Trans Dude, Drag Queen: A Niche Interview with Andromeda VII

Krem Zaroogian plays many roles: an artist, an illustrator, an animator, a long-time friend of mine from our [REDACTED EMBARRASSING WEBCOMIC] fandom days. But most nights, Krem isn’t Krem at all – he becomes Andromeda VII, intergalactic drag queen par excellence. Rare among drag queens, Krem’s also a trans guy. Read on to learn how Krem discovered drag, how he uses this art form to explore his identity, and how he beats a sickening space-inspired face.

PT: Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

KZ: My name is Krem! I’m 23 years old, about to turn 24. I currently live in Los Angeles and I’ve been doing drag for officially a little over a year now. Like many drag queens, my drag birthday is Halloween. That’s when I first took the opportunity to go out in drag. So I’ve just hit over a year of officially doing drag! Or, at least, what I consider officially doing drag, because I am a trans man, so I was forced to live my life as a woman for about 18 years.

I transitioned when I was 19. I’ve been on testosterone for a little over four years now. It was about 3 years into my transition when I started doing drag, and maybe February of this past year that I started doing it pretty regularly. At first, it was once a month, and then it was every weekend, and now it’s sometimes multiple times a week. In May, I officially took on my drag queen persona of Andromeda VII.

I’ve been a part of the downtown Los Angeles drag scene for the past couple of months. I started out doing looks here and there, focusing on my makeup, and I’ve recently started performing, which is a whole ‘nother aspect to drag. But I originally went to school for animation, and I’m an illustrator and animator, and that also very much inspired the drag, taking the art into another form and putting it on my body.

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Photo by fabi.bbys

PT: And your name, Andromeda VII — is that a pun on ‘androgyny?’

KZ: Sort of! I was really struggling finding a drag name, because, I mean, I named myself once, and I kinda knocked it outta the park there. So I wanted to stick with Krem for a little bit as a drag name, just because I love my name so much. I was calling myself “Krem de la Creme” for a while, but it just didn’t work, partly because Krem is my boy name. Also, people were always like, “Are you related to Ben de la Creme?” And I love her drag, but like, unintentional association, you know?

Anyway, I loved this space demon siren alien aesthetic that I had going on, which goes back to my animation roots and my drawing. So I wanted something spacey for my drag name, and a friend of mine had a deck of cards decorated with a bunch of constellations. And I just pulled one and I got Andromeda. And as soon as I pulled the card from her deck, we locked eyes, and we were both like, “That’s it. Drag name.”

I think the “andro” root was part of the reason it attracted me. You think of androgyny, and that sort of word connection. And then seven is my favourite number, so my drag name is always Andromeda VII. You never shorten it. It’s the full thing.

PT: How do you define drag?

KZ: I think, in some ways, drag is everything. Drag is very associated with gender, but it also has nothing to do with gender; it’s  all about the wild, exaggerated, performative parts of life. Something that trans people know is that so much of our interactions with the world are completely shaped by how people perceive you. What vibes do you give off physically and socially? How does that influence people’s perceptions of you? You can work with that and manipulate that with drag. You’re dictating how people perceive you. You can go to a drag show and see a performance, but just the physical act of getting into drag is a performance in and of itself. And obviously, gender is a huge part of it, but it’s really more about the hyperbole of gender.

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PT: What do you get out of drag as a trans man?

KZ: It’s definitely my way of processing the trauma that I’ve built up over the course of my life in relation to femininity. I think that goes for a lot of men who are drag queens. In the age of RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag is marketed to cis men as a way to connect to their femininity. But that goes for folks who aren’t cis men as well. Like non-binary performers, AFAB performers, even drag kings. I see a lot of drag kings who perform to reclaim their femininity.

I started doing drag because I literally couldn’t stop myself from doing it. I only very recently discovered it. I didn’t really know anything about drag until maybe 2 or 3 years ago. The first time I ever saw a drag performance was in my freshman year of college, when I met my friend Alex Kay — who was performing in her first drag show ever! It was a birth for both of us.

Looking back through my life, pretty much everything that I loved, like theatre and dance and performance — so much of it was a love of overperforming femininity. I love that hyperfeminine exaggeration so much that it was really difficult for me to come out as a man. But transitioning and coming out as a gay trans man and figuring out how my gender worked, it really led me to this place of doing drag and creating this beautiful bastardization of femininity.

