Tamara Mascara on Gay Rights, Gay History and Why Vienna’s Drag Scene Deserves More Respect — Part Two


Back in early April, I was in Vienna, Austria where I met Austrian drag artist Tamara Mascara for the first time (interview part one). A meeting that was interesting to me because we talked about so many things other artists I interview wouldn’t necessarily discuss — shopping for vintage designer clothes in Japan, gay history and the history of drag, right-wing politics, creating that amazing Life Ball dress for Conchita Wurst, and more.

In this second part of my interview series with Tamara Mascara, I’m looking at the political side of this fascinating person. That’s because beneath the surface of this elite drag artist, like most gay people who have been discriminated against for much of their lives, she is outraged by the discrimination the LGBTI community still has to put up with in Austria and in the rest of Europe as well.

As per usual in these types of conversations, however, we didn’t start off talking about the political side of things. We got there on a circuitous route that began with my asking her a simple question, “What are your plans for the future? Is it all mapped out, or are you playing it by ear?”

Something I’m going to be working on in the near future is a YouTube channel. I’ll cover everything about the drag community, do tutorials on make up and stylings, and talk about things other drag queens on YouTube are not talking about. I’m also working on a plan to get my fashion business bigger, because when I eventually stop with drag this will be my main business.

The last sentence, of course, grabbed my attention, as I hear other drag queens also talking as if drag is not something they will always do. So I asked her, “Will you eventually stop with drag, do you think?”

Probably. Because I don’t want to be a granny on stage. I mean, if I look like RuPaul when I’m 50, then I’ll continue. But who looks like RuPaul when they’re 50?

And I stopped her here because, having stepped over that 50 line recently myself, I always find it funny that people under 50 seem to think life is over when you hit the big 5-0. And I told her, “Honey, really, life isn’t that bad. You can still do the most amazing things”.

Tamara, however, immediately corrected me.

“Sure, if you work in an office or you own a website (thanks for the nod, love!), it’s one thing. But if you’re naked on stage, it’s something a little different. Because I wear very sheer clothes most of the time and, at 50, that might be difficult to still do.Then again, there are drag queens that manage it, and they still have great careers. Think of Dame Edna. It doesn’t matter how old she is because, in this character, it’s not important. But normally It does. So I guess, we’ll see”.

And thinking about this, and just assuming Tamara Mascara would be one of those drag queens still with a mega career at age 50, because she is so incredible at what she does, I commented, “You know, I look at you and I think, God, that person works very hard to have a body that good. And I can’t imagine you ever not working that hard.“

She laughed and responded,

“Well, yes, I work hard. But it’s also a lot about lights and make up, so I don’t think it’s as good as you may think.” (I disagree with that as, even as the boy dressed in a baggy sweatshirt and no make up that I met that day, she’s pretty darned flawless).

But the working hard comment obviously sparked something in her, as she continued

“Last weekend I had The Circus party and people asked me “How many people helped you with your costumes?” and I had to answer, “None. Zero. I do them all by myself.” I’m sitting for two weeks – every evening, on the weekends, in the mornings, making my costumes. Because I know, when the curtain opens on stage, I don’t want to be ashamed of my work.“

Photoshooting day two… #dragqueen #tamaramascaravienna #makeup #shooting hair @eduvongomes

A photo posted by 💎Tamara Mascara💎 (@tamaramascaravienna) on

For me, as a writer, and as someone who spent years heavily involved in the drag community in the U.S, Tamara Mascara’s comment about not wanting to be ashamed of her work made me think about what I have seen so far of the drag community in Vienna. And how, to me, the level is so much higher than in the US, yet the Viennese drag community does not seem to get the attention it deserves.

Tamara, of course, had an answer for that, and for why she thinks Austrian drag queens work so hard to be so perfect at what they do.

“It’s because we don’t get so much attention, so it’s kind of this struggling for the audience. Because we have to be perfect, as the audience in Austria is very very picky about what we do.

That’s also why, when you go to other cities and see what they put on for a drag show, it’s sometimes kind of sad. Like with London and Paris, I was disappointed. And when you see those huge commercially-sold gay festivals in countries like Spain, and you see what they put on the stage as the main show, it’s not very good. It’s just muscle boys standing around and, for me, this is not a show. It’s just people standing around.

So, when I put on those shows for The Circus, sometimes I’m surprised how harsh the critics are. This time (April, 2016), the critics were only positive, but sometimes all they do is talk about how things could have “been better” and I think “Wow, have you seen other club shows?” They are not as good. So I think they are overly critical about what Vienna has to give, without a good reason for being like that”.

And this led me to something I’ve noticed about Austrians for a while now. How, being insecure about the size of their country along with their, quite frankly, not deserved inferiority complex, so many seem to put their country down. To point out its flaws. As if they want to do it first, before anyone else can do it for them.

