Minka: Hi everyone. Welcome to a new feature on Minka Guides which is where every month I’ll be having a conversation with someone – or really looping you in on a conversation that I’m particularly interested in having. Whether it’s someone that I think is doing something really interesting or someone who has expertise in an area that I have questions that I really like them to answer. So, I am super excited today to be having Maya Stevenson here with me to chat about their upcoming drag king performance as Teen Angst.
Hi Maya! How are you?
Maya (they/them): Hello! I’m good. I’m excited.
Minka: Yay! So Maya is a 26-year-old master’s student from London who also performs as the drag king Teen Angst.
Maya did their first-ever drag show in The Glory’s Man Up competition a couple of weeks ago. They won their round and they’re going through to the final, which will be happening on Wednesday 26th, I think that’s right? No, 25th May at The Clapham Grand.
Haha, Maya, you’re like wait a minute!
Maya: Yeah, no the date got changed. So, it’s in my brain, it’s embedded.
Minka: Oh my goodness! Yes of course.
So yeah, I’m super excited about this and I’m so sorry that I won’t be there to be able to see this because I would really love to be able to see you do your show.
I’m really so intrigued by Teen Angst because for me the character really pops in terms of the look, the music and the embodiment of a certain type of masculinity.
So, tell me: who is Teen Angst for you?
Maya: I like the phrase “an embodiment of a certain masculinity.” It’s a very nervous masculinity.
Teen Angst is… well when I was a kid loving pop-punk… it’s all born out of my love of Busted basically. Matt Willis was my sexual awakening but then turned out, in the little gender brain way, of being like “oh, I also would like to be you.”
I always love pop-punk and even through being a teenager when it wasn’t cool anymore (at least like in my friendship group) and then going to Uni and I’d always on the down-low be on the bus listening to Busted – originally thinking it was ironically, being like “oh yeah, it’s just like a throwback. That’s fine.” And then being like No! I want to listen to Panic, Bowling for Soup and Blink 182 unironically in my daily life.
I love this music, and they’re all story songs, which I think lends very well to drag. I’ve got a backlog now of so many story songs that I’m just like yes, yes, yes!
So, it’s that nervous teen boy energy. And especially for me coming out… It’s so tied to my queerness because it’s basically a very, very, very thinly veiled way of me saying… I was so terrified when I realized that I wanted to sleep with people with vulvas but didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.
It shoots you right back to being a spotty 14-year-old, being like “I want to… I want to and I don’t and… uuuuugh.”
Minka: Yes! Which is so interesting because it’s a very vulnerable form of masculinity, something that we rarely actually see, particularly with drag king performances.
It’s usually such a bro-ey energy and it’s like you’re taking that kind of performance of bro energy but bringing in a very vulnerable version of that.
Maya: Yeah, well thanks. I’m glad that’s coming across.
Yeah, that kind of bravado. There are so many characters in pop culture that are like, “Oh yeah, I fucked that bird” and “Yeah, I know what I’m doing” and then actually without having done it, or building relationships with people or actually thinking about what you want our sex and stuff. You can’t just know that.
You can’t be all laddie. There has to be that vulnerability under everyone, even the jocks in school. No one knows what the fuck they’re doing the first time they do anything.
Minka: Or the first 20 times.
Maya: Yeah, it’s especially important with anything personal. Like how could you possibly know that?
Minka: It’s so interesting for me, because of our age difference, that Teen Angst really reminds me of the kind of guys that I was, in my early 20s, seeing at the Astoria and at big indie nights or like on Myspace. They really embody that energy and I’m like, “Oh, I know this guy.”
Maya: Yeah, well that’s really weird because of our age. That’s kind of it was the guys that I was like looking up to, in Mizz and other teen magazines. The guys and the young men that I was being told I should fancy.
So mine was always on a little pedestal being like, “Oh my goodness.” But yeah, I think they’re everywhere. I think we’ve all encountered them. Which is why I was so happy from that first performance, how much it resonated with people.
