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“House of Deviant” : Learning Disabled Drag Troupe To Perform at Wales Arts Festival 

Yuliah Alma

House of Deviant, Wales’ “only learning disabled drag troupe,” is set to perform at the National Eisteddfod art festival in Boduan, Gwynedd. The festival will be held from August 5-12 and typically attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors. 

On August 3, BBC covered the disabled drag group’s efforts of attempting to learn Welsh for their performance at Eisteddfod. Their event will be titled Ffabinogion, a modern twist on stories from the nation’s ancient collection of traditional folktales, the Mabinogion.

The 40-year-old creator of the group, Gareth Pahl, told BBC that it’s been a “real challenge” to “push the performers out of their comfort zones.” 

Pahl also said that drag “…might be about gender exploration, it might be about self identity and self esteem. It might just be that you really like glitter and fabulous sequins.”

But backlash against the scheduled performance is beginning to build as many users on social media question the optics of the show.

Some Welsh people have taken aim at the fact the performers are not native Welsh speakers, while others are criticizing that they will be dressed as “parodies of women,” referencing their drag attire.

“Non-Welsh speakers being parachuted in for the sake of diversity? What’s wrong with disabled performers being themselves? Why do they have to dress up as parodies of women? The House of Deviant has no place at a  Eisteddfod,” one X (formerly Twitter) user wrote in response to the BBC profile on the group.

“‘House of Deviant.’ The clue is in the name. Personally I think people dressing up as grotesque pornified caricatures of women is distasteful and sends the wrong message about what young girls should aspire to in life,” another user wrote.

One X user even called the performance “abuse,” while another asked: “Who at the Eisteddfod would be interested in viewing this?”

House of Deviant first launched in 2020 as a project while Pahl was completing his Masters in Drama. Pahl reveals that group member Sophie Scheeres was one of the reasons the group was created, asking Pahl during a night out if she could be “a drag queen.” Scheeres currently performs under the name “Miss Shade Bitch.”

Having the primarily autistic adults use drag performance as a “tool” for “self discovery,” the project first ran online for a month and focused on different aspects of drag performance. When the project was finished the participants “notice[d] changes in themselves.”

It was continued after its initial phase ended and the group began moving towards live performances. They have now participated in several festivals, and collaborated in a 2022 production with Drag Syndrome, a “drag collective” exclusively featuring performers with Down Syndrome. 

House of Deviant now posts semi-frequently from their TikTok, Instagram, and X accounts. The group often uses hashtags like “#inclusivity,” and #inclusivedrag” on their posts. 

One video on their TikTok features the group members in their regular attire prior to doing a dramatic reveal of their drag personas. The video includes group founder Pahl, whose drag introduction features a close-up of his backside. 

Having performed with Drag Syndrome in the past, House of Deviant appears to be following in their very controversial footsteps.

Drag Syndrome was founded in 2018 and has been drawing criticism since its inception with many expressing concerns about the welfare of the disabled individuals involved.

In January, Mashable uploaded a video to X highlighting the drag performers. The short film, titled “born to dance with an extra chromosome,” showed interviews and performances featuring the drag queens.

Many responses to the video were highly critical and cited safeguarding concerns for the members of the group. Journalist Tatiana Passaic asked “who exactly is the target audience for this?”

Reduxx revealed that in 2019, a venue owner in Grand Rapids, Michigan actually cancelled the troupe’s booking, citing his worries about “exploitation.”

Peter Meijer, the owner of the Tanglefoot Building, issued a public statement, writing: “The involvement of individuals whose ability to act of their own volition is unclear raises serious ethical concerns that I cannot reconcile.”

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Yuliah Alma

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