So I asked, “Don’t you think it’s because Austria is a small country? It’s a sort of screwed up way of seeing yourself. Of being so insecure about yourself and your place in the world, so you put yourself down?”.

“Yes! Because Austrians will say “In Vienna there are no good parties, and no good music or theater” and it’s just not true. And if you go anywhere else, it isn’t any better. It’s just that there people support it more. For instance, in Vienna, we have very nice clubs. I mean, sure, we don’t have huge venues like Ibiza does, because we aren’t Ibiza. The culture is different. But we have great places, and nice parties and cool people. And I’ve been to New York and, sorry, it’s not really any better.

And as far as the drag scene goes in New York, you work at an event and the backstage area is awful with not enough space for anything. And, when you perform, you get $50. In Vienna, you dance as a go-go dancer in any club and you get 250 euros for a night’s work. So it’s not so bad.” and she laughed.

And what is Vienna (Austria) like being gay? Is it accepted? Is there a lot of homophobia? Is it hidden?

“It depends. Things happen on the street to people who are openly gay, and it’s sad. But I don’t think it happens often. I mean any time this happens it’s alarming and it shouldn’t. But I think we shouldn’t over-dramatize it. Because then the stupid people will realize they can hurt you with that. And that’s something they should never be allowed to know. But still we don’t get the exact same rights, which is unbelievably stupid. (Because you cannot get married in Austria?) “No. It’s a joke. And I lost a booking last year because I went on stage after a group of politicians had been speaking. Because I’ve been doing drag for over 10 years, and I’ve heard those speeches so many times. And I couldn’t take it anymore – because they talk, but nothing changes.

And nobody asked me for my opinion, but I gave it anyway. And I was like “You know what, it’s talking, talking, talking, but I can’t hear it anymore. Because the only thing we want is to be equal. Is that so hard? How many politicians do I have to listen to until it finally happens? And, well, I was kind of fired”.

But is she happy that she did it?

“Yes”, she immediately replied. And she’s right. Because the only time things ever change is when people who have the courage of their convictions, people like Tamara Mascara, stand up and say “Enough”.

“But, going back to being gay in Austria. I think we have a nice gay club scene, we have our role models, we have people in this society and on TV that are openly gay. We have politicians that are openly gay. So it’s okay. We are not this super Catholic country that has no future. We will get better.

And, sure, some things that are happening are scary, like the rise of the right-wing in Austria. And some of it is because of the refugee crisis. Which to me is a ridiculous thing to call it a “crisis” as we throw away so many things, and so much food, and so much effort and money on things that are not worth it – and people are saying we cannot afford this or that when it comes to the refugees. But we can.”

With my amazing photographer @odis82 #hair by @eduvongomes ❤

A photo posted by 💎Tamara Mascara💎 (@tamaramascaravienna) on

And then the subject of change came up and how, because it happens so much slower than we might like, it sometimes seems like change is not happening at all.

But, as I told her, I worked and protested and demonstrated in the gay and AIDS communities 25 years ago with ACT-UP, when they were at their peak, and I can absolutely guarantee things have changed since then. If nothing else simply because so many more people are fighting for that change than they were when I was first involved.

“Things have changed. A lot. But maybe you don’t see that change, because you’re younger than me?”

And here is where you learn about the importance she places on education and on history, because she immediately corrected me.

“No. I do see that change. Because I’ve educated myself. And I do know that years ago things changed a lot slower because few people had the courage to stand up and protest, because it was a lot harder. Because walking around in drag in the 70s in New York City was hardcore. Now walking around in New York City in drag – who cares. So I think now, it’s way easier to stand up for yourself.

This is also why older people ask the gay community, why are there more and more gay people? There aren’t. They just now have the chance to come out and be openly gay.

But one point I want to make, which I think is very important for young people in the gay, drag and trans community. Learn about your history. Do your research. History is so important.

Because many people, they just watch Drag Race and they think this is it. But it’s not. This is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s not where it all came from.

Because even before Drag Race and RuPaul, there were people like Divine and all those other people who were supportive of the community. So learn your history. Because this is our history. It makes you understand what you wouldn’t otherwise understand. Because basically everything they do on Drag Race is based on something else.”

And I’ll stop here, as there is still so much ground to cover in my conversation with Tamara Mascara. A person who is inwardly as intelligent, intellectual and introspective, as outwardly she is flawless, dramatic and beautiful.

And someone who is doing her part to try to make society change for the better, while also doing what she loves to entertain it.

In part three of my interview with Tamara Mascara, I’ll look at more casual things — how the paparazzi affected the lives of Britney Spears and Marilyn Monroe, why Tamara doesn’t want to talk about how she looks as a boy, the wonder that is Dita von Teese, and much more.

About Michelle Topham

Brit-American journalist based in Austria, former radio DJ at 97X WOXY, and Founder/CEO of Leo Sigh. I've covered K-drama, K-pop, J-pop and music news for over a decade.