Just three weeks ago Sydney drag queen Etcetera Etcetera (aka Oliver Levi-Malouf) was realistic about cancelling a working trip to Los Angeles.
In the lead up to the global coronavirus shutdown, they were still working five days a week in drag across Sydney’s entertainment scene and, looking back on the decision to cancel, Etcetera knows it was the right thing to do.
Although they’d miss out on RuPaul’s DragCon and opportunities with fashion designers and photographers, staying home in Sydney was a better option than potentially getting stranded in a now locked down California and dealing with the US’s subpar healthcare system.
Fast forward to today and Etcetera’s entire income has been gutted.
“I lost between $5,000-$6,000 work in just three days,” they told HuffPost Australia.
Etcetera said that amount was solely in corporate bookings over the next month - this didn’t include their club appearances.
Their regular employer The Imperial Hotel Erskineville - known as Australia’s first Drag n’ Dine venue - suspended entertainment a week before government ordered all pubs and restaurants to shut down completely from Monday this week. The Imperial’s decision to suspend entertainment was made to keep customers and staff safe amid confusing government messaging.
“I went from having a full income from drag two weeks ago to having no money coming into my bank account,” they said.
Etcetera plans to use their holiday savings to get by and feels they’re in a reasonable enough financial position to pull back from searching for and accepting future gigs.
“I don’t want to take those opportunities away from those who might need them more,” they said.
“We should not be shaming people who have to work, there are people out there forced to work to support themselves.
“Everyone should have situational and individual kindness”
The government on Sunday announced a $66 million stimulus package to help those who have lost their jobs amid the pandemic. The package sees the jobseeker fortnightly payment doubled to $1100 for the next six months.
By Monday, at least 2 million Australians across the arts, travel, hospitality and retail industries and beyond were predicted to be facing unemployment, with thousands lining up for hours at Centrelink centres across the country only to leave in tears after not being seen by overwhelmed staff. MyGov.com, the website designed to set jobseekers up with welfare payments, crashed on Monday and Tuesday.
“You can’t rely on a ‘benefit package’ from Centrelink,” Etcetera explained.
“I spent six hours on the phone to Centrelink today and I did not even talk to a real person.”
Australian drag entrepreneur Ben Moir of Wigs By Vanity, a wig company that provides wigs to the industry including many RuPaul’s Drag Race stars, said it is a dark time for everyone.
“What’s so heartbreaking for me is knowing there’s always someone worse off,” they said.
“It breaks my heart. There are already people living paycheck to paycheck, who don’t have any rainy-day fund.
“People will be left behind, this whole situation is going to fuck a lot of people up and it’s just heartbreaking.”
As LGBTQ performers all over the world grieve their jobs and livelihoods, they’re also coming to terms with the loss of their own after NYC drag legend Mona Foot, aka Nashom Wooden, passed away this week, reportedly from covid-19.
“I lost my best friend today from the coronavirus, Nashom Wooden,” the designer said.
“And I just want to make sure that everybody out there stays healthy and takes care of each other, because the virus is really real. And I’m just so sorry.”
Etcetera reiterated that the frustration and fear the wider community is feeling amid the pandemic is how some of her friends with disabilities or disadvantages felt before the coronavirus outbreak.
“All of this comes from a systematic issue and the way that Australia treats marginalised people and people that aren’t considered ‘quiet Australians or middle class Australians’ and don’t align politically or morally with the government’s views,” they said.
“A lot of my very close friends, who live close to or on the poverty line, this isn’t necessarily new for a lot of people.
“Now everyone’s starting to feel the government’s apathy.”