It’s 10 days ago. I’m in Vienna, in an elaborate but tiny Viennese tea room, sitting across the table from Tamara Mascara. An Austrian drag queen who, on stage, is quite possibly the most flawless drag artist I’ve ever seen. Here, however, she is masquerading as Raphael, a slender, jeans and sweatshirt-clothed, chiseled-jawed man, who is about as far from the glamorous image Tamara Mascara portrays as it’s possible to get.
Until he starts to speak. And then I get an intimate view into the life of an elite drag artist. A life that is of the absolute highest of art, and that revolves around beauty, elegance, and perfection, but that is also taken up with the incredible amount of hard-work, intense drive and sometimes sheer frustration and disappointment that goes into making Tamara Mascara as unreachably beautiful, yet as utterly human, as she is.
And a Viennese artist who should be far more famous than she is, and one who I found as fascinating as I expected to the minute I sat down with her.
My fascination with Tamara Mascara, of course, began long before this, when I read a story about Eurovision Song Contest winner, Conchita Wurst, discovering Tamara Mascara when she, Conchita, was still just a boy called Tom living in Graz. A boy who thought Tamara was one of the most beautiful people he had ever seen and, right there and then, he made up his mind he would get to know her.
Being Tom, and soon to become Conchita, when these two people make up their mind about something they tend to achieve it. So, needless to say, Conchita Wurst not only met Tamara Mascara, she is now as close friends with her as most fans wish they were with Conchita.
What was interesting about all this, though, and why I found the Tamara Mascara bleep on my radar getting bigger by the month, is that it has always seemed to me Conchita does not waste her time on people that are not magnificent in some way. And so what that said to me was Tamara Mascara must be someone who is quite astounding.
Five minutes into my conversation with Raphael, and there was no doubt in my mind.
Sure, he tends to be a little prickly at first. But that has been my experience with most drag queens, who often seem to be enclosed in a hard suit of armor made up of wig, dress, make up, heels and attitude. But a suit of armor that usually covers a heart that is so fragile, one careless word could cause it to break.
But as soon as he warms up to you, and warm up he did, he is not only the loveliest person, but also incredibly intelligent, with a huge knowledge of the history of the drag world, the gay community, design and fashion, and a love of classic movie stars.
And with a biting wit and a way of looking at the world that is quite cynical, but also quite touching as, in some respects, he is still oh-so-desperately hoping the world will prove him wrong.
He is, in fact, someone I would enjoy meeting again and again, as there is so much about him to really really love.
As for this, it is the first in a series of articles about the fascinating Tamara Mascara. A series of indeterminate length (could be three, four articles or more) as, in the two and a half hours we sat together, we talked about so much, and I never know where my head will go until I start writing.
From now on, however, I will refer to her as ‘she’ as, even though I sat with Raphael, Tamara was the person most definitely coming through.
And so to start. And an introduction into Tamara Mascara, and how she came into being.
How Tamara Mascara was born
So how did Tamara Mascara come into existence? Did she appear in the mind of a person who knew exactly where he was going with his career, and exactly what he wanted her to become? No. Not in the least.
“I started out in the gothic scene. I changed from a normal school into a fashion school when I was 15, and I learned in that fashion school that it’s okay to be whatever you want to be, and people will even admire it. So I found the courage to put make up on, and to dress how I want.
And I was always dressing a bit freaky when I went out anyway. I shaved my eyebrows, and I was wearing all that goth make up and fake hair, and 20 centimeters platform shoes for school. And then, like every teenager, I started to go out, but I didn’t go out in normal clubs, I went out in the goth scene.
Then I started to put on more and more make up at night for the clubs, and people looked at me and they liked it, and gave me attention, and I liked that. That’s also when I discovered I found it easier to be in this role, in this character, and to be covered in make up and dress and all the other stuff, than being all natural, which is hard sometimes. But, back then, I didn’t see this as drag. Not at all. I saw it as I put make up on and funny clothes, and I went out.
It also wasn’t my plan to look feminine. Instead, it was my plan to look like this fantasy I had of myself. Besides, the make up wasn’t at all like classical beauty make up. It was blue lipstick, and strange colors…goth, you know.”
