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Trauma Queen recently celebrated their 18th birthday. Like a lot of teenagers, they posted pics and videos from their party on social media. Go to their Instagram or TikTok pages (@traumaqueen144 on both) and you’ll see them in a tastefully ruffled pink chiffon gown, tenaciously trying to get the trick candles to stay unlit. The candles are also pink, but all 18 are stuck like spikes into their head and onto their face — their bald head looks gooey, with a cratered texture like the Lady in the Radiator from David Lynch’s Eraserhead. Their lips are pulled away from their mouth with a plastic mouthpiece that has lit candles sticking out of its sides. They shake their head to snuff out the candles, clapping ferociously with a face frozen in a menacing Cenobite chatter. 

It’s really cool.

“I love scary things,” Trauma Queen tells the Scene. “I love horror movies and horror manga. I love gore. And I wanted to incorporate that into drag.”

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It’s the intersection of gore and glamour that excites Trauma Queen most. You’ll often see pink flourishes or girlish elements in their looks, even ribbons and lace — but it’s always with a hint of menace. Or perhaps, the look is sinister with a hint of sweetness.

“I get a lot of inspiration from manga — especially Junji Ito. I’m obsessed with him, I’ve read all of his work.”

Trauma Queen used body-horror manga authors as inspiration for their early looks, but always prioritizes being an original.

“I really like to customize things and make them my own — really put some effort into it,” they say. “Because, for me, drag is all about DIY. It’s not about paying someone to do everything for you — to do that kind of loses the true spirit of drag.”

Their next step is learning to make their own costumes, but for now they buy from places like Depop and Amazon, then customize the garments with spray paint or fake blood or stuffed animals stitched onto them with wire. It’s that expansive, inclusive approach to both drag and horror that is most compelling about Trauma Queen’s aesthetic. 

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“I think that the way that people view drag reflects the way they view women,” says Trauma Queen. “I think that drag can really be whatever you want — drag is a performance. I don’t think drag should reinforce gender roles, like, ‘All drag queens should wear dresses and heels, because all women should wear dresses and heels,’ you know?”

Drag is an essential part of contemporary queer culture that evolves with each generation. Trauma Queen isn’t subverting drag or reinventing it to fit a horror aesthetic — drag has become an inseparable extension of queer identity, so even as they bind their torso with a latex corset or slash through a Freddy Krueger sweater, drag fits them like a loose garment.

“Drag rules should be flexible, so that we can also be flexible in our own lives.”

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