Meet Chiyo Gomes – the drag king who’s not afraid to demand equal pay, equal exposure and equal respect

Drag King Chiyo Gomes talks to HUNGER, in partnership with UGG®, about equity in the drag scene, Queer representation growing up, and the importance of Queer spaces...

The former head chef turned full-time drag artist from Tottenham describes themselves as the ‘typical Londoner’ and is adamant that they “wouldn’t change London for the world,” that’s not to say that growing up in Tottenham was exactly a melting pot of Queer representation. “Oh, it was nonexistent, I didn’t really know who I was, or what I was, until I got to university, and even then, it was a solo journey, my environment didn’t help me get there,” recalls the now, full-time performer of seven years, who goes by the moniker of Chiyo. Studying the International Relations course at university in Birmingham didn’t work out, and after the first year, Chiyo left to explore the drag scene, crediting TV character Hannah Montana as one of their favourite drag inspirations, whilst simultaneously navigating their gender identity as a transgender man. Despite enjoying ongoing success and becoming one of a handful of full-time drag kings in the UK, Chiyo quickly discovered that being a drag king did not come with the same opportunities, demand and indeed fees as being a drag queen, and has spoken out about the disparity in an attempt to level the playing field somewhat. Here, Chiyo, who is wearing the UGG® Venture Daze Slide, discusses drag scene equity, their journey to discovering their personal identity, and the importance of Queer safe spaces…

Chiyo wears LOUIS VUITTON polo shirt, jacket, belt, bomber jacket and shorts, FALKE socks and UGG® sliders.

What was growing up in Tottenham like? 

It’s definitely not what it is now. Now, there are warehouses full of Queer people, and middle class people eating avocado on toast, but I grew up in Tottenham when the riots and postcode wars were taking place. My school had such a high percentage of asylum seekers too. It was definitely working class.

How would you say growing up there shaped you into who you are today? 

I think because Tottenham is so multicultural, I just grew up with a lot of culture around me. I’m mixed race myself, and there’s a big Turkish community, a Somali community, people from the Caribbean – that really shaped my ethics and morals, and helped my politics be in line from day one. 

Tell us about your university experience…

Um, I dropped out after a year. Yeah, it wasn’t for me. My school environment had been so difficult for me, I just kept being told that I was aggressive, that I had behavioural issues, and  people just didn’t know what to do with me. I got excluded every single year, my attendance by the end of school was at 40%. But instead of anyone asking; ‘what’s going on with this person?’ They just thought I was trouble. But the English Literature department in my school were always, just ‘the ones’ and they always told me; ‘when you get to university, you’re gonna find your people, you’re gonna find that connection’. And then I didn’t. So I dropped out.

When did you first get introduced to drag? 

I started watching RuPaul’s Drag Race in sixth form. But, when I left for university, I missed home and London so much, I just delved into watching loads of it. It was like season five and six peak Drag Race, and, even though I loved all these drag queens, I was like; ‘I don’t see myself in this. I don’t know what drag looks like if I do it because it’s not on there’. All of these people were one type of biology and they do one type of gender expression. So, I just started playing around with makeup, messing about in my uni room, and became so obsessed with it that I dropped out of uni to do drag full time. 

How old were you at that point? 

19, maybe 20.

Was there anything specifically that drew you to it?

I think it was literally because I was having a gender identity crisis. I was yet to find what I identified as. I didn’t know if I was a trans man, non-binary or if I was a lesbian. So when I found drag, I felt like I finally had something that I was passionate about, and that felt comfortable artistically. I knew that I was never going to be an industrial, corporate person – I’m a creative.  

You’re a big advocate for addressing the disparity between drag kings and drag queens. Could you explain that a bit?

It’s so bizarre, and it’s probably the most disappointing thing about the drag scene, especially because I got into it to finally find a sense of community. We do a job that defies gender norms, so I fully expected to enter this world and find the things that are usually a disparity in the heteronormative world to not really exist. But I quickly learned there is a massive pay disparity and opportunity disparity depending on what you have between your legs and what kind of drag you do. And that is a direct result of things like RuPaul’s Drag Race, where you’ll never see a drag king, because, now, the people watching Drag Race are mainly straight girls. The demand for drag brunches is so high, there are drag brunches in every city. I work four on repeat myself, but I’m one of the only drag kings to do that because people don’t necessarily want drag kings, so we don’t get booked and, quite often, we’re just paid crap.  

Do you see a world that can get to that point of equal pay?

When I spend time in East London, I see that world and I believe it can exist. But when I step out of my bubble, and go online onto platforms like Instagram, I think I’m quickly reminded that it’s a very, very long way away.  

Do you feel that there’s more support for people struggling with their gender identity nowadays?  

It’s a tricky one because, in a lot of ways, there’s more support in terms of online conversations. There’s a lot more trans visibility and visibility of different kinds of drag and stuff. But, a very good friend of mine once told me that visibility is a trap, and I think that rings very true because even the Government’s attitude towards trans people now is worse than it was when I grew up. When I was growing up, Nadia won Big Brother and everyone loved trans people, or, at least, they loved celebrating them and publicly we weren’t a problem, we weren’t a nuisance. People weren’t discussing what bathrooms we’re in. But now, with more visibility, suddenly people are like; ‘I don’t like this anymore, you’ve got too much attention, you want everything’. So I really do feel for the young people in this country now, especially with the NHS crumbling. It was 2017 when I went to my GP and told him I was trans, and they put me on a waiting list and I still haven’t heard anything. I had to go private. But 20 years ago, you could get your surgery in maybe two or three years. So it’s changed a lot, yeah.

What effect do you think it will have if Queer spaces keep closing down? 

It’s almost too scary to think about. I don’t know what I’d do if The Divine specifically closed down. There’s already been the loss of so many venues, and there are so many Queer people that just don’t have a safe space at home or even at work. I’m very lucky to work in the atmosphere that I do. They need somewhere to go to be themselves or even deal with medical problems. A friend of mine had to have an abortion — he’s a trans man and he couldn’t do it at home because it wasn’t safe, so he went to the local Queer venue and took his pills there. I don’t know where people, when they’re in desperate situations, can do these things if places keep shutting down. 

Do you have anything exciting coming up that you want to share?

I’m always just out and about. I’ll probably be at festivals. If you see me in a state, though, don’t mention it — or if you ever see me past midnight.

  • Photographer Lydia Garnett
  • WritersChris Saunders & Devinder Bains
  • Creative Director Kat Beckwith
  • Stylist Sachin Gogna
  • Hair Stylist Ellie Bond
  • IllustratorJess Ardizzone
  • Photography AssistantEoin Greally
  • Styling AssistantRadha Rani
  • Commercial Director Cherelle Chambers
  • ProducerAbby Rothwell