Socrates: the Young Queen of Athens
Faces turn, jaws drop and eyes blink as drag queen Socrates struts around confidently through the streets and squares of Athens. Going out in the streets of Athens in full drag might not be as easy as the 21-year old makes it seem. But that doesn’t stop her for one bit:
“Drag is a performance art that you need to do in front of people, so going out into the streets feels natural,” she says back in the workplace right before the photoshoot. “I can shine. I can tell people that they can be themselves.”
It’s a welcome break from the nightlife scene where Athens’ drag queens usually perform. Although certainly fun and fulfilling to do, it’s not an easy rhythm to maintain. And from the very start of the conversation, it is clear that Socrates has bigger dreams: to get into the mainstream spotlight and connect the queer community with the rest of society.
BECOMING A QUEEN
Of those people watching, staring and applauding back on the streets, many wouldn’t recognise Socrates a couple of hours before as she walked into the workspace as her ordinary self: a young man with short dark hair, glasses, and a simple, comfortable pink hoodie.
Immediately, Socrates started unpacking his wig and all the make-up, clothes, and materials he brought along. Step by step and layer after layer, we saw the young man slowly transform into the young queen we recognise from the pictures.
As the process was unfolding, Socrates explained how she got into drag in the first place: “During high school, I was bullied a lot. Violence was very common in our school and when I was 14 the bullying just hit this whole other level. At one point they even cut my hand. The situation felt really unsafe and for a long time I was scared to death.”
“When I got home from school I went looking for something that would distract me. That’s when I found out about RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
For more than ten years now, the American tv-show ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ has brought drag queens from all over the United States together in a competition for the supreme title ‘America’s Next Drag Superstar’. The show has been credited for placing the drag community into the mainstream spotlight, allowing the community to make major steps towards further inclusion and emancipation.
Through the show, Socrates finally found people he could look up to: “The contestants all had their struggles, their troubled pasts, but they managed to face their emotions head on and turn it into art, into life lessons. Not just for the audience, but for themselves as well. Drag is a way to overcome difficulties.”
Initially, Socrates’ interest in the drag scene didn’t go much further than watching the show. That changed when he went to the university of fine arts. There, he started out helping others with their drag, only to realise that it wasn’t enough for him. He needed to do it himself.
“My first job was at an exhibition. I spent all my money to buy my own drag. I invested both financially and emotionally,” he explains. “It’s not hard to do, but you need to process it. It was certainly difficult in the beginning. As people start approaching you differently, your perspective of society — and of femininity and sexism especially — changes immediately.”
“Still, it gave me a lot of confidence!”
Getting into drag allows you to fully reinvent yourself. Even your name is up for grasbs as many drag queens decide to take on a more feminine stage name. Socrates, however, decided to stick with her birthname. A decision that, to her, was pretty straightforward: “by using my own name, I make clear that my drag persona is an intristic part of me. It keeps me close to this part of my life which is my art.”
“Besides, in English, it’s exotic, non gender-specific, and easy to remember. Because of the philosopher, my name already has a certain weight to it, of course. I thought it would be hilarious that if there would ever appear quotes of me somewhere, it would be credited to Socrates, but it wouldn’t be the philosopher — it would be me. It would be this artistic reincarnation almost.”
As it comes to his drag, Socrates puts a lot of emphasis on the details to build up a story. By combining current fashion trends with images of movies, music, and books that she loves, she tries to create a unique picture: “I want to combine all these elements into something that is completely me and tells a story with a clear beginning and ending.”
Socrates wants to tell people that they can be out there. That they can be themselves. She wants to be the queer role model that she herself could only find by looking across the Atlantic: “Even though technology allowed me to find people I could look up to, they were still on another continent. They were not close to me. There were some queens here in Greece, of course, but I felt that the generation gap was too big to let me fully identify myself with them.”
“Getting into drag allowed me to become my own role model,” Socrates explains proudly. “I learn from the things I do myself. Before, I often felt alone, isolated, helpless. Now, I feel much more independent. I can express myself much better and I can reach out for help whenever I need to.”
“I’m still shy, even though it might not appear as such. When I’m in drag, I’m not just telling others that they can be out there. I’m telling it to myself just as much.”
Socrates’ story fits well into the general struggle of Greece’s drag community which doesn’t have the well-developed history like its counterpart in countries like the United States. But just because it hasn’t been written yet, doesn’t mean it’s not possible in the future.
Socrates is optimistic: “We might not have a written history now, but we’re definitely making history as we speak. Change is happening rapidly, and because we’re in the middle of it, it might be difficult to see all the things we’re accomplishing at the moment.”
It’s easy to get stuck on the negative, on the things that go wrong. Socrates, however, seems to be determined to make a change as she expresses the conviction that simple, positive stories need to be told much more often. Those stories can set a much needed example for the future.
“Take my parents, for instance, they accepted my homosexuality and drag from day one. It’s the kind of story that usually doesn’t get the spotlight, even though there’s so much we can learn from it. Because, even though they immediately embraced me, I still see it as a constant process we’re working on. The way my parents are accepting me now is different from back then. It’s broader, more complete.”
“There are plenty of struggles, and they’re all very real, but I know it’s gonna stop at some point. Things keep getting better. That’s what I want to focus on.”
When asked what Socrates’ dream job would be, she immediately lightens up and starts spilling: “You know, ideally Madonna or Florence Welsh would contact me to be a guest star on their show.”
“Of course, I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future, but I guess it is connected to my overall goal. I want my platform to become more mainstream so I can speak out on things I consider important. I want to be a strong role model for myself and for the people who are still looking for someone to tell them that everything is gonna be alright. That they can be themselves."
“When I was a teenager I didn’t have a Greek queer role model who would tell me that everything will be allright, and that when I work for it, I can achieve many great things. It is my hope that I can be that now for other teenagers who are still discovering who they are and want to be.”
“As a drag queen, I can give others what I didn’t have myself.”