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. Well, at least my pre-transition process. So here is Part 2 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 “questioning” 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.
During the following months (spring/summer 2006), Dirk Van Dyk, Nat King Pole and I started meeting up with some other people who were interested in creating a new drag king scene in Montreal. Billy King and Mitch Mitcham were two of those people and we had Miss Eva Vavoom who helped with some organisational matters in addition to taking on female roles complementing our manly drag kings. We got together to hang out and have fun but we also discussed how we could get together to make plans for a Drag King takeover of Montreal! We set up a yahoo group so that we could more easily keep in touch, share information about gig opportunities and recruit new performers.
There were more performance opportunities at different venues in town, such as the August edition of the Meow Mix at which I performed a sexy cop and biker number with my then girlfriend, and a fundraiser for a local youth help organisation at Café Cléopâtre, a famous strip/drag club in Montreal’s Red Light District. A whole bunch of us wound up performing at another fundraiser for a burlesque troupe at an obscure dive called Cabaret Chez Clo-Clo on St-Hubert where we got to meet up with other “underground” performers, which was way cool.
But it was at an event called the Freak Show in October of 2006 at the Club Soda that we finally got together to perform a group act. The organiser wanted a group number and a group number we gave her! S.Quire found us and got on board and we got together about 3 times to put together a number with Nat as the lead, singing about a bar fight between “real” guys and drag kings. While Nat would sing, the rest of us would act out the lyrics in the background. The rehearsals were fun and were starting to get a sense of the different talents and personalities in the group.
We were having enough fun that we knew we would want to continue putting together group acts in the future. This warranted a name. However, we couldn’t agree on a name as we all had different visions of what we were creating. I was into something “cavalier” sounding like some kind of twist on Knights Errant or at least something that would work in Montreal’s two main languages. Others were into plays on the word Royal and yet others wanted something that sounded more sleek. So for this gig, we left our official name undetermined and went for Drag Kings of Montreal.
We were all buzzing on show night. The low attendance due to bad organisation on the producer’s part didn’t bring down our high. Sure the venue was practically emtpy. But we were still performing at one of Montreal’s most prominent venues with a gigantic stage! And we got to meet a lot of really interesting people from burlesque performers to circus freaks. The down side was that inter-personal conflicts involving people who have long since left the troupe had the evening ending on a sour note. But even that didn’t ruin things for us. Shrug it off, baby! We left wanting more gigs and more spotlight.
Throughout this period of time, I was experiencing drag performance as a vehicle for exploring “extreme” masculinity. I had adopted a rough and tumble persona who wasn’t overtly aggressive but who was a quite a bit…ummm…macho in a stereotypical dope-smoking, beer-drinking biker kinda way. Not the kind of guy I would actually hang out with (at least not after my early 20s) but fun to “be” for periods of time.
In my personal life, I was dating someone who was also performing with us and who was more attracted to my “masculine” side then the “regular” Nancy, which made me feel both encouraged to dress and act the part more frequently and uncomfortable that this person would be more into my “imaginary” self. This discomfort was what it was but it also led me to question to what extent Gary was really “imaginary.” Was there a guy inside me? Was that the strange presence I had always felt lurking, the one I felt I had to camouflage in different periods of my life through extreme “femininity?” And in expressing this presence to the world at large, was I unleashing an energy that deserved to be out there and commanded attention in a way that I, Nancy, could not because I was too busy trying to camouflage most of the time?
Sexually, being Gary to fuck was a whole new set of revelations. I was sexual in ways that I had never imagined possible for myself. It was also kinda scary because, at the same time, I was exploring my kinky side more and more. It became difficult to divorce kink from my exploration of masculinity – quite confusing! Was I only kinky when I was I was Gary? Was being Gary just a kink? Could I be kinky as a girl? (I had been in the past, and I had gotten scared then too and run away from kink for a few years.) Life went on, the relationship ended and I continued my exploration of both drag and kink. As will be seen in following parts to this series of posts, they continued to remain linked in many ways.
Not long after our group number at Club Soda, we were approached by the Meow Mix organiser Miriam Ginestier. A Meow Mix is a party that happens every 6 weeks or so for “bent girls and their buddies.” There is typically a cabaret show followed by a dance party. They are a lot of fun and while most of the audience consists of queer women, there are a lot of genderqueer folk and guys, trans and cis. So Miriam’s suggestion that we put together a Meow Mix just with drag kings was an exciting prospect. I thought it would never work of course, since we were still very few people performing as drag kings and since not all of the folks involved were organisationally inclined. So naturally I said “Let”s do it!”. Because as my ex used to say, if it’s not impossible, it doesn’t interest me. And the others felt the same way. So we accepted the gig and started planning.
The show was scheduled for February 17, 2007 (the day before my 34 th birthday!) so we started meeting every Friday in someone’s home. By that time, Dirk and S.Quire had both left the group because of work opportunities out of the province. A couple of other people had left for personal reasons. So we had to recruit. Johnny Cox joined us at around this time. His real-life alter ego was into photography and had been getting together with us as individuals to do photo shoots for a university project. They then said they wanted to join us! We asked Miriam to include a call-out for performers in her monthly email in which she sends info about upcoming queer events. It is through this call-out that we found Bo Stallion. Inter-personal contacts brought us a couple of male-bodied folks who performed as female: Miss Thing, a drag queen, and Gitsu Gay, who did not identify as a drag queen but who had much performance experience.
