Paul Ryder is a drag performer by night. During the day he pivots to choreographer for stages. His baby faced complexion fools you into thinking that he is far younger than his twenty-eight years. He is sincere, humble and softly spoken.
He recounts his eventual journey into entertainment. “I tried football, tennis and golf but it never held my interest. The minute dinner was over I was that annoying gay kid that would pretend the broom was my microphone and create a show. Drama and dance were always my interests and encouraged by my parents.”
Worn Down By Bullies
His talent was nurtured further in primary school. “Primary school was amazing. That’s where I started performing. My principal, Matt Hurley who I owe my life to, was the person who pushed me into doing shows.”
All that changed when he started in secondary school. He was bullied so badly that he eventually quit school. “The little boy who was a performer in primary school was not taken so well in secondary school. It was so bad that my Dad had to complain about the bullying. The school didn’t want to do anything about it. Their stance was they needed to witness physical violence.” He had to endure five years of misery until one day, “my dad just said to me as I started to cry in our car that was parked in front of school, ‘If you don’t want to go there then I won’t make you.’ I just looked at him and said, ‘I can’t go in’. He drove the car away and I never set foot in that school again. Without being dramatic, I don’t know where my life would have led if I had kept going through that pain.”
Even though he was nearly at the end of his fifth year at school the torture was so unbearable he knew he had to preserve his sanity and life. His parents protected him and always believed in his right to be himself and happy. “The day I left, I just felt a whoosh come off my shoulders. Mam and Dad said, ‘it’s fine. You do need to go out and find a job.’ Two weeks later I got a job in retail at the local shopping centre. I stayed at that job for four years, I’d fit dance classes and opportunities in stage around it.”
Staying True To Himself
It wasn’t all plain sailing, an ex-boyfriend didn’t approve of his entertainment career goals. “There was a period in my life when I became a retail manager because my partner at the time didn’t want me to aspire to my dreams. He felt that it was time to grow up and accept that life was about paying bills and rent, so I gave up practicing dance and became the unhappiest person!” He renewed his dreams once the relationship ended. “I was back announcing myself to the world! If it were teaching, performing, anything I’d take it. I’ve learned to never make that mistake again, never to give it up. Nobody can ever say I didn’t try. If somebody says, ‘this job has become available,’ I take it. If they think I don’t have enough experience I persuade them to give me a go and I’ll do my best, that has led me to branch into radio and TV. There have been quiet times and I’ve been broke, the joys of self-employment! But I’ve always tried to keep going.”
Ryder knows that ignoring or hiding your true self-leads to heartache, which is something that has informed his creative direction for his drag performance. “Some people describe my on stage look as androgynous. I made a very conscious decision not to change my name because I’m rare in that I sing live, so if I had a very feminine name and a male voice came out it would ruin the image. I’m not the most confident person in the world; a lot of people would say I’m shy. But when my drag persona is out, I almost think of myself as a high-powered office lesbian bitch because I love a good trouser suit and I love a good high weave! The moment the heels go on, it’s like okay, I mean business.”
Challenging Drag Stereotypes
His choice to keep his real name as his stage name has in his own words been a nightmare. “Unlike the girls I work with, once they are out of drag they are hidden, I’m not. Before my current boyfriend, it used to be an absolute nightmare for my love life. I was single for about six years before I met him because nobody wanted to date a drag queen. A lot of people think you are that character off stage, whereas the truth is we’re doing it for the coin and for the love of it.” He continues, “the stereotypes are ridiculous; another one is that they think you are a slut because you’re so involved in the scene. My boyfriend believed in those stereotypes but after two dates I changed his opinion!”
It takes Ryder three hours to get his makeup and outfit ready on the day of a performance. Some of his outfits cost €2,500, it’s an expensive but necessary investment that he needs to make. Then there are the hours of rehearsal and promotion of the event. His shows appeal to all communities and it’s a tough business to make a living from. “We all have different ideas of what to spend our money on. In that respect, it’s harder for a performer to entice people to come into your show because you have to give them way more than you used to. You used to put someone’s name on the bill and you’d fill the club. Nowadays, you have to put their name on the bill, you have to give them some free drink and drinks promotions for the night.” His dream is to be open his own performer bar, something like Martuni’s in San Francisco. His work ethic makes that goal very achievable.
Family First – Always
“All I want in this life is to be successful. I don’t mean being driven by money, I just want to be proud of myself. I want to make my parents proud…” He trails off and shares that his father passed away four years ago. “He was the utmost support to me. I do everything now for me, with a lot of him in mind. He stood front and centre of every gay bar in Ireland saying, ‘That’s my son!’ There I was wearing heels, a dress and a face full of makeup but he still was able to push me forward. I do often ask myself, ‘what would Dad think?’ I let the answers guide a lot of my inspiration.” Ryder is a grafter and a fighter. His ability to stay authentic to himself in spite of hostility should serve as an inspirational tale and lesson to others.