“We’re all born naked, the rest is drag.” – Rupaul
I am a drag king, meaning I was assigned female at birth and take on a male persona in my performance. In addition to being fun and making me money, becoming another character for a night helps me to better appreciate being myself.
I first started performing as a drag king while I was a student at Oberlin College. Each year, the campus hosted a legendary drag ball (so massive it was once covered by MTV-!) where you could compete for cash prizes, so as a lifelong lover of attention and player of dress-up, I was in! At the time, I identified as a femme and presented that way, meaning no one on the street speculated about the many possibilities of my gender the way they do now. I therefore saw passing as a man as a challenge that intrigued me. I created a character I called “Nevada”- a fabulously flamboyant man based on one of my friends at Oberlin who was also named after a state. That first year, I felt amazing strutting down the runway and won second place in the king category, which left me feeling encouraged to keep exploring this type of performance. I took a queer studies class and wrote my final research paper about drag kings- I wanted to delve into this art form and find out all I could. I loved that it challenged the status quo, and was a fusion of dance, theater and social/cultural commentary. Throughout college, graduation and my subsequent moves to Maine and now New York, I kept performing. I also started producing shows and teaching workshops. As I write this, I have five upcoming shows before the end of the year, one of which is in New Zealand. Clearly, I love what I do!
I prepare for a typical gig by getting naked…then, naturally, the rest is drag. I bind my chest flat with ace bandage and pack my underwear with a not-so-lil’ somethin-somethin. My fashion usually falls along the gender lines of 70’s Bowie or 80’s Prince- glamdrogynous is what I call it. On one hand, I choose silhouettes that mirror that of squarely-cut, current American menswear; on the other hand, I don’t shy away from sparkle and spandex. I put on a full (albeit usually subtle) face of makeup, including facial hair. When I perform I strut, prance, dance and lipsynch to music and generally have the time of my life. I feel hot and in charge. I am not the only drag performer who feels this way: fellow Brooklyn gender bender Princess Mickey Jagger agrees: “I can say with certainty that when I am in drag I feel powerful ownership of my body & very confident in / proud of my body.”
Sometimes the best way to find perspective is to make a radical change. Drag performance is an escape from the pedestrian self. I love putting on flamboyant attire, strutting around and commanding attention. By the end of the gig, though, I am more than happy to peel off my constricting binding, scrub off my ‘stache and cuddle up on the couch in pajamas. The ritual of putting on layers of fabulosity and preening allows me to feel that much more satisfied as my unadorned self.
According to Rupaul’s famous quotation, we all put on drag when we get dressed daily. I suggest exploring this idea, thinking about how clothes, body language and gender presentation alter the perceptions of you and those you encounter. Play dress up – why not? If you want to experiment even further, try some drag or burlesque: these days there are a myriad of books, classes, local performance opportunities (depending on where you live) and online resources. Nothing can make you love yourself quite as much as taking a brief vacation from that very identity- and as Rupaul says,“If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”