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  • Writer's pictureAndréa Oldereide

Medusa Venom: Luxembourg's emerging drag queen

If you’re queer and just arrived in Luxembourg, you will quickly find out that the options for a night out surrounded by other fellow queers, with Madonna blasting through the speakers, and prosecco glasses coming through every corner, are very slim. Inexistent, actually.

But if you wait long enough, and search thoroughly, you will stumble upon the occasional gay party, and even get treated to shows performed by drag artists. And if you’re really lucky, one of these performances will be carried out by Medusa Venom.

With her voluminous blonde wig à la Dolly Parton, perfectly symmetrical snatched eye make-up, and plumpy big lips, adored in a breathtaking gown or glittery coordinated suit, Medusa looks just like the drag queens you would pay to go see in London or New York.

“In Luxembourg, if you want to call it a drag scene, there are three or four drag queens in total, and it’s not like American or London drag, it’s more of a transvestite style, an impersonation of a real woman,” Keano explained.

Although the term 'drag' has no precise origin, the origins of drag can be traced back to the ancient theatres, when women were not allowed to perform on stage and men had to dress up in costume to disguise themselves as female characters.

This practice continued throughout Shakespeare's time, before reaching the age of the pantomime ladies in the UK in the mid-1900s. It is assumed, however, that in those days men had to wear long, heavy robes that dragged on the floor, which may be the origin of the term used today.

Nevertheless, this form of performance evolved into a gender-neutral art form, where women could also cross-dress, as well as non-binary people. Other terms have emerged since the 1970s, when drag queens were iconic members of the ballroom scene, and today one can go and see drag kings perform, as well as cis women who present themselves as drag queens.

Keano is the 22-year-old education student and creative responsible for Medusa Venom’s birth. He created the character when he was still a teenager, inspired by the most popular queer show in history: Rupaul’s Drag Race.

But Keano’s drag was validated on a whole other level when he realised others showed were interested in his persona and admired him for bringing something new to an outdated queer scene.

“I took part in Miss Drag Queen Luxembourg 2019, and I won second place,”. The event had been the first time Keano had brought Medusa to Luxembourg’s audience. Medusa Venom has been the reigning Miss Drag Queen since 2021, after winning the pageant for the first time.

The name game is a powerful story

Before the glam and the applause, researching for the appropriate drag name had been a long and well-thought-through process for the at-the-time, 17-year-old Keano.

“When I was [a] child, I was always interested in Greek mythology. I would draw Medusa every day, her snakes on her hair. I love the story, I did an exposé in class about Medusa,” Keano said.

Medusa, a Greek mythological monster, has become in recent social culture a symbol for survivors of sexual assault. The story goes that Medusa was raped by Poseidon in the goddess Athena's temple. Angry that Medusa had destroyed her sacred space, Athena cursed Medusa with a head full of snakes and a gaze that turned men to stone.

« The story of Medusa is a feminist story, and I’m always pro woman, I love stories that portray women. It’s a very sad story but also a very strong one, » Keano said.

The drag artist also acknowledged that Medusa’s story is one that can be embraced by survivors of all genders. In fact, men that have been the victim of rape is a topic Keano agreed was not often spoken about.

In Luxembourg, 12% of women have been the victim of sexual violence during their lifetime, according to the country’s statistics agency. Only 3% of the victims of sexual assault victims in the country are men.

Nevertheless, keeping track of the number of victims of a sex crime is hard, as many studies show that a majority of victims do not report what happened to them. This is especially true for men.

In 2014, the UK government estimated that each year about 78,000 people in the UK become rape or attempted rape victims, and about 9,000 of these are men, The Telegraph reported.

According to Dr Maeve Eogan and Deirdra Richardson of the Irish Journal of Clinical Medicine, rape of men is still taboo, and has a negative connotation among heterosexual and homosexual men.

“I didn’t have opportunity to talk about that on stage yet, but it’s a good idea to bring this topic up on stage,” Keano said.

No gay bars, and no visibility

Medusa Venom has found a safe haven to perform. You are likely to find her do a split into a kick at Madame Yoko’s cabaret. The only venue dedicated to drag in the country.

Despite placing fifth out of 49 countries in Europe in terms of safety and rights related to the LGBTQ+ community, Luxembourg is behind other countries in terms of visibility. Not to mention, our prime minister is one of the few heads of state in the world.

According to a report published by ILGA-Europe, Bar Rouge, once located in Luxembourg City, was the only exclusively gay bar in the capital city. It did not survive the pandemic. There currently remains three queer-friendly bars in Esch-sur-Alzette, Differdange and Redange-sur-Attert, but not in the capital city.

