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When Yungblud met Bimini: Talking gender, punk and politics

Bimini Bon-Boulash and Yungblud bonded over their desire to break boundaries around gender and personal expression

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When Yungblud became guest editor of The Big Issue, he wanted to bring in people who are truly making a difference. Bimini Bon-Boulash was top of his list.

Bimini is the stage name of 28-year-old British drag queen, author and model Thomas Hibbitts. They are one of the breakout stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK and are now working in fashion and music.

In the midst of his US tour, Yungblud called Bimini for a passionate video chat in which they bonded over a shared desire to break boundaries around gender and personal expression

Yungblud: When I was putting this issue together, I really wanted to reflect on ‘the big issue’ as an idea. In terms of everything: in terms of homelessness, in terms of sexuality, in terms of gender. So it was important for me to get people in the magazine that I genuinely believe are making a difference. Like you. 

I never really got into RuPaul, though I was always obsessed with drag. I was obsessed with Bowie. But you came on my radar for your music. Obviously, I’m a massive Vivienne Westwood fan. I love punk. I love The Clash. I love American punk: Black Flag, Circle Jerks, the Ramones. I saw you do punk in such a modern way, in a way I related to. I want to be inspired by that genre, but I didn’t like how everything was so fucking throwback, you know? People try to replicate the Ramones or the Sex Pistols. You did something new with it.  

Bimini Bon-Boulash: People see punk as a uniform. Actually, being punk is about going against the grain, going against society, standing up for what you believe in. Punk isn’t a uniform, punk is an attitude and it’s a way of existing.  

Were you always into music? 

Yeah. It’s funny when you say about Bowie, because when I was a kid, my dad was obsessed. Obviously, when you’re like five or six, what your parents listened to – it’s not cool. As I got older, I really started to appreciate it, seeing what Bowie was doing. This person was playing with gender. People like Bowie and Grace Jones, they were very androgynous, masculine and feminine. It was so inspiring.  

But they were seen as superstars, so they got away with it in a different way. Whereas when I was a teenager walking down the road and looking androgynous, I’d get people shouting things, or I’d get people throwing things or shouting stuff out of cars.  

I never really believed what I was doing was crazy. So when I moved to London, that’s why it was the most amazing thing. I saw queer people or people that were going against the grain and it was accepted and something that was to be championed.  

I remember that exact moment when I was 15 and came down to London. Once you see other people like you, you kind of push your boundary a little bit more. When did you start doing drag?  

I first did it when I moved to London. I think I got into it because drag was a culture that I was around. It was a gateway into an exploration of my own gender, my sexuality, my identity. 

I was 19 when I first went out in a club. I was wearing fishnets and a fur coat and had a wig on. I remember someone came up to me, he was like a big drag queen on the scene. And they were like, ‘What you’re doing isn’t drag.’ I remember being taken aback because they were someone that was quite well-known and respected. I thought there were rules to drag.  

I went away, I did some travelling. When I came back and I got into it myself, I realised that there are no rules. Drag isn’t a uniform, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. That’s when it all changed for me.  

I’m not sure whether I’m even doing drag any more. I feel like I’m just doing me. People always say to me, what’s your favourite look? It hasn’t happened yet. Because I always want to keep moving on and keep doing things differently. 

We are so similar. When I first came to London, I remember labels saying to me ‘Don’t talk about politics, it’ll never get played on Radio 1.’ Seriously. So I went away and then kind of came back and said, ‘Fuck off.’ And then people started to listen.  

When I saw you, I saw you as more of a fashion statement than putting you in a box like, oh, that’s a drag queen.  

That’s one of the big issues that we have, people want to put people in a box. I remember when I would go to club gigs before I was on the show [RuPaul’s Drag Race UK]. I would get the train or the bus to a club. And if I was in, say, a tracksuit and a full face of makeup, I would get more shit shouted at me than I would if I was in a full look. Because I think people can then put you in a box. If I was in a full look, they’re like, ‘Okay, that’s what that is.’ But when I was in makeup and a tracksuit, people didn’t get it. I think we need to get rid of these labels. 

Yungblud: When I got to [play] Brixton Academy, I was like, ‘This is fucking amazing. Everyone gets it.’ Then the pandemic happened. And people started putting me in a box again. I think when you can’t leave your house, a lot of people get angry. In the past six months, there was a lot of pain with people questioning my authenticity, questioning my origins, questioning my knowledge of fashion and rock history. Do you ever experience people questioning your authenticity? 

Bimini: I don’t listen. Like, whatever, we’re always learning. And something that’s beautiful about being human is the fact that we have that right: to always be learning. We don’t know every artist that has ever come before us, every designer, every fashion, everything that came out in 1972. But it doesn’t matter. You keep learning. You know what you love and what you do, and as long as you’re staying true to that… 

That, to me, is the epitome of art and freedom. That’s why we do it. It’s like 90 per cent bullshit, for 10 per cent of seeing the face of God. I can’t believe I get to do this for a job. 

When I go out on stage it’s the best feeling ever. Fuck what people post on Instagram or Twitter.  

What’s next for you? Just more of the same: more smashing down barriers and being you? 

The doors that have been opened for me have been crazy. So I’ll keep working in fashion, doing music. I’m excited for this year. I think 2022 is gonna be a good year for everyone. I hope that we can get to a point where everyone’s together again.  

I feel like the last couple of years, the government has been doing a lot of things to make people go against each other, so they blame each other. We’ve been through this awful thing together. But we’re pointing fingers at the people, which is the wrong way around. We should be pointing fingers at the government. So I’m hoping that this summer, we all come back together. We can have a summer of love.  

A lot of art and beauty comes from a lot of pain. So I hope we can come out the other side and create amazing stuff. I hope we have music that resonates in a cultural shift. That’s what I want. 

As performers, we follow the rules of what we’ve been told we can do. There was a long time when we couldn’t perform to a crowd. Now that we’re able to, I’ve noticed comments on my Instagram or I’ve had DMs where people are like, ‘You’re performing to all of these people. That’s so bad. There’s still a pandemic going on.’ But there’s only so much you can do as an artist. We want to create art, we want people to feel good. That’s what we do. 

You can still buy the Yungblud Edition of The Big Issue online here.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase individual issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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