Helen Wheels is a drag queen on a mission, smashing down stereotypes and opening up an industry which has for too long been off limits to some. Helen both lives with cerebral palsy and is a wheelchair user and as they told Star Observer, “I won’t let that be a drag.”

Helen, who is better known as 21-year-old Ryle Keating, says that they rightly are “not defined by their disability, nor should that be a barrier to performing.”

“I am a drag queen here on the Gold Coast, and yes, I am in a wheelchair, but I don’t let that be the main focus. It’s there, and I benefit from it. It’s a part of me, but I don’t let it be a literal drag.”

The Only Drag Queen Who Uses A Wheelchair

Believed to be the only drag queen who uses a wheelchair in Southeast Queensland, Ryle has also commenced studies at the world-renowned HUXLEY make up school on the Gold Coast, where they met friend and mentor Michael Huxley, who told Star Observer that it was a chance meeting that led to this incredible and still unfolding story.

“Ryle’s twin brother Braddon was studying with us, and the first time Ryle came in was to model for Brandon for a make-up look. I discovered Ryle was the inspiration behind Braddon doing the course in the first place. So, Braddon actually fell in love with make-up because of Ryle, but then Ryle was actually the first of the twins to really get into make-up.”

“At the time I was thinking why hadn’t Ryle pursued makeup as well? It took a few times for Ryle to come in to experience the place and to watch how they could blossom in this environment and for me to say, ‘well you are more than capable to come into the school and be part of this experience as well’. That was the turning point for Ryle to jump on board.”

The Love Of Make-Up

But for Ryle, the love of make-up and all things drag started well before moving to the Gold Coast at age 16 and coming out. Hailing from Grafton in rural New South Wales, Ryle explains how they had started experimenting with make up when they were 15.

“Make-up was my way to come out, as I didn’t really come out to my parents. Make-up was the way for me to express who I was, to them.”

“Grafton is not very accommodating for teenagers let alone gay people. So when I moved to the Gold Coast when I was 16, I also came out of the closet. I just wanted to do make-up but I couldn’t do that in that small town, it wasn’t normalised in Grafton.”

“I want to prove to people that it is ok for people, no matter their ability… no matter what you can do anything. We need to get rid of the stigma” Ryle adds.

Venue Accessibility Is An Issue

While Ryle is now more focused on drag than ever, it is sadly venue accessibility which continues to be a big issue for themselves and others.

“So, I first started off watching make-up tutorials and learning how to do drag, but I’ve now also been going to drag shows here and there just to watch. The main issue is that I can’t go as much as I want to because of wheelchair access on the Gold Coast. Accessibility is a big issue, this is why I want to make Helen Wheels an inspiration to everyone, because the LGBTQI community should be open to everyone, no matter what.”

Michael says that Ryle is a true inspiration. “What I find so inspiring is that it has taken until 2021 for someone like Ryle to say, ‘no I can do this and I’m going to show the world that I am more than capable of being able to go out and participate and be part of something creative and inspire the world.’”

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