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Ambassador - Denon Elliot James

Name: Denon Elliot James.

Age: 25

Occupation: Performer 


Former mental health worker turned full-time performer Denon praises Manchester and its LGBTQA+ community for helping him find himself following a tough upbringing in a small village in Huddersfield. 

Gender-fluid performer Denon regularly performs at flamboyant events nationwide, representing Manchester's House of Ghetto. This unique performance troupe is well known for competing within the underground 'Ballroom' scene, a subculture community that hosts competitions that consist of individuals, often drag queens, who perform different drag genres and categories. 

Think Strictly Come Dancing meets RuPaul's Drag Race. 

In his heartfelt interview, he details how is regularly trolled online for wearing makeup and dresses. Ironically, from within the LGBTQA+ community itself. 

Describe yourself in three words

I'm really outgoing, very outspoken, and loud but a good listener. 

How do you think someone might describe you that doesn't know you?

They would say I was caring. Although I'm a full-time performer and dancer now, I will still always call myself a carer because that is something I am. 

I used to work for Lifeways, a service for adults with behavioural problems aged 16-70. Before that, I worked with adults in a full-time care facility. As much as I love performing, I've got to say I loved both of those jobs. When you put yourself in that environment, you've no choice but to learn and love it. It's a self-rewarding job, I guess.

People may also say that I'm bold and brave as I walked around wearing makeup from a young age. It was also very naive because being young and dressed the way I was in Huddersfield didn't exactly always go the way I wanted it to go! I've always stood up for myself, though. I've always been that type of girl!

I just noticed you describe yourself as a girl. Have you always identified as a girl?

My pronouns now are He, Them and She. Ever since I can remember, even if I've got a five o'clock shadow running across my face, I've always been mistaken for a girl. 

It doesn't matter what I'm wearing, how I look during the day, or whether I've got makeup on or not. I could even be bald, and I will still get mistaken for a girl. When I was 13 or 14, it probably egged me on a bit because I didn't understand. I was also trying to figure myself whether I was straight, gay, or anything in between. If anyone asks me now, I don't specify as I identify as every gender.

Did you experience discrimination in Huddersfield?

My Dad was a well-known guy around Huddersfield, and I grew up with seven brothers, so I have always had a very protective family who protected me as much as possible. Unfortunately, they didn't all support my lifestyle, and they had a very male mentality, so I had to break out and come to Manchester. 

After my Dad passed, my family just saw the needle on my Gaydar going up and up and up, and no one knew how to handle it. Six months ago, Denon was only drawing his eyebrows on, but the next thing, Denon's wearing a dress. It was confusing for them. 

Huddersfield is a working class town, with very few people admitting to being gay, and so they were worried for me. Darnell (Kontroversial model)  is only 15 minutes down the road from me, and I didn't know he was gay until our House Mother told us.

So what exactly is a Housemother?

The term housemother comes from Ballroom, an underground performance community that dates back to 1978. When the AIDS pandemic hit, young gay people were kicked out of their homes as the general population did not understand their lifestyle or AIDS itself. 

Older gays within the community ended up taking in younger members, and acted as 'House Mothers' to them. They were known as ‘House Children’. Back in those days, the trans community, or anyone in between weren’t allowed in the outside,  'proper' world. and so they created safe spaces for the gay community to come and explore and showcase themselves. This ended up being what we know today as ‘Ballroom’, a niche underground subculture that celebrates all things drag. Think RuPaul’s Drag Race meets Strictly Come Dancing.

So what happens in Ballroom scene today? 

You compete in huge national performance competitions with categories such as Walk, realness categories where trans women go out on social media and get judged on how clickable they are. There are Butch Queen categories, Fem Queens and best Vogue impression. There can be anything up to 260 categories just in one Ballroom event. 

Myself, Darnell and Reece represent and perform for the House of Ghetto, which is the top  House in Manchester and across the North now. We're really making a name for ourselves on the scene, but the ballroom scene can be very bitchy. We constantly get trolled by other performers.

Have you ever dealt with mental health issues?

When I left my care job, I went through a cycle of depression. I had body dysmorphia and hated the way I looked. I was trying to make myself look like a typical 'male', which I could never achieve, making me depressed about my own body.

My dance team and the girls lifted me out of that environment and dropped me off in Manchester, and I've never really looked back. 

So the community in Manchester has been good to you?

These past nine months in Manchester have really solidified who I am. So much so that I'll never be able to live the same nine-to-five life again. A whole new world has opened up to me, bringing me out of my shell. In Huddersfield, my cup was always empty. In Manchester, it's overfilled.

Many people are going through the same thing. If you're trans, gay or lesbian or anything in between, everyone's story is so similar, but I am lucky to have found where we belong now. This is where I fit in. 

When I visit Huddersfield now and see all my old clothes and old life, I'm like, "Girl; nothing fits anymore." It's the same with Darnell and Reece, the other models. We’ve all said the same thing. We will never be put back in that box again.

So, in Huddersfield, you wouldn't go out in a dress then? 

Physically, I always looked very male. I would wear makeup and my lashes, but I wouldn't wear a crop top or a dress. I'd wear turtlenecks and t-shirts so I would be very covered up!! My dress sense was smart but very heterosexual.

In Manchester, I am free to wear what I want, I love standing out and experimenting with looks. The more attention I get walking down a street, the better. Manchester allows me to be me, and is non judging. 

Tell me about the Kontroversial pieces you picked?

 A few pieces jumped out at me for both the look and the fit. I paired the Black and Orange Sprayed Acid crop top with PVC pants for my first look and I just thought this works!! My second look was the KV Denim Sweat top which I paired with over the knee PVC boots. The top is quite long and baggy but looks fierce with my over the knee boots. I'm obsessed with the fits of the Kontroversial range. I can dress pieces up or down depending on my mood. 

What advice would you give to someone struggling to find themselves?

You've got this right now. This is where you're supposed to be, so don't rush it. 

While you're trying to find out who you are, you need to put yourself around people who can act as mirrors and give you a look into their world. Older community members can show you an easier and less confusing path. The best advice I can give is to make sure you have a support system that has your best interests at heart because if you don't have that, you're going to be running around the streets confused as a girl.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Now I'm in Manchester, everything is falling into place. I'm just really happy with the community that I have, the sisters that I have around me, my Ballroom parents, my gay parents and my. actual parents are all such a great support.

In five years time, I'll hopefully still be performing but also helping and nurturing others who are struggling to understand themselves. By inviting them into our community we can provide a safe environment to explore and learn about themselves.

What more can be done to raise awareness?

More campaigns like this to raise awareness. There's still difficulty tackling the topic of diversity and gender, but people are more aware. It's all over YouTube, TV screens, and blogs. The kids from my sister's school are coming out as trans and non-binary.

When I see this, I applaud it and hope they have the best times of their life and accept who they are. I didn't have the confidence to come out at that age, so I'm surprised but pleased to see young people living their best lives much earlier now by being more open and aware. 

What they're going to achieve will be ten times greater than what I could ever achieve as they've started now!

Who's confidence do you most admire?

Becky Holt from the photoshoot! I love that girl; she's amazing. The amount of confidence that girl runs around with is ridiculous! 

When I first saw her on the Kontroversial photoshoot, I said to her, "Girl, I'm obsessed with you!" She's an absolute Queen.

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