There’s Nothing More Powerful than Living your Authentic Truth: Interview with Anoush Ellah
Written by Kristin Anahit Cass
10 August 2022
Have you experienced a drag performance where the artists are wearing traditional taraz or tatreez costumes? As many people of different SWANA (South West Asia and North Africa or Middle Eastern) backgrounds can attest, our communities aren’t always very accepting of queer folks. In a world where it feels difficult to hold all our identities at once, the beauty and history of our traditional clothes mixed with the freedom and joy of queer performance can be liberating.
Ever since their debut drag performance in Entanik’s Cher the Love for Artsakh event,we’ve been fans of the Armenian queen of drag Anoush Ellah. We’re not alone because fans sell out their performances including Armenian drag brunches, international drag nights, and even a performance on Toronto Pride’s Central stage. Check @anoush_ellah on Instagram to find an upcoming event.
Kristin Anahit Cass: So tell me about Anoush Ellah.
Anoush Ellah: Anoush Ellah is the intersection of my pain and pride as it relates to my culture, my gender identity, my sexual orientation, my queerness. It’s the integration of all of those things in my life.
KC: Your style of drag is unique. Why did you decide you wanted to do taraz drag?
AE: I didn’t see anyone else doing it, and I think that kind of representation is needed. I tried out some different names and drag styles, but nothing felt right until I had the idea of incorporating my culture. It was important to me to integrate the culture and the queerness visually, making a strong statement.
KC: I love that you can transcend the gender binary. Gender is a spectrum and fluid, and your artistry recognizes this. Do you do traditional Armenian dance?
AE: I took traditional Armenian dance when I was younger, but never learned any of the “women’s” moves. For that, I just watch and learn. My parents met through Armenian dancing, so dancing is in my blood. My mother would get all the female lead solos and my dad would get the male solos, so they always ended up partnering.
KC: How has your taraz drag been received?
AE: It’s gotten everything from death threats to uplifting and beautiful messages. I knew it would be controversial, and didn’t expect the strong negativity. But all the positive reactions outweigh that.
KC: What does your family think?
AE: Only my mom knows that I do drag and she’s not the biggest fan of it. She hasn’t been to any of my shows.
KC: I feel sad about the negative reactions, especially from family. We have to have fun with our culture, to enjoy it, and not be so serious.
AE: Life is already tough and drag is a little glimmer of light in the world. If you can incorporate your culture, you can make a deeper connection. The beauty of being queer is having a chosen family, and all of my chosen family has been incredibly supportive.
KC: What are the most important parts of your identity?
AE: My heart and my personality, who I am at my core, is what makes me who I am.
KC: What’s your experience of being a queer Armenian?
AE: It’s hard to describe. Being Armenian is so rare, and being queer is not part of the norm, so being a queer Armenian is like being a unicorn.
KC: I’m not sure if being queer and Armenian is rare, but I think many people, especially older Armenians, are just not out.
AE: It’s unfortunate because I think that what holds Armenians back is that our culture enforces so much shame on us. As Armenians we face a lot of shame and as queer people we face a lot of shame. Sometimes it can be so overwhelming that you just don’t want to deal with any of it. But there’s nothing more powerful than living your authentic truth.
KC: What’s the most Armenian thing about you?
AE: My body hair.
KC: What do you do when you’re not doing drag?
AE: I work at an advertising agency doing content strategy. I also freelance social media content creation. Armenians are really creative people if you look at our history, and I feel like it’s just part of us. Our culture and identity are rooted in the arts, from music, dance, food, fashion, jewelry, design, to architecture. We heal through music as well. Think of the emotional reaction we have when we hear the duduk playing. It ignites a fire in us.
KC: What’s one thing you really want to learn?
AE: I want to learn to play instruments, more dance, languages. There’s a hunger in me to tackle a new project, to always learn new things. Most recently I’ve been studying Spanish. I’m really interested in other cultures. I’d love to learn to play the harp.
KC: Is there any place you dream of visiting?
AE: This world is so big and so full of culture. I want to see it all. I want to see Artsakh, Japan, and more of the Middle East.
KC: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
AE: I’m an Aries and I Iike the fire energy. I do crazy things every day. But maybe the craziest was just making my first drag show, my debut as Anoush Ellah.
KC: We loved your performance for Cher the Love!*
AE: That was my first performance in drag ever. I love that you put the show together! It was genius, share the love, share our Armenian Queen.
I love all the work that Entanik does. I’m so thankful that you’re around and that you all volunteer your time. It’s not only for the queer community, but to build up the Armenian community in general. You’re helping move things forward, exposing people to new things, opening their minds, educating them about so many things. I think this is what we need, family and love. As a queer Armenian, I am so thankful for everything that you guys do.
KC: What really pops your adrenaline?
AE: I really like pissing off people in power, and making them uncomfortable.
KC: What’s your favorite Armenian food?
AE: Dolma, dolma until I die!
KC: I feel like someone with your Aries fire energy has a superpower. What’s yours?
AE: My superpower is making people feel comfortable, making them happy, empowering people.
KC: And that’s really about love, isn’t it?
AE: Yes, it’s all about love.
*Entanik’s first digital drag event