Not Just For Cis-Men: Mystery Meat Redefines Drag in the South

Photos by Jerry Siegel

Photos by Jerry Siegel

This article originally ran in the printed edition of WUSSY vol.05.
You can still order your copy
here.

Mystery Meat is an Atlanta-based drag performer who first started dabbling in drag in 2015. Aside from contests open to the public and open mic nights, his first gig was at Jungle when his friend Abhora shared the stage with him at The Other Show, a platform that's has seen the talents of many drag legends: Violet Chachki, Biqtch Puddin’, and Evah Destruction.

Mystery Meat, otherwise known as Lewis Bello, has little free time between performing at Mary’s and working his day job at a daycare and dog boarding business in Marietta. On rare days off, Lewis can be found at his apartment in Kennesaw creating art (drag related and other) and sleeping.

Meat enjoys performing at Marys because the intimate atmosphere allows him to connect with the audience. “Everyone watching is like a foot away”, Meat said, “I love that.”

At Mary’s, Meat usually performs to industrial, rock and punk music, although he often branches out to other genres. His performances are high energy, often incorporating shock value—fitting, considering his passion for performances that challenge people's perception of drag.

Meat has crafted his unique style of drag with his own creative ideas, drawing inspiration from performers like Evah Destruction (an Atlanta queen known for her mesmerizing performances) , Andro Gin (a look-turning Miami king whom Meat describes as a brother), and Hungry (a Berlin artist whose visual art combines drag and high fashion).

“Hungry, the Berlin artist, makes me hungry to get more weird with my art”, Meat said.

Meat recalled some of his most shocking performances in which he has pulled worms out of his genitals and eaten them, ripped up cow liver with his teeth, put cigarettes out on himself, covered himself in raw meat and stapled himself. Pretty fucking punk, no? Meat recalled one time where he ate a pumpkin pie on stage to no music.

“Hello I’m Meat”, he said, “I like pain and will put anything in my mouth”

Sounds a lot like my bio on Jack’d.

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Ask anyone what Drag is to them and you will get a different answer. For Mystery Meat, drag is counterculture, queer celebration, art and entertainment. He explained that many cis men use drag as a way to reclaim and explore their femininity, to showcase their performance art and to challenge society's ideas of gender. While many cis men who are drag performers don't intend to make women and trans people into a joke, audience members and performers who laugh at the idea of “a man in a dress” perpetuate a transphobic ideology.

“Imagine how that must feel for trans folk”, Meat said, adding that he “will never argue with a trans woman about why they should like drag”. Unfortunately, sexism and transphobia can be found in the queer community; drag is certainly not immune.

When speaking about straight, cis people who do drag, Meat said they should know the history of drag and queer culture and be respectful of queer spaces. When it comes to “hyper queens”, or cis women who do drag, Meat encouraged gay men to not assume straightness and to not police the actions of women, since that dynamic is inherently misogynistic.

“I like pain and will put anything in my mouth”

The drag community is mostly cis gay men, and the rapid rise of visibility in drag has made that very apparent. Drag queens are landing spots on award-winning TV shows; drag kings simply haven't received that type of visibility. Meat explained that the lack of drag kings in the public eye can be attributed to the sexism of cis gay men, who have pushed women out of queer spaces, failing to acknowledge that queer spaces aren’t just for themselves. Meat said he believes this means kings don’t have access to the same creative resources as queens; therefore people get more bored of drag kings.

“Because of … the lack of opportunities, drag kings are a little behind as far as quality goes,” Meat said.

His idea isn’t far-fetched, considering how drag kings have been locked out of shows (on TV and in clubs)  that have popularized drag culture. Simply put, It’s hard to do much with a platform if you aren't given one. “We are building that platform [and] I don't think we need TV shows to do it either”, Meat said.

When asked about how to include more types of drag in local and national scenes, Meat’s answer was a call to action for queer event planners and entertainment bookers: “Uh, book more types of drag. Simple.”

As a trans man, Lewis said that navigating the drag scene, along with life in general, is harder for him than most. While many people categorize Meat (Lewis) as a drag king, he refers to himself as a drag thing. It’s important to remember that drag is not just cross-dressing, as this enables the idea of gender as a strict binary. Rather, drag is an art form that molds to the shape of the artist, and, as such, can ignore, reject or redefine gender altogether.

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Mystery Meat believes that the drag community can become more inclusive to trans people by actually listening to the voices of trans people. “I don’t think that’s a whole lot to ask”, Meat said.

It can be easy for drag queens to get offended when someone tells them that their art is wrong, but it is important to realize that the art of drag would not exist without the contributions of trans performers and that trans people always deserve the final say in what is transphobic.

Mystery Meat plans to use his platform to continue to make changes to the public face of drag and to advocate for the inclusion of different forms of drag. He believes that RuPaul's Drag Race will never open its doors to hyper queens, drag kings, and other types of drag performers, but remains hopeful that Dragula will do so.

“Keep cheering on other types of drag”, he exclaimed, “Keep giving them visibility. One day we’ll get some spotlight too”.