England

'Drag taught me you don't have to be a guy or a girl'

Composite image of River

River McNutt describes herself as "gender fluid with a feminine sprinkle". She says dressing in male and female drag made her realise she did not have to choose between identifying as a man or a woman.

The 25-year-old shop-worker from Portsmouth shares her costumes on Instagram and YouTube in the hope of inspiring people to be themselves - and more accepting of others.

'I felt like my identity had been stripped from me'

River persona
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As a child I always loved dressing up just for fun. I grew up in Canada and we didn't have a school uniform - you could wear anything you wanted.

When I was 14 I moved to England. I had pink hair and I had to change it. I couldn't even wear jeans, I had to wear school trousers.

I couldn't believe it. It felt like my identity had been stripped from me after having that privilege before.

I expressed myself through my clothes, hair and make-up and all of a sudden I couldn't do that.

'Am I a guy? Am I a girl?'

River putting on lipstick
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It was around that time when I started experimenting with male drag in my spare time.

It was kind of not knowing 'Am I a guy? Am I a girl?' - I've always been unsure about my gender.

I was figuring out what was going on and I found that when I went out dressed as a guy I felt more comfortable.

I remember thinking 'Am I a man? Should I be transitioning?'

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'I came out at 68'

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A couple of years later, in college I would sometimes go in dressed like a guy.

Sometimes as a woman you don't feel as powerful, and dressing as a guy made me feel more confident.

I met my boyfriend in college and he was never really bothered about it at all. He just sees it as me expressing myself, being creative. He accepted it as part of me and we've been together nine years.

'Transforming into a fantasy character'

River Image copyright @The_River_Styx
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I do drag at home once or twice a month just for me to create different looks and take pictures.

My female drag is inspired by the 90s, so Barbie girl, My Little Pony, Tamagotchis. It's quite colourful and nostalgic.

When I'm in female drag I feel more happy and bubbly and my mannerisms change, but in male drag I'm more calm and chilled.

When I do the guy drag I don't cover my imperfections as much. I also give myself some more fine lines and stuff. The male side is more punk, Goth style.

I've read many comments online about women doing female drag saying, "where is the transformation?" Even though it's a whole art form.

But I performed at Portsmouth Drag Race in female drag and some of the older men who were drag queens were really kind to me.

I think people might accept my male drag more because they say "oh wow, you're really passable".

People seem to get it more when you're dressing as the opposite gender. But really it's like transforming into a fantasy or imaginary character, so your gender shouldn't matter.

'I can just be me'

River Image copyright @The_River_Styx
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When I was a lot younger I really, really hated my body. I was super skinny, around 100lbs (45kg).

I was so unsure about who I was but once I started accepting myself I grew into my body and became a better shape.

It honestly took a lot for me to post my first male drag photo with my chest bound. It was interesting to finally see what I would look like.

When I was thinking about what to call my drag personas I ended up coming back to my own name because it's gender neutral.

My mum named me after River Phoenix.

Since doing male drag I've felt more confident just being myself.

Now I know that I don't need to pick one or the other, I can just be me.

'My wardrobe is insane'

River Image copyright @The_River_Styx
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In my everyday life I do like to wear more gender-neutral clothing.

Sometimes I'll wear jeans, T-shirt, pull my hair back or put a hat on and no make-up.

Other days it'll be a full dress, curls and glitter. My wardrobe is insane.

Some days I will wear make-up, some days I won't. I don't feel self-conscious about it.

I feel like it's definitely becoming a more acceptable thing, not having to be like "you're a boy, you need to be like this; or you're a girl, you need to be like this".

I feel it's hard to label everyone's gender as it's such a complex spectrum.

I consider myself gender fluid with a leaning towards female. A feminine sprinkle.

I use the female pronouns as it is just a bit easier but I don't mind "they" or "them" either.

'There are no rules'

River
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I think over time I've realised I am pansexual and I'm happy with who I am.

For me, it basically means I wouldn't put any rules on who I'm attracted to.

If someone was trans, or similar to me and didn't see themselves as a man or a woman, that wouldn't change the way I felt about them.

One big thing with doing drag and dressing up is the ability to truly be whoever or whatever you want, whenever you want.

There should be no boundaries with age, ethnicity, gender or sexuality. Nothing should hold someone back from joining in on an art form.

'I want people to accept others'

River Image copyright @The_River_Styx
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Although we have all become more accepting of each other in recent years, I still feel there is a lot to be done.

When I went to Portsmouth Pride everyone was really happy and excited to see me in drag for the first time. But when I was walking home I did get quite a few heckles.

I hope one day people can leave their homes dressed however they please and feel perfectly safe.

Clothing and make-up doesn't hurt anybody. It shouldn't ever get an aggressive reaction.

Even if you don't like the way someone looks, for whatever reason, you do not need to comment on it as it does not affect your life.

I want people to accept other people. Let people be themselves and do their own thing.

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Photos: Emma Lynch/BBC

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