Published: 31st January 2018
Gender bender: Alex Mathew and the 'Maya' behind conquering the world of drag
Drag queen Alex Mathew speaks out about finding himself in a world opposed to gender fluidity
Alex Mathew is not here to take anyone's nonsense. For him, life has always been about finding himself. On a typical weekday, we can find him transformed into his alter ego, Maya the Drag Queen (Mayamma), at Kitty Ko, the luxurious disco club at The LaLit Ashok Bangalore, Bengaluru. Now, he's taken on the role of host with the talk show, Chaaya with Maya. The journey has been long and fruitful for this young man from Kochi, who has made it his life's mission to make the world a more open place for those who are just a little bit different. Here's what he had to say about finding himself in a world opposed to it. Excerpts:
What has your journey been like?
The journey has been a roller-coaster ride and I think it has helped me become the confident person that I am today. I am an extrovert and a go-getter, but at the same time, I prefer to have time to myself. What I've learnt from all this is that it’s good to know yourself and not be surrounded by people all the time.
How have you grown into own your identity?
The process was like polishing a rough diamond; that’s how my growth has been. It wasn’t easy for me to grow like this. I have faced a lot of trials and tribulations in terms of relationships and finding a sustainable job. From a shy and naïve boy, I have become a sassy and confident man. I have learnt to live up to what I want to be. I have changed for the better.
Drag tag: Alex first performed after he moved to Bengaluru city
Who is Maya? What does she have to say to the world?
Maya is a village girl who moved to the city to live with the love of her life. She is a classy and elegant woman who believes in telling stories about individualism, gender equality and feminism. She only has one thing to say to the world and it is that only love will exist and help us move forward.
What is 'Chaaya with Maya' and the idea behind it?
Well, it started with people being ignorant about the LGBTQ community. There were many misunderstandings and assumptions about the community. I chose to do a talk show to talk about the various issues facing the community ranging from their sexuality to bullying to mental health. The conversation has to start somewhere and I am glad that I took the right step.
Tell us about the process of preparing yourself for a performance.
It takes about 2 hours to become Maya. What excites me the most about it is the surprise element that I present in front of the audience. I make a set list that keeps the audience on their toes and keeps them begging for more. At the end of the day, I look forward to the adrenaline rush that I get on stage.
Performer-in-chief: For Alex, drag belongs to the stage and changes with the artist
Drag is a misunderstood art form in India. How would you describe it to someone who does not understand it?
Drag is an art form and it helps me and those like me burst out with creative energy. It is only meant for a stage, and it grows and grooms itself according to the performer.
Was it difficult to present this duality to your friends and family?
Obviously. They were clueless about this new change. We live in a conservative society and I have lost a lot of friends because of this. However, my family has learnt to deal with it and they understand my situation and who I am.
You are very vocal about your love for RuPaul. How has he inspired you?
He stood out as a person who prophesies about love. The world is filled with bitches and hate, but he chose love above all. That’s the reason why I chose the same path. I always love to repeat this line — If you can’t love yourself, how are you going to love somebody else?
Magic moves: When performing, Alex likes to surprise the audience
You recently wrote about how people choose to run away from the country due to intolerance. What gives you the strength to stay and fight for your rights as an individual?
To be honest, it is the safe places that help me grow. I am so grateful to the fact that Keshav Suri, Executive Director of The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group has given me the opportunity to shine. He wanted me to perform full-time as Maya the Drag Queen as well as speak out about LGBTQ sensitisation. This gave me the confidence that I was lacking. I hope that there will be many more safe places that help the LGBTQ community shine.
Do you believe that Indian cities and cultures have grown to accept change over the years?
Yes, of course. I came out in Bengaluru. This city has accepted me the way I am and I am so grateful to it for helping me grow.