This was my little weird passion project that I’ve just been like ticking away at behind the scenes. I really didn’t tell anyone I was doing it. Like only five people knew because I was just like, “If this is a flop, then it’s my little secret.”
Minka: I completely understand that. I completely relate to that because that’s something that I’ve done in the past with drag shows as well. I’ve just been like I’m not going to really tell anyone I’m just gonna do it and then yeah, if it’s good then it’ll take off!
So is this a persona that you’ve been developing for a while?
Maya: Yeah. I’ve known that if I was going to do drag, it would be in a pop-punk kind of way. I haven’t seen a tonne of that and so it’s kind of like okay, I think that’s something where I can add my thing to a drag scene.
There are so many avenues to mock masculinity – we’re not running out of those.
There are so many avenues to mock masculinity – we’re not running out of those. But I think this is my in and also, it’s music that I’m really confident with because it’s like I know this. I’m with that. So it’s building on stuff already.
Over lockdown, it was one day where my sister/sibling was really (as we all were) having a shit time. We had a phone call and then afterwards I was like, “I’m going to get in boy drag and send them some pictures because I think that might cheer them up.”
So, I’ve got my first one. I had long hair (it’s all comparative now) and I did a sweep side fringe round and had a cap on. And that was the first time I was like, “yeah ok, this is something.” Then I sat on it for a year, because then also pandemic and other stuff. Then a mate of mine, was like, “if you’re gonna do it Man Up is a really good platform.”
Minka: It really is.
Maya: It’s all beginners. Loads of people are really new to it. I’m so glad I did it. Also, because I need a deadline with the never-ending “I could do this whenever I want.” Okay, then I’ll never do it.
Minka: Yeah. Also with doing drag, it’s sometimes hard to find those performance opportunities as a new person.
Man Up, which to clarify for everyone is run by The Glory in London – this amazing queer pub/cabaret venue. They run the biggest drag king competition in Europe, which is what we’re talking about here. It’s such a great platform for new talent, but also for established talent to try something different or raise their profile.
So, had you seen many drag king shows before you started working on this idea?
Maya: Not really. In terms of drag shows, where it’s just kind of a general lineup, they’ve been like one or two. A big one for me was at Pussy Liquor. I saw Mark Anthony and I think that he might have been the first king I saw live pre-pandemic.
Before that, I was kind of aware of it but that was like “oh, this is so on the same level.” There’s all like gross terminology around like ‘bio queens’ and drag kings and all that shit. It’s just nice to be like, “No no, no, we’re all just jumping up on stage.”
Minka: Yes! We’re just doing drag.
Maya: I’d been following Chio and Prinx Silver and the first time I went to one of the Man Ups that was in this round, I was wildly fangirling. Now it’s like nearly chill – it’s not quite but it’s like nearly chill which I’m loving and is strange. But no, I was kind of aware of it but like very in awe and it always felt very like over there and for someone else to do and that’s great.
I’m a little performer. Whenever there’s karaoke, it’s probably so exhausting for anyone else who wants to have a song and I’m like, “No, no, no, it’s my time.”
Minka: You need to sit down and watch me do a show because this is what’s happening.
Maya: It’s a full-body like three songs up then. So, it’s probably quite a relief for mates. Now I have an outlet and I don’t have to bring this energy to everything else.
Minka: How did it feel to finally get on that stage and do that first show?
Maya: So amazing. Like so so amazing. The way I’ve been describing it… I’m hesitant to use the word because I feel like it’s a very important word but it was like fucking euphoric. It was so incredible.
I’d been really nervous and obviously, it’s a competition. I was like, “I’m not there to win, I’m not there to win but maybe what if I do win?” Then we were all getting ready downstairs and it was like lovely and all these kings and just chatting and stuff.
There are a couple there who had been doing it for a good few years and Dr Cox the Genital Pox walked in and I was like, “oh well, you’re amazing and you have this, so I’m doing this to kind of like just have my first one and it’s mine and it’s great.” Then the nerves left me because it’s a really good space and they’re like so welcoming it. It really felt like this matters and is important but it’s also so chill. I don’t know how an event manages to balance that but they really did so nicely.
