Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thoughts on Lady Gaga at the VMAs & a Shout Out to Drag Kings

Because I'm lame and don't stay up very late anymore (unless I'm writing) I didn't watch the VMAs when they aired. However on the advice of my wife I did catch a video of Lady Gaga's performance number which she did in drag. As with many things she does it seems to have had a divided reaction. I'm too lazy to do the research and find out if the general opinion was positive or negative. However I will say that watching the footage the reaction from those in the audience at the VMAs seemed to be one mostly of confusion. It was sort of odd to me only because the sort of act she did was completely old hat to me. Guess that's what happens when you hang out with drag kings.

Old School Switch N Play.

From left to right: Peter Bigs, Manny Mango, Syditious, Chaz del Diablo, Pepe Pan and Maximum Satisfaction down on the floor.

I had very little knowledge of drag kings before I moved to NYC. I never really came across them during my time in Boston. That all changed thanks to the members of Switch N Play and a little bi-monthly even they hosted called "Open Drag." These Brooklyn based kings performed all around the city but also were sure to give a venue to their friends and even those who had never performed before. The first time I performed at "Open Drag" I was the only queen there. Yet oddly that was not in anyway intimidating. Maybe it's because I just find myself more at ease around women in general but I never felt like the odd one out.

There is a very different metality between drag queens and drag kings, not all that different from the difference between drag queens and burlesque which I've talked about before. I think it's very telling that drag queens are always solo acts (maybe with a subserviant stage-hand) whereas the vast majority of drag kings are in troupes. There's a sense of community and comradery to drag kings rather than the sense of competition that you get with drag queens. If I were to guess I would say it might have to do with woman trying to be men and reaching out for that kind of brotherly attachment they see. In contrast most drag queens gravitate towards the diva persona, and all the drama that comes with it.

Current Switch N Play line up.

From left to right: K. James, Jack Kelly, Maximum Satisfaction, Manny Mango, Jonathan Bitchman and Bianca Dagga.

I was amazed, and frankly am still flattered to this day by the fact that Switch N Play invited me to become a member of the group. They never had a queen member before, but again that gives you an idea of the kind of openness that exists in the drag king community. Even the kings who take on personas of slobs or posturing douche-bags are still sweet-hearts backstage. Nothing against all the talented drag queens out there but if given a choice I opt to hang out with the kings everytime. Also, and I'm less clear on the reason for this, drag kings seem to get what I do a little bit better than drag queens. I get looks sometimes from queens like I'm screwing up their art because I don't do it their way. Perhaps it's because there is much less of a fixed image of what a drag king should be that makes them more open to interpretations of other performance types as well. Or maybe I was just really meant to be born a lesbian, who knows?

I encourage any and all to check out more about Switch N Play on their website, flickr photostream, and YouTube page. Gaga did it well enough, but watch the professionals do their thing!

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