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Welcome to the Freak Show: James St. James on film, Trumps America and the future of drag


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As one of the founders of New Yorks 90s club kid drag scene, its fair to say that James St James has always had a flair for the dramatic.

An artist at his core, James has become an author, drag queen, presenter and general all-round personality.

But when it came to creating the film for his semi-autobiographical book, Freak Show, it was surprising to know that he handed over the reins to Trudie Styler, Stings wife and producer at Maven Productions.

Speaking to Metro.co.uk, he explained: Art is about interpretation and its interpreting other peoples ideas. I said: “This is my baby, and I give it to you, and you do with it what you will. Ill be excited to walk the red carpet and see it.”

Thats how I felt. Ive always known it was someone elses interpretation of what youre doing, and Im OK with that.

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But thankfully Trudie – whom James refers to as a real powerhouse – took the ball and ran with it, and the resulting film Freak Show was released in the UK this week.

Welcome to the Freak Show: James St James on film, America and the future of drag

James handed over his book baby Freak Show to Trudie Styler (Pictures: Getty/Instagram)

It tells the tale of a genderqueer teen named Billy Bloom (played by End of the Fucking Worlds Alex Lawther), whose life has been plucked from the dazzling freedom of his mother to the far more conservative American South with his father.

Unrelenting in his willingness to remain himself at all costs, his presence shakes up the town – not least when he goes up against a Bible Bitch to become Homecoming Queen.

When I wrote it, there hadnt been a drag queen protagonist in young adult fiction, he said. The idea of a young genderqueer, gender-fluid teen running for prom was sort of science fiction.

Since then, its come to pass that all over America there are now genderqueer kids running for prom and everything, but at the time it was very different.

The idea of gender identity is still, to this day, not as depicted on the silver screen the way it potentially could be – with several films coming under fire for using a straight male to play a gay or trans character rather than hiring a gay or trans actor.

But gay acceptance has become more into the limelight over recent years, and James St James calls recent releases Call Me By Your Name and Love, Simon as landmark for the LGBT community – but hes hesitant to add that it doesnt mean theres still not work to do.

Instagram/ @jamesstjames1

James first came to prominence in the club kid scene of the 90s (Picture: Instagram/ @jamesstjames1)

A movie like Love, Simon was a huge hit here in America and had the backing of a major studio and a lot of money was poured into it, he said. I still felt it told the same story of a cis-white male coming out. Hes sort of very vanilla,

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I do think theres more stories to come out of different types of gay boys, rather than pretty white boys who are gay.

As a result, he feels that the character of Billy could be the perfect antidote to segue in to the nuances of modern day LGBT life.

I love the fact that Billy is so gender fluid and a drag queen, he said. I sortve, in my mind when I was writing him, he was a young Lee Bowery. He was an artist and someone who was really going to change the world.

I like those stories, he added. I like people on the margins and stories like that.

I hope that now weve gotten Love, Simon out of the way, now we can start telling stories of people of colour or stuff like that. Theres a whole spectrum, theres a whole flag out there to represent!

Throughout his career in the spotlight, from celebutante and beyond, James has been a pioneer in the drag scene – unafraid to push boundaries in life as well as in art.

Welcome to the Freak Show: James St James on film, America and the future of drag

James character Billy Bloom has come to life in Freak Show (Picture: Maven Pictures)

Now, thanks to shows like RuPauls Drag Race, James has somewhat handed the torch over to a new generation of creators and has been able to bask in their ability to promote acceptance to the masses.

I definitely think the drag community has really stepped up in the past couple of years and theyre holding the torch for the gay community throughout the world, he beamed.

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I just dont know if drag queens had the platform then like the way they do now. The mainstreaming of drag has really allowed them to shine in a way that club kids and trans kids and the pioneers before them hadnt had the chance to, he added.

When I see them, being interviewed in Vogue and Vanity Fair and things like that who you know, never cared about drag queens before. its really fascinating to watch everybody grow into their roles as role models.

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Its a visibility that James feels is particularly important in todays America, as Donald Trumps regime across the country continues to cause issue for the minorities, including LGBTQ+ persons.

I worried when it was being made into a movie it felt a little stale, he explained. But living in Trumps America now, the idea of the bullying and the LGBTQ kids needing a leg up, its actually a little bit more relevant now than it was back then.

They continued: Theres so much ridiculous shit going on here with the bathroom policies and Trumps…just…I feel like the LGBTQ community has taken such a hit in the past year, and I think its so important for there to be heroes and people that teenagers that now can look up to.

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On how the film can promote this, James declared: I wanted this [Freak Show] to be an Anna Mae for the next generation. To just go out there and live life, you know?

I think that kids growing up today need all the help they can get, because its a really dark time, and they need to see all the representation they can, he added. So if anything, I love the fact that Billy is out there living his live freely and proudly.

I want him to be a beacon to all the people who are dealing with Trumps garbage America.

Freak Show is released in cinemas and available for digital download now.

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MORE: Freak Show review: Alex Lawther and Trudie Styler deliver a life-affirming triumph of queer fabulousness

MORE: Will there be an 11th series of RuPauls Drag Race and is a UK version happening?

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