« In Luxembourg, we need one nightclub with drag shows every night,” Keano excitingly let out.

« Being the only American style drag queen in Luxembourg is both isolating and powerful,” Keano said. “It would be nice to have more drag queens do similar things to me. Lots of queens in Luxembourg sing, that’s what I don’t do, I don’t sing,” He added.

Luxembourg is a country that presents well internationally, especially with an openly gay Prime Minister. Nevertheless, The Grand Duchy lacks behind its European peers with several policies, such as not banning conversion therapy, still forbidding MSM (Men who have sex with men) blood donation.

“I think if we compare with other countries around, Luxembourg is very accepting,” Keano said. “In the streets, if people see you walk in drag, it’s ok, young people compliment you. But older people will always give you weird looks, » he added.

According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, in an LGBTQ survey published in 2019, 40% of the survey’s Luxembourgish respondents said that they often avoided or always holding hands with their same-sex partner in Luxembourg.

Additionally, 19% of LGBTQ+ people in Luxembourg often avoided or always certain locations for fear of being assaulted. 37% of the respondents in Luxembourg said they were harassed the year before the survey, and 12% felt discriminated against at work in the year before the survey in Luxembourg.

“Gender identities are not comprehensible for everyone,” Keano said. That includes Luxembourg a country where from the outside seems very open, but still caters to a powerful conservative population.

Queer events

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is one of the few countries that does not hold its Pride events and march at its capital city.

Luxembourg’s Pride march and events are held every year in Esch-sur-Alzette, a town, 20 km south of the city, that requires a journey by car or train for tourists staying in the capital.

« All the drag queens in Luxembourg think pride should be in Luxembourg City,” Keano explained.

Drag queen story hour

But drag isn’t the be-all and end-all for Keano, who is currently studying at the University of Bastogne to become a primary school teacher. In fact, the 22-year-old artist is expecting to start teaching in Luxembourg next year.

And with this career choice, one would hardly forget to associate his aspirations to teach children, with recent scandals that have mostly been ongoing in the US, regarding drag queens reading books for children in schools.

« I already gave lectures to kids in drag, I went in drag to read a story for third-graders, and did a Frozen song, children could ask questions, and talk about gender,” Keano explained.

While the practice has come under the conservative radar, with parents, particularly in the US, worrying that their children will become gay as a result of being faced with a drag queen, or worse, become the victims of paedophilia, others, have embraced the space it has created to simply learn about acceptance.

“Children were very excited to see me in Medusa Venom, and had loads of questions, even question you wouldn’t think they would ask,” Keano said.

In the US, the phenomenon started in 2015, and became known as Drag Queen Story Hour. According to Teen Vogue, the event was created to give young people queer role models and show them they can be whoever they want to be. But it’s clear that a drag queen could also open a dialogue about gender roles, something children do think about from a young age.

« A boy (at Medusa’ story hour) said that he wanted to buy a pink toy but asked why it was not ok for his parents to buy him a pink toy. He told me that it wasn’t his parents that didn’t want to buy it, he didn’t even ask for the toy, because he thought to himself that it wasn’t ok for a boy to have a pink toy. He is six years old, and is already thinking about it,” Keano explained.

Internalised sexism can occur at a very young age, but according to Teen Vogue, education experts say that LGBTQ+-inclusive education improves student engagement and connection and reduces feelings of alienation and isolation for LGBTQ+ students.

« It’s not true that kids will become gay or trans if they talk about it in school, it will just help them to understand, » Keano said.

So far, Keano has not received any complaints for his story hours as Medusa Venom. And when he becomes a teacher, Keano intends to transform into Medusa for certain occasions such as carnival, and teach his pupils about self-esteem and confidence.

A drag hubby

The creative credits his “drag husband”, Pit, for being the backbone to their drag labour, a vital support system in making their dreams come true and appear on stage.

Pit has been helping Keano manage his performances and even build the decorations and outfits for his shows.

“He knows how to handle my wigs and my outfits when we get my stuff to a bar or any other location, he does all the things backstage,” Keano said. “I always like to say that without him, my show wouldn’t be where it is today,” he said.

One day, Keano hopes to make Pitt not only his drag husband, but also his real-life husband.

1 Comment

May 05, 2023

People also forget sometimes, that a small country means a small community, and with that, small associations and smaller events as we know it in bigger cities like cologne or paris. Pride for instance is not a commercial event, it is a group effort of volunteers, organized by a small association with very few members and very few meanings... How many of our queer artists in Luxembourg have a membership within that association? without that group effort, no events and no platform for local artists and no amusement for the audience. Same for other events in queer Luxembourg. People of the community in Luxembourg have to stop acting as consumers and should asking more often, what they can do t…

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