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Drag Race UK's first trans queen Dakota Schiffer: 'I'm excited to show trans joy'

Harvey Day
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In her first interview, drag queen Dakota Schiffer discusses breaking new ground as a trans woman on RuPaul's Drag Race UK.

Drag queen Dakota Schiffer's dad was in the Royal Marines - and she remembers him being "a very masculine" father.

"The apple fell so far from the tree you can't see the apple or the tree any more," the 22-year-old jokes.

Growing up, Dakota thought she had to play football for England or follow in her dad's footsteps by joining the Marines - and she was bullied at school for "being too feminine".

It all ended up making her feel like she was "failing at masculinity," she says.

"That was really tough and can really affect a person and their self-esteem. It certainly did mine. I remember thinking, 'What did I do? This is just who I am.'

"I just think about me being a kid and being told how much about me was wrong and I was what, three, five, six? What kid wants to hear that? I wasn’t hurting anyone. That's hard."

Dakota grappled with her gender identity throughout her childhood and, as a teenager, she began to experiment with drag. She says this helped her understand more about her gender identity - and she later came out as trans.

And now she's taking part as the first trans performer on BBC Three's RuPaul's Drag Race UK series four.

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On RuPaul's Drag Race UK, performers like Dakota compete in style, singing and comedy challenges for the chance to be crowned the UK's Next Drag Race Superstar

"I am so excited to be a part of RuPaul's Drag Race UK series four," she says. "And I'm so excited to be the first [from] the trans community."

On RuPaul's Drag Race UK, performers like Dakota compete in style, singing and comedy challenges for the chance to be crowned the UK's Next Drag Race Superstar.

While drag was traditionally associated by some with men dressing as women, in recent years it's become a more inclusive artform with a more diverse lineup of performers, including female, trans and non-binary artists.

'It's exciting to represent the trans community in a positive way'

Dakota - who says she's inspired by trans people like actress Mj Rodriguez, model Munroe Bergdorf and Miss Continental pageant winner Mimi Marks - grew up watching Drag Race while she was a teenager at school. "I watched it and thought, 'I'm gonna do that for a living.'"

And she got the call to take part while she was trying to finish her geography dissertation at University College London. "I swapped it all away for sequins and wigs, so you can understand what my parents thought of that decision," she chuckles, adding that she is hoping to complete her degree at a later date.

Now that she's appearing on the show, she admits it's a little daunting. The pressure to represent her community can "feel like a really intense music soundtrack" playing in her head, she says.

In particular, she's concerned that conversations about trans people in the UK are often "filled with anger and a lack of empathy".

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"I hope that people come away learning something new and being open and more empathetic to trans struggles in the UK," Dakota says

But, she says: "It's exciting to be able to represent my community in a lovely, positive way, which we don't get given enough opportunities to do.

"So much about being trans - in the media and the negative, sometimes aggressive conversations around our identities - can make it feel very bleak, but I'm excited to show trans community and trans joy."

'Drag helped me find my own identity'

For as long as she can remember, Dakota - who grew up in the market town of Horsham in Sussex - has loved fashion, hair styling and make-up.

"Me and my twin would just obsess over Bratz dolls or Barbie dolls and whatever we could get our hands on from the charity shop.

"From as young as three, those interests were so clear. We always dressed a little differently and expressed ourselves a little differently - or a lot differently for where we grew up."

Before university, she completed a foundation year at University of the Creative Arts, where she carried on her love of fashion and learned how to use a sewing machine. And her style going into the competition was influenced by "60s meets the 90s" fashion and iconic supermodels from the 1990s.

When Dakota eventually started experimenting with drag as a teenager, she says it helped her to understand her own gender identity.

"My drag helped me find my own identity. Through that feminine expression, I realised my own identity. It's not just something that I take off and on, this is who I am."

And she wants other trans people who do drag to know that they shouldn't feel concerned about combining the two.

"I feel fulfilled as a trans woman and a drag queen. It doesn't make you any less valid of a trans person. Your identity is separate to your occupation."

'After Drag Race, I'd love to be on the cover of Vogue'

Dakota, who is still on the waiting list for trans-specific healthcare, says she's grateful to have a good relationship with her family.

"They accept and love me for who I am and respect me and my identity as a trans person. I hope that no child feels 'wrong' or 'inadequate.'"

Looking ahead to life after Drag Race series four, she says she'd love to attend London Fashion Week and maybe even, one day, appear on the cover of Vogue.

Plus, she'd like to help shift the conversation around trans people, too.

"I hope that people come away learning something new and being open and more empathetic to trans struggles in the UK."

If you or someone you know needs information or support for issues about sexuality or gender, the following websites and organisations may be helpful via the BBC Action Line.

And you can watch RuPaul's Drag Race UK series four on BBC Three and BBC iPlayer from Thursday 22 September.