So, then I basically got up and the nerves were very there but drove me and I was like, “I’m just gonna have fun. What’s the point in this if we’re not having fun?” I just had the best time. It was so nice.
Minka: And the joy of pop-punk is that that show is over in three to four minutes and you’re done. Do you know what I mean? So you probably spent so long working on this and then you’re on stage and it’s all go. It’s happening. Then it’s over and you’re like whoa, ok wow.
There’s not much foreplay to a pop-punk song.
Maya: Yeah, haha, there’s not much foreplay to a pop-punk song. It just is the whole thing. Maybe there’s a bridge and then it’s there and then you’re out.
Minka: Very, very true and so suitable and fitting.
So how have people responded to your show? And then also to Teen Angst as a character generally, say on Instagram and such, since you’ve done that show?
Maya: Really well. I couldn’t birth him into the world until it was the actual performance so I didn’t have an Instagram. I made one the next day and people have been really supportive and lovely. It has felt really nice.
The first song I’ve done, the look is very pop-punk but the first act is a One Direction song and I’ve had a couple be like “That’s not really…” and I’m like “I know, I know” but it had the strongest narrative I had and I wanted to do that.
Minka: It’s good to start with that as being like generally this is the idea of this characterization that I’m doing but it’s not always going to be limited to that.
Maya: Yeah, exactly, right? Dressing up for other events, in general, I love doing a princely look and I’ve worked out a way of being like, “I found these old photos of my grandfather, who is dressed all fancy” and so now I’m like yes I can claim both! He has a lineage.
Minka: Absolutely. That’s a thing with the drag characters. It’s going to develop over time and so it’s really good not to paint yourself into a corner completely. You’re just getting those boots on and that fake moustache on… not that you wear those…
Maya: I do. I’ve got like a little pubey tache.
Minka: Oh do you? Oh perfect. How appropriate.
So how are you feeling about the grand final?
Maya: I’m feeling good. It’s coming in waves of panic and excitement and I’m trying to kind of balance both of them. My May is extremely hectic. Um, and so this is like the last thing before I fly to Kenya for my dad’s wedding. So, it’s just here we go, everything is here.
The main thing is I really want to put on a good show and I want to live up to the little name that I’ve created.
Minka: Of course.
Maya: Yeah, I’m trying to book some rehearsal space. But it’s a bit bonkers that like my first gig was at The Glory. My second is gonna be at The Clapham Grand and I think my third my third is going to be at Margate Arts Club, which as you will know this the stage there is like two-metre squares.
Minka: Yeah, and about that high off the ground. [Indicates two inches]
Maya: So, in terms of size of performance space…
Minka: Which is something I was going to ask you about. For people who don’t know, I perform as a drag queen and I have done all of those spaces as well. For me, that was a big thing to transition from The Glory’s stage, which is a pub stage, to The Clapham Grand, which is a very big old venue with a very large stage and a bigger space.
How are you feeling in terms of your performance? How you’re going to be staging it? How do you feel about transferring it into that kind of space?
Maya: Yeah. I’ve kind of thought about it as again, not in a pop-punk but in a popstar way. I think I’m gonna watch some gig footage of old – or rather, young – Justin Bieber and be like you’re one person on a massive stage. Like, how do you do that?
Because all the other ones are in bands. So I’ve watched some One Direction ones to this song and it’s really weird cause they’re all just floating around and it’s like okay I can’t do that because if you look at one of them, they all look so aimless.
Minka: Yes, exactly.
Maya: Then if it’s a band, they’ve got the setup and then people leaping around. There’s a lot of energy in the vibe I’m bringing and so I think I’m just gonna jump a lot.
Minka: Yeah. This is the thing is that I can give you one big tip for…
Maya: Yeah, as you were saying that I was like do you have any?
