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Wales’ First VI Drag Queen Venetia Blind

April 12, 2022

Being blind is not Jake Sawyers’ “entire personality” – but it influences every single thing he does, the 27-year-old says.

Jake was born severely sight impaired, but as his alter-ego Venetia Blind, he entertains and educates people on what life is like as a disabled person.

“There is just a massive misconception around what disabled people can and cannot do,” he said.

Jake said correcting people’s misconceptions can be “exhausting”.

Jake was born with a condition called Norie Syndrome and also has Nystagmus – which makes his eyes move involuntarily.

It means he is completely blind in his left eye and has limited vision in his right.

“I have always taken it in my stride and being a big comedy fan, I have always tried to see the funnier side of it and the light-heartedness, obviously there are days where I feel blinder than I am,” he said.

Growing up, Jake was well supported by his parents and had great support in school, and says that helped him become the confident, independent man he is now.

Despite this, he feels the hardest thing about being sight impaired is other people’s perceptions on disabilities.

“The difficulty of living with an impairment isn’t not being able to drive, or see things, or read things at a distance – it is what others think of you when they meet you.”

While he says it has never limited him, trying to prove he is “just as good as everyone else” and break misconceptions about visually impaired people can be exhausting.

But it’s a challenge which teaches you how to problem solve and advocate for yourself, so it has its benefits as well, Jake says.

“Blind people can do everything sighted people can do, like with me, I am a filmmaker, photographer, an actor and I do drag too,” he said.

‘Visually impaired drag queen’

Jake, originally from Port Talbot, started performing in drag in 2019 after he was introduced to the drag scene.

“I had moved to Cardiff in 2017 where I was introduced to the local drag scene and I just fell in love with it, I was also watching Ru Pauls drag race on TV – so I was totally immersed in drag culture.

“A local drag queen Connie Orff organised a drag scratch night at Wales Millennium Centre for people who wanted to try drag in a comfortable, safe environment and I just thought, if I don’t do it now I never will.

“So I wrote some songs about the lived experiences of being blind to perform, and ‘dragged up’ as Venetia Blind, had an absolute ball – and have just done it ever since really.

“To my knowledge I think I am Wales’ first visually impaired drag queen, I know of a few other visually impaired drag performers based in London.”

And on choosing the name Venetia Blind?

“I can’t take credit for the name, my partner Taylor Martin came up with it, it just fit perfectly for who I am and my performance” he said.

Jake says drag gives him the opportunity to teach people about visual impairment but also allows him to express himself and his impairment.

“I am always trying to work out how to live as a blind person and writing those songs and performing in drag, it empowers me and gives me new ways of dealing with living with an impairment – so in a kind of selfish way, it is as much for me as it is for the audience.”

Jake says whilst he appreciates his performance and his disability contradict one another, he takes absolute advantage of that.

“Drag is so visual but there is no definition of what it should be, which is why I love it,” he said.

“My aesthetic and character is always changing and is influenced by what I can do as a sight impaired drag queen, for example, I can’t see from my left eye, so I find putting make up on the eye not just difficult but nigh on impossible – so I wear a diamond eye patch over it, it is all about problem solving.

“I love that my sight impairment influences the drag aesthetic just as much as the actual performance.”

Change perceptions

Jake feels it is really important that he educates on visual impairment with he performs in drag and ensures he incorporates it into his performance.

“I think I do my best work when I am on a night out and people ask me what it is like to be blind, and I crack jokes and teach people through humour and entertainment,” he said.

“I like to think what I do is slowly pushing the message that visually impaired people can do things and I just feel it is really important to change those perceptions around disabled people.

Director of the Royal National Institute of Blind People Cymru (RNIB) Ansley Workman said Jake was showing people with visually impairments could “achieve anything, with a bit of creativity”.

“Blind and partially sighted people live in a world that sometimes tells them they can’t do things,” she said.

“That’s why the RNIB is focussed on building a world that is fully accessible to blind and partially sighted people, we all see the world differently and Venetia is bringing her experience to audiences in a fun and fierce way.”

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