On a stage he is the colorful performer LaDiva Live, but without the makeup and the dress, he turns back to 40 year-old French-Algerian Hocine. “But do not call me transgender, it would not be true. I am a gay man who embodies a stage persona,” explained drag artist visiting Vilnius for the second time.
LaDiva Live traveled to Lithuania after being invited by the National LGBT* rights organization LGL, the organizers of the Rainbow Days 2017 festival. On 12th May, 2017 she performed during the Rainbow Days 2017 festive event at the Vilnius City Hall and waited after dark to see the pillars of the City Hall to light up in rainbow colors in commemoration of the the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT).
On 13th May, 2017 she performed at the Eurovision party in the jazz bar Paviljonas. LaDiva Live admits that the Eurovision song contest is her favorite music contest since childhood.
Growing up in Algeria, Hocine was not sure about his sexual identity and discovered it only when he was 20 years old while studying in France. However, he sang right from his adolescence. During the last 10 years he performs as a drag queen LaDiva Live rewarding audiences with moving songs.
Drag culture is an import part of LGBT culture. It allows a performer to create a brand new, liberated persona. The more colorful, garish and eccentric it is – the better.
LaDive Live has already performed in UK, USA and during Prides in Brussels, where she resides now.
In Lithuania, drag performance is a relatively new phenomenon, but LaDive Live’s show reached Lithuania for second time already – a year before, she performed during the Baltic Pride 2016 concert in Vilnius.
We met with LaDiva Live to disscuss the drag culture and what is its connection to the Eurovision song contest. She is already wearing stage costume and makeup, so during the interview I will refer to the performer as ‘she’.
What do you remember from your first performance in Vilnius, during the Baltic Pride 2016 festival last year?
Before going to Vilnius, I was nervous because I looked into the situation of LGBT people in Lithuania. However, I was not afraid. Pride marches must be organized precisely in those countries where there is something to do. During marches in Brussels I sang 6 or 7 times already, the atmosphere is always festive there, as if the whole city was supportive. However, in 2012 I performed during Budapest Pride where huge police force was deployed and protesters were lining up.
I imagined that something similar would occur in Vilnius, too. However, everything went better than I expected. The Pride march in Vilnius was one of the best Prides I have ever attended. People showed impressive solidarity. I expected that there would be as much opponents as participants, but only a couple of them showed up. I saw happiness in the faces of the participants. Not only gays marched, but also families with kids, heterosexual people who wanted to show solidarity. It was extremely delightful.
How did you start performing as drag artist?
I have been singing for a long time. I started while growing up in Algeria, but then I performed in traditional clothing, I was not creating a drag persona. One time a friend suggested me to try dressing up, just to know how it feels. I really liked it. It feels as if you were with a mask. You feel safe. It is like a play in a theater, where you need to embody a character. I wanted to continue this. My first public concert as a drag artist was in France during a Eurovision parody party and it went perfectly. I decided to take this art form more seriously and started performing as LaDiva Live. I have been doing it for 10 year already.
Why performing in drag outfit is more exciting than a traditional concert?
While dressed-up, I feel liberated. It is a state when others do not think about your age, nationality, even gender. Daft Punk (famous French electronic music duet) members wear masks during concerts, too. Not many people know who they really are. On stage, they just become conduits of their music. I want that people would judge me on stage by this principle, too.
I do not always sing in gay clubs, I often perform in parties, too. Sometimes people are shocked by seeing me, some become hostile. However, then I give them a concert and it is likely that their attitudes would change.
Why are people hostile to drag performers?
Homophobia, transphobia or whatever you call it works like racism. It exists in person’s mind. When you are told since childhood that black people are not equal or that gays are bad, then you grow up thinking this way. People tend to judge those they do not know. However, when you see with your own eyes that these people are the same as you, you change your attitude. Of course, some people retain their negative attitude. But some change their attitude. Because of them, it is worth performing.
How do you identify yourself – as a man, a woman, or it is not important to you?
