks in no small part to TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, which draws 1.2 million viewers per episode.
But it might be helpful for the non-RuPaul fan to provide some definitions.
The primary purpose of drag is to provide escapism. The performer gets to embody a larger-than-life character, filled with confidence and beauty, and the audience gets to have a damn good time.
It is not compulsory to be gay to be a drag queen, but drag queens are gay men the vast majority of the time, and drag is intrinsically tied to LGBTQI culture, and pride. It’s a celebration of freedom of identity, vibrant self-expression, and the strength of community among the different.
However, drag queens – men who dress in stereotypically female costuming in spectacular fashion – are a completely different subculture to transgender people – men and women who identify as being of the opposite gender of the body they were born with.
Drag gently skewers the very concept of gender, while celebrating femininity and gender expression. It revels in embracing the diversity and multi-faceted nature of gender, through performance. And yes, there are also drag kings – women who dress as caricatured versions of men.
The first time he saw it was an experience Van Tienen will never forget.
“I saw what it did for the people doing drag, and also what it did for the community – the excitement, the glamour, the hilarity,” he said.
“Drag isn’t for everyone, and I respect that, but I just want to put content out there, and messages out there, that people enjoy.”