Minka: … because people tend to think that they should come onto that big space and then kind of stand in the middle a little bit further back of own the size of it, and that’s actually the worst thing you can do because you’re kind of pulling yourself back from the audience too much.
You need to be right down the front, literally almost so you can touch the audience. Not only because the lighting will get you but your engagement with the audience will be so much more intense and they’ll be really able to hone in on you.
Don’t make the mistake of standing too far back in the middle of this huge space because you want to get right down there so you are the focus. Then it really doesn’t matter how much you jump around because, at the end of the day, it’s a lip-sync competition, so they are going to be judging you on how you’re actually lip-syncing.
Some people try to do a big, big show, lots of dancing and stuff but then because of that miss out on the actual core component, which is doing a really solid lip sync.
So just get down there. Do what you did and sell it to the crowd in that way. That’s my advice.
Maya: That’s very very welcome. Yeah massively.
It’s weird that shift of being like “ok, we’re new, we’re working out what we’re doing” and suddenly “ok, we’re at The Clapham Grand!” I wasn’t anticipating having to upsize my props and have to do all this stuff immediately.
It’s really fun and also I’m so excited to be backstage and hanging out with all the other kings. I’m a bit worried it’s gonna just be really nice and then I’ll be like “oh, I’m doing a thing.”
Minka: Hold that thought for two seconds I’m just going to go do a show.
Maya: What we do like feels so nice because after other heats that I’ve seen or I’ve missed, messaging people and being like, “You seem amazing. I can’t wait to see your stuff” and it’s really fun to feel part of that.
So, are there particular drag performers that you would say are an inspiration to you? Like across the board?
Maya: Um… yeah.. oh no, I feel a lot of pressure to remember lots of names.
Minka: That’s okay, you can just describe them. You’re like that queen who is in season 6 of this or something.
Maya: Yeah, it might be a bit lame but I think I kind of got pigeonholed with RuPaul’s Drag Race and like this is what this is and this is what a successful queen looks like. And because I wasn’t going near that I think mentally invalidated the little messy thing that I was gonna try and do.
Because I wasn’t going near [RuPaul’s Drag Race] I think mentally invalidated the little messy thing that I was gonna try and do.
I’ve got a lovely friend, Charlie Probably Wood and she’s so talented and has put on like a couple of shows that have completely blown me away. I think kind of that haphazard DIY aesthetic but then to create something where that is so powerful and lovely and weird and creepy and silly and fun really opened up like, “oh you’re you’re just like a friend of mine (the same age as me and we like have access to the same resources) and you just put on a show!” Like, “oh I could do this!”
I think it was that, seeing it in a real tangible way. I think seeing big names I found quite intimidating. It’s more of like on the ground stuff and going to Butch Please and I think they’ve only just started doing acts at Big Dyke Energy. But like other queer nights where it’s just like, “oh, you’re just here but we’re gonna have a weird little performer now. It’s that kind of like on the ground stuff that I’ve found really inspiring.
Minka: And the best thing is that the final is hosted by two incredible kings. So you’ve got Chio and you’ve got Don One, who both of them are to me are not just amazing performers but really wonderful people as well.
Maya: Totally yeah. Don One hosted my week and they’re just one of the funniest people I’ve ever been in a room with. You know when they open their mouth, you were ready to laugh. It’s like such pure talent.
It’s been so funny going to the different weeks. I don’t know how what the vibe of the final is going to be like because they’re both incredible and excellent, but the atmospheres that Chio and Don One create are so different. I can’t wait for them to like clash together and be like this glorious mix.
Minka: On that note, I’m so excited for this that and I can’t wait to see a video of the show. Anyone who’s in London, get your tickets for the final. It’s coming up on Wednesday 25th May and you can see Teen Angst there plus a whole host of other drag king talent from across the UK.
Maya: It’s sick. There are like 22 kings. It’s gonna be a big old night.
Minka: It’s crazy. Yeah, it’s a huge huge night.
Wonderful! Thank you so much, Maya. I really appreciate you having this chat with me and sending you all of the good luck vibes for what will be next week when this comes out.