What a drag: The evolution of Jack E. Dickinson, Part 1

8 01 2011

I’ve been meaning to post some thoughts on drag performance for quite some time. As described here, performing as a drag king was a major step in my transition process. And it continues to be a significant means through which I explore my own gender and the very concept of gender. So here Part 1 of a series of posts describing the different stages of my “drag career” and how they were linked with my transition from “woman” to “gender blended woman” to “questionning” to “trans guy” to … whatever the hell I am now. I’ll be discussing how my drag and personal lives impacted each other and how doing drag went from leading me to question the very core of my identity to a way of expressing that core.

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It was in 2004, or thereabouts, that I started putting serious thought into performing as a drag king. I had done some amateur theatre and I loved the stage. In addition, I was beginning to explore an identity as a “gender blended” woman (I hadn’t encountered the term “genderqueer” yet) and I thought that being a drag king would be an awesome way to explore and express this.It was also around that time that I started to go out in drag from time to time, especially when hanging around with my bi friends (that I made in the course of my involvement with a local bi group called Bi Unité Montréal). I learned to pack, bind and create a beard thanks to websites and tips from a mailing list for kinky queer women in Montreal.

So, a good 2 years before hitting the stage, I would sit at home drinking beer or wine, practicing making a beard and putting together drag king numbers in my head. The first number I thought about was Hair, from the movie musical. I wanted to celebrate the masculine aspect of long hair. Hair was a big issue at this point in my personal identity. I had almost always had long hair up until then. While it often served to get me labeled as “femme” in the dyke community, no matter what I was wearing (!), I had always felt that my long, straight, rocker hair was one of the things susceptible to giving away my “masculine” essence. As a metal head, my hair connected me to my roots (ha!) as a headbanger. The song “Hair” represented this well for me.

I also wanted to do “I Need a Hero.”  This was to be a theatrical piece which I won’t give away since I haven’t wound up doing it ….YET ; ) Finally, I had an idea about creating a theatrical piece around “Aline,” a classic French song about a guy who had lost his lover. In spite of the drama, it would be humourous.

At one point, I got to see a drag king perform for the first time, live. It was at a fund raiser for a Two-Spirit gathering. I knew the person performing – it was their first time! And it totally inspired me. I knew I had to try it for myself!

In May 2006, I finally had the opportunity to perform at a local event called the Meow Mix. There was a drag king competition with Montreal legends, The Mambo Drag Kings, as judges! The Mambo kings were the first drag kings I had seen, ever. I had never seen them perform because, at that time, they were semi-retired with members that had left town for job opportunities and family obligations. But I had seen them at my first pride parade and remember thinking: “WOW! Drag kings! I’ve never even heard of them but it makes so much SENSE!” So I was stoked at the possibility of strutting my stuff in front of them. But since I hadn’t performed in a while, and had never done drag specifically, I was a bit nervous about entering the competition. However, a kinky queer dyke friend of mine, who was also working at my college at the time, reassured me that the Meow Mix crowd was warm and welcoming and that I would have a blast.

SO: I did it! I wrote to the organiser and that was that. I opted for a simple solo lip sync: Number of the Beast, by Iron Maiden. Simple because I had been listening to this song since I was 13 or 14 so I knew every lyric and every note by heart. Simple also because I had headbanger clothes en masse. I watched the video over and over again and practiced Bruce Dickinson moves for hours. I also had to practice making a beard. While most drag kings seem to prefer the spirit gum and applied hair technique, I had lots of peach fuzz and successfully created a good stage beard by applying mascara to it.

I still had to come up with a stage name though! For this occasion, I went as Gary, which was the name I had been using during my drag excursions in the village. But eventually, that evolved into Gary Dickinson. As explained on Gary’s bio page:

Nancy always liked the name “Gary.” The first Gary she met was a rugged carpenter friend of her Dad’s. This guy was friendly but mischievous, strong but soft . . . like her dad, who she adored. So it was an automatic choice for her Drag King persona. The name Dickinson is an homage to Bruce Dickinson (aka the Ultimate Deity of Love, Lust and Light, or UDLLL), lead singer and front man of the legendary heavy metal band, Iron Maiden . Ultimately, it’s a great name because it doesn’t mean anything specific – Dickinson is just a regular last name. Therefore, it doesn’t limit Gary to performing any particular type of performance. The reference to “dick” in the name doesn’t hurt either;)

Gary Dickinson performing "The Number of the Beast"

Gary Dickinson performing "The Number of the Beast"

So I went and I did it! It was a thrilling experience. I got to meet Nat King Pole who had been performing as a singing drag king for quite some time (well I had met his female alter ego but this was my first time meeting the drag persona) as well as some other newbie drag kings who were really keen on getting into the scene. However, I found out that night that, aside from Nat there was no longer any real drag king “scene” in Montreal.

The other performances were awesome and I was sure I was not going to win. I wasn’t sure whether it would be Dirk Van Dyk with his awesome rendition of “Kiss” by Prince or the cute little Vaudeville duo whose names I unfortunately can’t remember because I never saw them again. When the emcee, DeAnne Smith, said that this dude won “because of his sexy rock star moves,” both Dirk and I looked at each other and began to congratulate each other! But…it was me! I was shocked and I was sure I had imagined it. But Dirk and the others pushed me out on stage so I could accept the praise. After the show was over, the two members of the Mambo Drag Kings who had been acting as judges came backstage to meet and congratulate everyone. I was star-struck of course. They told me their reasons for picking me: the long hair was different and unusual for drag kings, I had the lipsyncing down pat and I was passionate. Wow! What a compliment!

I was stoked! I was also hell-bent on helping to re-create a drag king scene in Montreal! So before leaving the Meow Mix, I chatted with Dirk, Nat and some others and we promised we’d get in touch and talk about getting things going. And as people who know me personally know, when I get an idea in my head and I’m really passionate about it, I’m ready to go! It’s not just: “Yeah, we’ll talk…” and then on to idle talk for years and years before (if) something happens. It’s “OK, let’s do this now.” and getting out the drawing board, setting up task lists and so forth.

Luckily, I wasn’t the only one willing to make this happen. Nat was already performing but seemed to want company seeing as he was the only currently performing drag king. Dirk had some good ideas and seemed to be a doer as well so I was excited to have them to work with.I also knew some other people that I was sur would get on board once they knew things were afoot.

So between a bunch of us “doers,” we were about to create what is now known as the Dukes of Drag!

Part 2.

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18 01 2011
6 01 2014

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