During my time in COVID-19 world, I’ve gotten a chance to reconnect with a very talented person whom I met at a wedding several years ago. This old friend goes by Rhiebelle on her social media; and is an incredibly funny gamer, model, and mental health advocate. She has also become an ally for those of us who live with mental health and self-image challenges.
Recently, I got a chance to speak in-depth with Rhiebelle at length. We talked about who she is, what she does, and why she does it.
PCU: For those who may not know about you, please tell us about yourself and what you do.
Rhiebelle: Hello! I’m Rhiebelle (pronounced Ree-bell). I’m a Drag Queen originally from Scotland, now based in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. I fell into the Army at 18, not really knowing myself or the world and allowed the service to shape me into the soldier they wanted. When I left the Army at 28 I put myself into therapy which began the steady rhie-lization (ha) that a lot of the values I held weren’t my own and I had a load of unchecked insecurities as a result of my time in the Army.
I bounced around jobs in London as I freely explored who I was for the first time in a decade. I went from a corporate IT-support role into a Regional Training Manager role for a headphone brand, right up until COVID hit and my contract was suspended. Suddenly I found myself locked in my flat with no job or hobbies (outside of gaming). I’d gotten in drag roughly four times prior to that, and a friend mentioned TikTok. I took to that app and used it to develop my drag look and met some amazing people on there.
Another friend (shoutout to Rush_darling on Twitch) had been recommending I look into live streaming for the best part of a year, so with my newly improved make up skills, new wig, and expanse of free time, I kicked off my Twitch channel at the end of June 2020 and have been a Drag Queen on Twitch 4 days per week since!
PCU: What inspired you to do drag? How did you get your start?
Rhiebelle: I saw a Queen in North Wales performing in a hotel I was staying at in early 2018 and was struck by her talent and her free expression of who she was on stage. From there I was introduced to RuPaul’s Drag Race season 10 which, in turn, kicked off a binge of season 1-9 and with it a gradual breakdown of my conditioning around men putting on makeup and dresses. In late 2018 I knew I wanted to try drag, so I started compiling make up, my cousin got me my first wig for my birthday, and I borrowed one of my nesting partner’s dresses for London Pride 2019. As you’d expect, the first time was very basic – I’m not even sure I had a contour, but I felt fabulous!
PCU: How/When did you get your start in gaming?
Rhiebelle: Very early! My dad had a Commodore Amiga 500 stored behind the sofa in my childhood house; some of my earliest memories involve getting that set up for games on the occasional evening. Shortly after that he set up a Windows 95 PC in a little cubby under the stairs; I’d spend hours on games like Command & Conquer, Knights & Merchants, Lego Chess, Doom, and Wolfenstein 3D. In 1995 he got a Playstation and I fell in love with Crash Bandicoot, Croc: Legend of the Gobos, Spyro the Dragon, Metal Gear Solid, and Final Fantasy VII. I’ve been a gamer since I was roughly 3 years old. I’m by no means good at them, but I love everything about them, and have met some of my oldest friends in online gaming communities.
PCU: What have been some of your favorite games to stream?
Rhiebelle: The Portal series was incredible to stream – the comedy, the puzzles, and the story made for some of my most favorite streams to date.
Scream Saturdays have always seemed to go well (mainly for the people watching me suffer). Outlast & the Whistleblower DLC was where the horror journey began and, to be honest, I’m actually getting into horrors (which isn’t a thing I ever thought I’d say)! I’m currently streaming Resident Evil 2 on Scream Saturdays and wondering why I hadn’t played this series before now!
PCU: What have been some of your favorite moments streaming on Twitch, & what have been some of your favorite moments doing drag?
Rhiebelle: I’ve discovered some incredible content creators on Twitch, ranging from gamers, singers, comedians, and body painters. Prior to June 2020 I had no idea how diverse, interesting, and exciting Twitch could be. I’ve made new friends on there, re-connected with people from my teens I thought I’d never speak to again, and have some incredible humans from around the world frequent my streams.
My first time in drag, Gingzilla (a wonderful London-based Queen from Australia who’s best known for their time on America’s Got Talent) was putting on a show at the Phoenix Arts Club in Soho, London. I was suitably tipsy when Ginge picked up on the fact it was my first time in drag and got me up on stage with her for a short skit. I was way out of my depth, but it made my life!
PCU: How do you use your art & skills to help others?
Rhiebelle: Every Sunday from 1-4pm UK-time I host mental health streams on my channel. It’s an open forum and safe space for people to come and share or listen. We talk through dark head spaces, journeys we’ve been on, hard times we’re facing, as well as celebrating all the positives in people’s lives too. It wasn’t what I intended to do on Twitch (I figured I’d just be gaming on there when I first started), but it developed naturally from a chilled World of Warcraft & chat stream into a ‘Just Chatting’ Mental Health & Mindfulness stream.
Naturally I’ve plenty of experiences to pull from on my mental health journey and use that experience to advise others and remind them that they’re not alone in what they’re facing. My time leaving the Army sparked a huge interest in mental health and I spend a lot of my time reading mind management books & listening to TED Talks.