So how did this goth teenager, who seems to have been wearing as outrageous of a style as he possibly could in an attempt to get people’s attention, eventually morph into the ultra-glamorous, superbly feminine Tamara Mascara?
“I eventually went more into this gothic Lolita thing, which I kind of brought to Austria, and this was what I was most inspired by. It is all about these dolly dresses, and everything is cute and lacy, but still deadly and black.
So I loved that, because it’s also very feminine. And then one night a guy asked me “Do you want to DJ at our party?” and I said, “But I can’t DJ” and he replied, “No problem, I will teach you”.
And 10 minutes before the club opened, he told me “This is the right side and the left side, and just push the buttons”.
You can imagine how great the sound was, but anyway, people looked at the drag queen on the DJ desk and they loved it. Because I was wearing a white wig with the craziest lashes, and violet contact lenses. So this is how it started.
Eventually, me and my friends from the fashion school started to go out more and more into the gay clubs, because they played 80s music. It was this kind of retro 80s wave. And I was going there in this goth drag style, but then I started to tone it down, and this is how my drag started.”
But what about the name? Because there really couldn’t be a more perfect drag name than Tamara Mascara?
“The more drag I became, the more people asked me “What’s your name?” and I always answered “Raphael”. And they were like, “What!!! You need tits and a name.” Then all of a sudden we came up with this name Tamara Mascara, and it was a joke in the beginning, but then I started to get bookings because of the name.”
Interest in Tamara Mascara soon began to skyrocket and, before she knew it, she had a career as a freelance drag queen, a burlesque artist, a make-up artist, a singer, a fashion designer and a DJ.
Interestingly, too, as Tamara has since pieced together an incredible career from many different things, she is also someone who, even from some of her closest friends, is still talked about with a little bit of awe.
As I told her, I had already spoken to a few people who knew her and had been told so many good things about her, although some of them were a little surprising. Like the person I knew she would be, she immediately asked me to tell her what they had said.
Being the person I am, of course I told her.
“When you first meet her, she’s a bit of a ball-buster, and with quite a hard exterior. But when you get to know her, she is fabulous and she has a heart of gold.”
She laughed, and then explained, “I don’t even try to have a hard exterior. It’s just that, if you don’t talk to me, my face, especially with the make up, looks very mean. The out points of my mouth, they naturally go down. Even though I do Botox, they still go down. And, when I don’t talk and just stand in a club and look at things, I look like this” — and she imitated a very, stern, mean-looking girl.
“For me, this is neutral. But people are like “Oh my God”, you better not talk to me. Also, even when I try to look nice, I see people hesitating to ask me for selfies, and I’m like “Come on already. It’s fine. I’m here for that. This is part of my job. Let’s take a fucking selfie. Please. But I’m friendly”.
And I have to say, I agree with her. She is incredibly friendly, hilariously funny, interesting to talk to, and not someone who struck me as even remotely scary.
So the next time you see her in a club, get that selfie. Honestly, she doesn’t bite, and you’ll end up with the most beautiful girl anyone has ever seen standing there next to you. Just think how cool your friends will think you are.
In the next parts of this series of articles on Tamara Mascara, you will find out much more about this Austrian drag queen, including her thoughts on celebrity and fame, who her favorite classic movie star is, what she admires and what she hates, and what she thought of being backstage at Eurovision as part of Conchita Wurst’s support group.
She even had the perfect explanation for why, out of the four friends sitting on that couch back in 2014 as the Eurovision votes started to pour in and Conchita was looking like the winner, the three boys — Tamara (Raphael), Conchita (Tom) and friend and hairstylist Matthias — were the ones almost hysterically crying, while the girl — Conchita’s best friend, Niki — was not.
I’ll be back with part two of my interview with the fabulous Tamara Mascara soon. You might find out then.
A photo posted by 💎Tamara Mascara💎 (@tamaramascaravienna) on
I'm a former radio DJ, an ex non-profit Director of Development, and a left-wing human rights advocate with a 20 year background in gay rights and HIV/AIDS rights advocacy. I'm also an avid video game player. Minecraft is my obsession.