Alex Mathew, a drag queen and social media influencer, started getting interested in drag after winning a fancy-dress competition in his school. His winning costume? Nagavalli, a film character from the iconic Malayali film, Manichitrathazhu. That one competition helped him discover his creative flame. Alex believes, "it was a sign from the universe." Cut to today, he is performing brilliantly and with exquisite passion in Bangalore as Maya - The Drag Queen. Maya's breakout performance was being the opening act for the global sensation Alok Menon.
Maya and Alex are the same people. We both function together.
Alex strongly believes his identity is incomplete without Maya. He explains that each individual has a feminine and masculine side. Through Maya, he tries to be in touch with his feminine energy, and through Alex, he embraces his male spirit. Building up Maya was not a trivial task. As he says, "it takes a village to make a drag queen." And for him, it has been an exhilarating journey so far.
Till date, some relatives tell me to visit a counselor and get some help.
Alex was brought up in a conservative, Malayali-Christian family, which meant he could not just spring his identity upon them. His family did not accept his identity overnight. Even today, some of his relatives nudge him to consult a psychiatrist and get "cured." But what matters most to him is the opinion of his parents. Although they did not accept his identity as soon as he came out, eventually, they came to terms with it and even moved to Bangalore for him.
My mom packs my suitcase for drag.
Throughout the interview, we could feel the deep and rich connection Alex shares with his mother. Even if there were minor hiccups at the beginning, today, there is no doubt that his mother is his support system. It was she who first introduced Alex to the world of drag. She would make him watch movies like Chachi 420 and Mrs. Doubtfire, which inspired him to take up drag professionally. Alex was quick to refute the public perception that drag is something extraordinary and "abnormal." Even if the oral traditions and stories may not have had clear descriptions or labels, drag has been an integral part of Indian culture, mythology, and history for centuries. From Kathakali in Kerala to Jat Yatra in Bengal, drag is not new. However, it has become ultra-urbanized in the current Indian context, and this development has restricted it to metropolitan cities. Alex remains deeply convinced that the movement will permeate into rural India in its own ways and inspire new imaginative trysts with drag.
There are organizations who do things just for the sake of inclusivity.
Alex has also been the victim of undue discrimination purely because of traits associated with his drag alias. This is not unlike the thousands who are forced to stay hidden because of unfair treatment and harsh bullying. Alex has been rejected at interviews, attacked with harsh personal statements, and fired from two jobs. But eventually, these events led to the healthy, smiling, positive and successful version of Alex sitting in front of us. He is sure that his drag qualities don't bring him down or limit him but instead elevate him to new planes.
Queer people are often expected to "lay low" or ignore the hate. This is a trope that Alex has consistently refused to accept. He is an artist who chooses to lean into his identity and beat the odds stacked against him. His "thick Malayali accent" and "feminine gait" are gifts, not flaws. This affirmation allowed him to not give up on his creative expression and talent. Drag is Alex's medium to showcase his passion and express the richness of his identity to the world.
He is aware that he has been breaking down multiple social barriers. And though he acknowledges the support of his mother, friends, and the community, Alex also recognizes that his determination not to let anybody kick him down was vital. A popular social media figure, he has employed the same effective strategy towards his haters and their ignorant comments, bullying, or harassment. Alex's mantra to thriving online is - "Delete, block, report, and ignore." He values his positive energy and refuses to let invisible faces drain even a single drop.