I’m not a physiologist or a professional, but I’ve had waves of messages from fans saying how pleased they are I host those streams, how much I’ve helped them, or how much better they feel after listening to me on a Sunday; I’m so happy I’m helping people to the extent that I am.
PCU: What made you want to focus your streams on mental health?
Rhiebelle: My mental health was unchecked for a huge period of my life. I was convinced I didn’t have any mental health issues while I was in the Army when, in reality, I was under crippling anxiety, unchecked insecurities, codependency, self-loathing, and major self esteem issues. My aim now is to normalize positive mental health conversations to allow people to better understand who they are, embark on their own mental health journeys, and give them a space to express their thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental, safe environment.
I’ve found when I can get my thoughts out on a screen or on paper I can rationalize & work through them better; they’re not as daunting or as loud when they’re written in front of me. I’m so pleased I’ve created a space in which so many people have felt safe enough to open up. My followers have begun supporting each other & developing friendships in my chat box, some of whom didn’t have anyone else to talk to as the world shut down due to COVID. I’ve never been surer that I’m doing something right with my life.
PCU: How do you feel that gaming helps with mental health?
Rhiebelle: Gaming has always been my go-to place to feel better. Choosing the right genre and game is the most important thing – when I was at peak unchecked mental health I would try to play something like Rocket League competitively and, on bad headspace days, I’d hit myself, pinch myself, or scratch myself as ‘punishment’ if I didn’t score or let a goal in. Thankfully that’s a habit I managed to break over time as I practiced mindfulness.
There are millions of video games out there with varying degrees of competitiveness, difficulty, and attention required. Ultimately, if someone doesn’t understand their mental health, no matter what they do, their mental health can get the better of them; with a little understanding of where you head is that day, you can switch on a game that can draw you away from the stresses of reality for a while and find yourself feeling much better after your gaming session.
Gaming is as valid a hobby as any other to help through boredom or bad headspaces but, just like everything else, if you don’t couple it with mind management, you’ll find you’ll be self-destructive in that environment too.
PCU: What do you see as a way to bring these two worlds together? What, in your opinion, is their common ground?
Rhiebelle: So many developers nowadays are doing a fantastic job of coupling mental health and video games. Ninja Theory were incredible highlighting mental health and the battles we face against our own minds with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice for instance (and I’m so excited to stream Hellblade 2 when it’s released December 2020!).
I think the world is steadily opening up to mental health, and platforms like Twitch & YouTube will be essential in helping the video game community to embark.
“Gamer rage” is so normalized; we hear stories and see videos of people smashing their controllers, monitors, and keyboards – public figures in the community can help by being open about their mental health; we need to talk about how, as much as anger is a valid emotion, we should be practicing mind management to prevent that anger from manifesting as external rage. It sucks that you died in the game, sure, but does it warrant breaking an expensive bit of equipment so you can’t play again for a while? Understand where the anger is coming from and be kind to yourself when we don’t get it right – none of us are perfect, and sometimes the other player really is just a little better than us – and that’s okay!
PCU: What do you do or say in the face of detractors?
Rhiebelle: No matter what we do in life there will always be people who don’t approve, or want to extinguish your candle in the hopes theirs might glow a little brighter – if someone has a problem with me or what I do that’s absolutely fine, but it also isn’t my problem; it’s theirs.
Anyone is welcome to come and listen/engage in my streams, but if you’re coming in to bully, belittle, or manipulate the environment in a negative way, my mods will ensure you’re not around long.
I tend to make examples of negative people and often question where their need and thirst for negativity comes from. I’ve had people come in to my streams calling me weird, or tried to throw me off my stride; I’ve talked things through with them, answering their questions, relating to them as best I can, and had some really positive outcomes – one person said I’d given them a lot to think about, followed my channel and set up a monthly subscription payment.
PCU: I know you’ve got some stuff coming up. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Rhiebelle: I can’t say too much right now due to COVID and venues need to advertise first, but there’s a venue in South Shields (UK) planning on hosting a drag show in November and I’ve been invited to fill a slot in that – keep an eye on my Instagram for more info as things develop, but it will entirely depend on local lockdowns etc.
Other than that, I’m pouring all my energy into my Twitch channel – constantly thinking of ways to improve it, be more inclusive, and give back as much as I can to my followers and subscribers. I’ve started hosting monthly Jackbox Party streams with subscriber-only chat enabled as a way of thanking the people who have chosen to pay money towards my channel – Twitch is a free service, so my aim is to give extra benefits to the people who have chosen to allow me to buy nice things, like food!
PCU: Where can people find you online?
Rhiebelle streams 4 times per week on Twitch. Totally Random Tuesdays, Fantasy Fridays, Scream Saturdays, and Self-Care Sundays. We want to thank her so much for taking the time to talk with us, and wish her all the best.
Rhiebelle (and her male alter ego Killian) is managed by Rogue Model Management