We brainstormed ideas of numbers we wanted to do. There were, of course, disagreements here and there about how the show should be organised but we were pretty good at resolving those issues. It’s important to mention that, at this point, Nat, Gitsu, Miss Thing and I were the only members who had drag performing experience other than the Club Soda Freak Show gig. Everyone else who was involved with this big premiere show was new. I still considered myself to be a new performer since I only had 5-6 drag performances under my belt so it felt really weird for me to have complete newbies consider me as someone with experience. I wanted to include the new performers as much as possible. I had a lot of admiration for them for showing up to meet us. I know how intimidating it can be to just show up in a brand new place with a brand new bunch of people! Anyway, these rehearsals were lots of fun. We also continued to bond as a group and do social activities together, which was nice for me because, since the disintegration of the bi group through which I had formed the bulk of my previous social circle, I didn’t really have that many friends to hang out with.
In terms of my non-performing roles in the show, I took on a lot of organisational tasks such as liaison with the event producer, getting together technical information and so forth. It was a surprising amoung of work but I learned that A) I was good at organising, coordinating and working with large quantities of information from different sources and that B) I fucking loved it!
As for performances I was involved in, I was finally gonna get to do Hair! Early on in our planning, I played Hair for the group, as I had wanted to do this number from the beginning of my drag king aspirations and proposed it as a fun group number. People got on board. I described my vision for the number and we worked out how it could be done. I also offered up my idea for a solo around the French song Aline, which is the story of a guy who lost Aline and is wandering around on the beach looking for her. I wanted to stage it as a comedy with this drunk guy on the beach wandering around. I liked it because I was trying hard to get away from the crude biker persona. Well, not get away completely… but I wanted to establish right away that I was capable of doing more than that. A romantic drunk guy who’d lost his love seemed like a good idea. AND it was a classic French song, which I knew the francophones in the audience would enjoy. Finally, Billy and I adapted a skit from a Cheech and Chong show: “Lowrider” (this scene also appears in their film: “Up in Smoke.”) We kept the concept and some of the lines but very much edited for length. We also ended it with a blow job. Ha! So this number was fun because I got to actually speak and do a comedy routine.
We needed a name if we were to put on a show as a newly formed troupe. Nat had suggested we call the show itself “King Size” but we all loved it enough to adopt it as our name! It even worked for our francophone audience since people know the term and apply it to beds and cigarettes!
Showtime came around and we had a blast! It was stressful of course but the venue was packed! We apparently broke an attendance record that night. We were blown away when, more than an hour before the doors opened, people had begun to line up! And the line kept getting longer…and longer…and longer. We would go and peek at the line up from time to time and come back and stare at each other dumbly. Like – WTF?!??! All these people coming to see US? Whoo! For clarification: Meow Mix audiences, like Montreal queers in general, tend to arrive late or at the last minute. So at a typical Meow Mix, there are a few people in line (10-12) when the doors open and people trickle in for about a half hour. The majority show up in the last 20 minutes before the show starts and then as the show is actually starting. So a long line up this long before the doors opened was something!
The show itself was an amazing experience. Being on stage in front of this crowd that was cheering and hollering, and feeling the adrenaline…I hadn’t felt that way since I had been involved in actual plays. Doing odd numbers here and there had been fun for the past few months but I realised that it’s the complete show experience that gets me off. As for my own numbers, Aline was a big hit with the francophones as I suspected it would be. But when the chorus hit and 3/4 of the room started singing along with me…there are no words. It hit home then that what I like about performing is not just being on stage and having people look at me but to be a participant in an experience. I felt like we were all in it together at that moment – it wasn’t just me performing for them.
The Cheech and Chong number went over OK. We got some laughs. But it was awkward because of the mics so not something I’d repeat in a big (well, everything’s relative) venue like Sala Rossa. Hair…well…it was as I had hoped. Because it was a group number with a cool ending (all of us on our knees yelling “HAIR!”) we kept it for the ending number. So these performances were a very positive experience for me. This certainly made me want to do more!
Another cool thing about the show is that 5-6 of my co-workers came. It was neat to talk to them in the weeks that followed and see that they were at least gleaming some understanding of who I was. And since some of them hadn’t really been in queer environments before, I felt that they were also getting a taste of another “culture.”
In addition to having fun with the organising and the performing, I had a new group of friends with whom I felt at ease to explore my gender. Indeed, many of the people who were involved were exploring gender in one way or another so it was something we had in common. Also, comments on how believable I was in terms of male energy and how comfortable and “natural” I felt when I was in drag made me feel like I needed to stick with this path of exploring my “masculine” side. Having the opportunity to express it in drag, at that time, seemed to be enough to alleviate the confusion and dysphoria that I experienced in my daily life. It was like an outlet. Eventually, it wouldn’t be enough but, for the time being, it was working.
Stay tuned for part 3!