I was really, really concerned the first time I did drag. Like I said, it was Halloween, so that gave me the motivation I needed. Because I’d been like, “Damn, I can’t stop thinking about doing drag, but I’m scared I’m gonna go out and be super dysphoric, or I’m gonna be missed that people are interpreting me as a woman, because I’ve spent the last four years aggressively being like, ‘Uh, nope, I’m not a woman!'” But it was so euphoric. Even when people were she/her’ing me, saying “yas, queen” or whatever, I was like, “Damn, this is a femininity that I can enjoy and embrace and have complete control over!” Even just to be recognized as like, “Oh, you’re dressed up like this right now, but it’s just a costume” — that feels really nice. When you interact with me in drag, you understand that this person is just dressed up like this for right now. And when I take off my makeup at night, it’s like coming home. It’s like, “Ahh, and then the boy underneath.” Drag really allows me to do something I love and be the gender I am.”

PT: That’s really lovely. Would you say that the responses to your drag persona have been mostly positive?

KZ: Yes, definitely. I’m witnessing this renaissance of drag going on in the downtown Los Angeles scene right now. There’s so much diversity of drag — kings and queens, all different genders and expressions and bodies. It’s really cool to be part of that, because there’s not a lot of trans men drag queens. It’s certainly a really unique take on femininity and accepting it. I really love telling people when I go out in the drag scene that I’m a trans man drag queen, because it’s one thing to get compliments on my makeup or whatever – I mean, I’m really proud of the looks I put together — but also to have people be like, “Oh, wow, that’s different!”

Right now is a really great time for my drag specifically to be accepted. It’s something different, but there’s such a a push for that difference, and for getting away from the mainstream. Like, drag is having this huge surge in popularity with Drag Race, and there are a whole bunch of other competitions, like Dragula and Camp Wannakiki. They’ve made a certain form of drag super mainstream. And then the cultural shift that I’m witnessing in this scene specifically is focused on the other kinds of drag out there, too. I’m really excited about to see it and I’m really excited to be part of it.

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PT: How do you feel about Drag Race’s influence on drag? Do you see it as a net positive, or are there more negative aspects to it that aren’t really being discussed? 

KZ: There’s a lot to like — and not like — about Drag Race. I’ve honestly watched so little of it. Like I said, I really didn’t know anything about drag until I moved to Los Angeles. When I lived in Chicago, I wasn’t 21 yet, so I didn’t really go out to clubs and whatnot. But being a part of this Los Angeles scene has given me a taste of diverse local drag, as opposed to mainstream Drag Race stuff.

The thing about Drag Race is that it has created so many opportunities for drag, so much desire for it, so many people talking about it and knowing about it and loving it and appreciating it. But it’s also really commodified drag. It’s a very capitalistic view of drag. Now, drag can’t exist without capitalism because, in many ways, it’s a resistance of capitalism. But Drag Race is really kind of like, “How can we package this up to a mainstream audience and sell it?” And for the most part, that comes from casting conventionally attractive cis white men to twirl around in some heels.

Of course, I have a lot of friends who are paying their bills because of Drag Race. It provides so many opportunities. You can host viewing parties, or if you can get a Ru Girl to headline a show, that can bring a ton of people into the audience. But that being said, when people only know drag because of Drag Race, it’s such a limited view of drag as an art form. And in some ways, it makes us take a step back, because Drag Race is really transphobic. And it sucks that this is kind of our community pillar, because it unavoidably is. It’s a huge part of everything.

I would say I’m much more a fan of Dragula than I am of Drag Race. Dragula is kind of Los Angeles-based, too, with a lot of L.A. queens and drag artists involved — because Dragula is on that “casting more than queens” shit, thank God. A lot of the L.A. scene is very involved in Dragula, which pushes a lot of boundaries. They’re trying to advertise themselves as “the inclusive one,” and they just had a drag king win.

But the worst part about all these big media juggernauts that keep the drag community running and give us our paychecks is that they’re all reality competition shows. And that kind of sucks! Because when I go to a drag show, I’m not going to be like, “Oh, who’s the best?” I’m there to enjoy the art. And I really wish that there was more media being put out there by drag queens and kings that wasn’t about competition, just us making art and putting it out there for others to enjoy.

PT: What would you say to any trans guys who are interested in getting into drag?

KZ: Just do it! It’s terrifying, all drag is terrifying, but I’m so glad that I started drag. I’m so glad that I got into this mess that is being a drag queen. It is so much fun. It is so personally healing for me to have this outlet for performance and femininity that I did not have otherwise. I have found an amazing community through it, just really connected with lots of people in ways that I never imagined.

It’s a huge jump, and you’re going to try things that you’re uncomfortable with and be like, “Oops, nope, not going to do that.” You’re going to find yourself in places where you’re like, “This is not the place for my drag.” It’s all about figuring that out and finding your community and fine-tuning your art form. The wonderful thing is that you have complete control over your drag, and you have complete control over what you will and will not do with that. Ultimately, that’s a safety net.

But, yeah, just go for it!

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