I am a man and I am gay. I am not transgender. It is important to understand the difference. I just dress-up for performances and create a stage persona.
There are a lot of sexuality types in general. They always existed and it is good that people are now starting to talk about it. Every person has a little bit of masculinity and a little bit of femininity. Women usually do not receive negative reactions regarding their ‘masculinity’. They wear pants, cut their hair short and nobody cares. With men, it is different, because we still live in a very masculine society. It is not acceptable that a man would look feminine, would wear a dress.
While still a teenager in Algeria, you understood you were gay – was it hard to hide it?
I hid it not because I felt guilt but because I did not understand what was happening with me altogether. In Algeria, I did not see other people who were gay. I did not have the internet, I felt like an alien. When I started studying in France, everything changed. British pop music helped to come out very much, – such artists as Boy George and his band Culture Club were very important to me. They inspired me to start singing myself. I came out of the closet when I was 20.
I was lucky that I had tolerant parents. At first they were confused, thought that I had some kind of sickness. However, later, when they knew more, they always supported me. It was easier for them to know that I do not live in Algeria because it would be dangerous for me there.
Now, both of my parents are gone. However, I have three brothers and sister, all of them live in France. The parents never saw me performing in drag, but my father knew that I did this. My mother, if she ever knew about this, I have no doubt would have loved my performances. My sister is the biggest fan – she spreads the message about LaDiva Live in Algeria. She is really crazy!
These days, the Eurovision song contest is taking place. On 13th June, 2017 you will perform in the Eurovision party in Vilnius. Are you a fan of this contest?
I was before, truly. I grew up watching the Eurovision together with the mother. Nowadays, I do not watch the contest so passionately. The Eurovision became very formulaic, originality is gone. I saw the first semi-finals, I think that Portuguese performance was very good – because it was natural. However, a lot of performers from other countries try to do something that would desperately attract the audience and they would vote for them. Because of that, you can see a lot of traditionally sexy men or singers with short skirts. However, they are not always truly talented. In the past, talent determined more in the Eurovision.
There is a very strong connection between the Eurovision and the LGBT community. Conchita Wurst called the contest ‘gay Olympics’. Do you agree?
Absolutely. Conchita is a great singer, but I think that one thing that contributed to her victory was the way Russia reacted to her (one Russian parliament member called Conchita ‘a pervert from Austria’, a petition was organized to ban the broadcast of her performance). I had friends in Belgium who did not like Conchita at first, they were asking who is this ‘lady with a beard’ – westerners can also be intolerant without understanding it themselves. However, after the Russian reaction, they started to support Conchita. Some people voted for her because they wanted to speak up against homophobia. The Eurovision is a contest that celebrates diversity. And if people see that somebody is being discriminated, they rise against it.
It is interesting that in countries where LGBT rights are not fully guaranteed the Eurovision is very popular – Lithuania is no exception. Maybe sometimes viewers just do not understand how deeply gay aesthetics permeates the Eurovision performances?
Nowadays, the Eurovision is being watched by three types of viewers: Eastern Europeans, older people and gays. Young heterosexual people in Western Europe – the Eurovision is totally unimportant to them. So, yes, the Eurovision is a very gay contest – but also a very Eastern European. These two sides seem to be very different, but the Eurovision unites them! Take the case of Conchita or Dana International – it maybe was the first chance for an Easter European viewer to see such singer on a stage.
Elections just ended in France. Do you feel more relaxed?
I am very happy. Everybody knew that Le Pen would not win but her rise still fuels concern. Nevertheless, I see Europe’s future as bright, I am a huge optimist. World is moving forward. Hundred years ago, who could have ever thought that black people would have the same rights as white people. Now, nobody would think to go back to the old ways. The same is with LGBT community and their rights. Look at Lithuania – the Town Hall today is lit up in rainbow colors. It would have been hard to imagine it in older times. Of course, not everything is perfect and there is still a lot of work to do. But progress is being made.