Life’s a Drag: Balancing Life at Work with Life on Stage

As part of inclusion week, we’re sharing some stories from the many wonderful people who work here at Connor. In this blog, I’m sharing with you how I balance my two lives – one as the Head of Organisational Change for Connor, and the other as the reigning Miss Drag UK.

MDUK Puppet (1)

First, a bit more about my drag act. My drag name is Aunty Ginger, and I’m often described as ‘everyone’s favourite Aunty.’ My routine involves stand-up comedy, and parody songs that most definitely are not repeatable in a work environment!

I enjoy doing charity work, in particular running charity old school drag shows in Manchester, where I provide opportunities for performers from across the UK and aim to keep older music alive for young people in the LGBTQ+ community. And as I mentioned above, as of 2019 I am the reigning Miss Drag UK. On the plus side, I have my very own puppet of myself in the winning outfit. But there are responsibilities that come with the role – one of which involved judging a dog pageant with Jet from the original Gladiators TV show!

Why do I do it?

This question is an important part of understanding how I balance drag and my ‘muggle job’. For me, the rush of a crowd laughing at your jokes, and singing along to your songs, is simply amazing. I really do live for the applause. That, and the banter of a dressing room full of drag queens – it’s a massive stress-reliever and totally unlike anything else!

In short, drag fills a need for me that isn’t filled anywhere else. It’s a part of me, and one that I have recognised as essential for my own wellbeing. On the flip side, I also love my job. I love the mental stimulation that comes from organisational change, and I love the thrill of putting a proposal together and having a client say ‘yes’. So for me, the first really key part of balancing my two lives is about making sure that they both provide fulfilment.

I decided early on that I did not want to be a drag queen for a living. It’s a great career for many, but I would miss the challenges and rewards that my job gives me. Working a day job that I hated would equally have made me incredibly unhappy, even if it gave me time for my drag act. It’s key to find fulfilment in both – and I’m very lucky that I have that.

Finding balance

Of course, it’s not as simple as finding a job you love, and doing drag. Drag has a long list of consequences that can challenge the balance between it and my muggle job.

For example:

  • The lipstick brand I wear stains my skin quite badly, making it tough to get it off for work the next day.
  • The foundation I use causes issues with my skin if I use it too regularly, meaning I have a complex and time-consuming aftercare regime.
  • The glue I use to stick my wigs and eyebrows down ruins my hair and takes numerous products (which are also not suitable for skin) to remove.
  • I’ve cracked a rib before in a corset-related injury.
  • My looks involve a lot of glitter – so I spend my life finding glitter everywhere!
  • Most drag acts start after 10, and finish well after midnight, resulting in sleep deprivation the next day. With a busy life it can take a few days to catch up on what I’ve missed.
  • All these things can affect my confidence in your appearance when not in drag.

If I’m not careful, these things could really affect my day job – so balancing the two requires constant focus, self-discipline, and crucially, an open dialogue with my employer.

Self-discipline: saying no, self-care, and doing nothing

The first thing I had to learn was to say no to gigs that would make my work suffer. Some gigs are too far away, or too late, for me to balance with work – especially if I have a deadline coming or a client meeting the next day. Since I decided that I did not want to be a drag queen full-time, if I want to keep myself in heels I have to remind myself of my priorities when taking on gigs. This is another reason to make sure that my muggle job is fulfilling – it makes it much easier to say no to gigs when I know it’s for a really exciting client project.

Self-care is hugely important for everyone. For me, given the demands of drag, self-care often involves spa treatments (which make me feel better when I’m walking around with stained skin!) or going to the gym. Aside from physical self-care, doing nothing is also hugely important for my mental well-being. It doesn’t sit easily with my personality (which I’m sure will come as a surprise to absolutely none of you) but I know that if I don’t make time to rest, I will burn out and that damages both my drag act and my work at Connor. So unless I’m performing and it’s pre-arranged, I never work weekends, and my phone is switched off unless something business critical is happening.

As a result of these things, not only am I kept sane – I’m more effective on-an-off stage!

An open dialogue with your employer: bringing your whole self to work

One of the reasons I chose to work at Connor was because their culture makes my drag work possible in multiple ways. On a practical level, Connor doesn’t just tolerate flexible working; it embraces it. At a previous organisation, I had to write to a board director every time I wanted to work from home; that made it impossible to do drag.

At Connor, however, the focus is on getting the job done. As long as that happens, I can flex my work enough to take drag gigs, and recover from them afterwards. As a result, I feel incredibly engaged and committed to the business – meaning the business gets much better results from me.

Connor’s culture also encourages people to be friendly, curious, and non-judgemental. This enables me to talk about my hobby, without fear of judgement or of limiting my career progression.

This is an absolutely vital factor, from my standpoint. The LGBTQ+ community exists, in part, to enable people to choose a family or a community when they may not be accepted in other communities. I remember an HRD telling me that she had been working with an LGBTQ+ colleague for years – but, she informed me brightly, “it never once came up at work.” While she thought that meant the two were co-existing nicely, in reality it meant that this colleague was never able to talk about a key part of their life at work – meaning they couldn’t be a full member of their work community.

At Connor people ask questions about my hobbies, to understand me better – even if they don’t feel entirely comfortable with drag. This enables me to be fully at ease and an active member of my work community – which for the reasons above, means a lot to me. It also makes me far more effective at work, and means that if I have a spec of glitter on my face which I’ve missed (which has happened once or twice!) someone feels able to tell me before we walk into the client meeting. This open relationship also enables Connor and me to discuss the balance of my two lives – and I always make sure that I listen to my employer and take action if something isn’t working.

An ongoing effort that pays dividends

I should say that by no means do I have the balance of my two lives cracked; it’s something that takes constant work and evaluation as both my lives evolve and grow. But the fact that I can work on that balancing act, rather than having to hide what I do outside of work, is so important.

In my future blogs I’ll discuss how organisations can build an inclusive workplace culture, and come back in a bit more detail on investing in your personal well-being. But for now, I hope this blog gives you some food for thought on how you balance your own personal and working lives to maximise the enjoyment and reward you get from both.

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