With recent legislation around the country targeting LGBTQ+ people and drag queens specifically, North Carolina-based photographer Matt Ramey decided to start a new ongoing photo series called “Ancestral Fantasy: Tales of Freedom, Beauty, and Truth.”
The series features portraits of North Carolina drag queens in and out of costume, along with their responses when Ramey asked them a question: “Why is it important to live your truth?”
“The inspiration for this project started once the rumblings that demonized drag started taking hold in the political discourse. Ever since I can remember, LGBTQ+ folks have been under attack in America,” Ramey told HuffPost. “It’s so upsetting to see queer folks become the boogeyman. They are our family, neighbors and community. I want to do my part to help amplify their voices and tell their truth.”
The idea for the question came from one of Ramey’s subjects: Alex Thee Rabbit, a Black transgender woman who is also credited with creating the title of the photo series.
“Originally I wanted to ask, ‘What is drag to you?’ But Alex Thee Rabbit posed a better question,” said Ramey. “She told me that question is more fitting and to the point because drag shows others how to live and exist and thrive in their truth.”
Just this week, North Carolina House Republicans introduced a bill that would ban drag in public areas or where there are minors present.
Ramey hopes the portraits of drag queens out of their dazzling makeup and stunning costumes help others realize they are just regular people.
“It is easy to demonize something you don’t see as real,” the photographer said. “It’s important to remember that behind the makeup and performance is a real person, a human, just like you. They have a life, a family, goals, struggles, dreams and a truth they live in. They are entertainers and it’s important to see them as people, and not as a caricature.”
Below, check out the portrait series “Ancestral Fantasy: Tales of Freedom, Beauty, and Truth” by Matt Ramey and the answers to the question “Why is it important to live your truth?”
Brenda The Drag Queen
“When a drag queen pops on that first wig, pump, nail or lash, she’s taking back something the world has convinced her doesn’t exist over who she can be. Then, merely the existence of that character gives everyone they interact with the permission to be a little bit more themselves. When a young queer person sees a drag queen, they might think, if that towering person in a mermaid-cut sequin gown can do that, maybe I can make it one more day at school in the face of those bullies — as opposed to ending my life.
Anti-drag legislation takes away these opportunities. I can sing filthy parodies in nightclubs on Friday night and read a book to children on Saturday morning just like Chris Rock can do stand-up one day and voice a character in an animated movie the next. It’s called range — and drag queens have it the same as any other entertainer does. If 99.9% of the content I absorbed as a child situating heterosexual love as the only love didn’t somehow groom me to be straight, I can’t imagine that my reading to kids in a ball gown is going to groom them to be anything other than someone with more permission to be whoever they want to be.”
Alex Thee Rabbit
“Because freeing myself and living in that freedom lets others know that they too can dream and live the fantasies of their ancestors, just as I do.”
Chanté Elise Cassidy
“For all we truly know, we only have one life to live. You’d be doing yourself and the people around you a disservice by not being yourself and living your truth. One Love.”
“It’s very important to be the person you needed when you were younger.”
“It’s important to live your truth because each individual has something specific and unique to offer. If you’re not living your truth then you’re denying not only yourself but the universe this special thing that only you can provide. True fulfillment is found in living your truth.”
Dana St. James
“Living my truth is important to me because, as a transgender woman of a certain age, I have been able to show younger generations that living an honest and joyful life is possible. While leading by example, I feel I can inspire others and show them that you don’t have to limit yourself to others’ concept of gender, and be your authentic self.”
Miss B Haven
“In a world full of so much deception, living in your truth is one of the bravest acts of resistance. To live in your truth is to choose yourself despite all the odds.”
“There is a magnetic fire in my spirit that pulls me to dance and perform, almost a celestial force. The way my outward expression has been perceived or consumed has always pushed me outside of the norm, made me an outlier or outcast. I only found my place in the world through experiencing things that were more like me: music, art, fashion. I am so grateful that certain people have this unshakable urge to live in authenticity and make it known that we exist in a community; that everything and everyone has its time and place.
It’s important for me to live in my truth to honor those people ahead of me who fought for my liberty and for everyone who comes after to find themselves in me, to find this fuel to live in unshakable authenticity. I believe the world is abundant and accepting diversity is the foundation to social success. We need for everyone to be empowered to be exactly who they care to be, to listen to their calling and fulfill that in support and freedom.”
“Organized religion taught me lies. And nearly killed me. My community taught me truth. And they accept me!”
Shelita Bonet Hoyle
“Because I need to be who I needed when I was younger. Growing up, no one around me looked like me or sounded like me or acted like me. And it took me a long time to realize that was OK. I live in my truth to show them that they can learn to love their truth, too.”
“Queer kids out there deserve to see people like them thriving as adults as who they want to be. To put it frankly, the world doesn’t like to see people like us thrive. They want us to fall into place, be what they expect us to be, fall into the roles they expect us to fall into. Open your eyes: Drag and trans bans are being passed all around the country. It’s important now more than ever to not back down and show that queer people aren’t dangerous, but people that have been here for millennia.”