Drag kings at IDKE 8 in Austin crisscrossed social and sexual themes
AUSTIN When it comes to cultural explosions, Texans rarely find themselves ahead of East and West coast queer enclaves. But Austin was recently the epicenter of the modern gender movement as the eighth International Drag King Extravaganza sashayed into the Lone Star capital from Oct. 19 to Oct. 22.
Compared to the more traditional drag-queen scene, kings not only focus on performance, they also emphasize their strength as social and political commentators.
Genderbent activism was especially evident at Dragdom, an open-mike night held at Emo’s, a grungy Sixth Street rock venue. In addition to a healthy amount of lip-synching, the kings recited poetry and rocked synchronized dance routines.
Three-piece suits and slimming Western shirts were the popular fashions among performers and audiences alike. Neckties were ubiquitous, as were meticulously slicked hair and skinny mustaches.
Unlike the usual solo-performance drag shows, nearly every act at IDKE consisted of troupes. Like all IDKE events, Dragdom was non-competitive even the most amateurish received hearty applause from the frisky crowd.
Evening activities were reserved for dressing up and showing off, but the daytime schedule revealed the true breadth of the IDKE ethos. With the University of Texas’ Student Union playing host, organizers assembled two days of panel discussion with names like “Femmes in Drag,” “Performing Blackness” and “Beyond Drag: When Men King.”
At a packed keynote speech, transgender activist and author Leslie Feinberg encouraged attendees to “strive to be the best fighters against each others’ oppression.”
Other events included an art show, a mini film-festival and a space dubbed the “Science Fair,” where new kings and vets gathered to talk shop, exchange tips and learn more about king culture.
When IDKE began in 1999, it was primarily a celebration of female cross-dressing. But the event has grown beyond the bounds of entertaining spectacle. The current ideal of IDKE is inclusiveness to the utmost degree. Conventions of sex, gender, orientation and race categories long ago discarded by the social sciences are basically meaningless at IDKE.
Can a troupe of women in dresses, or a man in a suit, be considered IDKE drag? You can bet your wig and heels on it.
Can a butch lesbian get away with playing a flamboyantly effeminate man? Hell yeah, girlfriend.
Absent any ill will or blustering ignorance, there are few gender transgressions that would get you drummed out of the happy drag-king family.
In keeping with their mission of inclusion and accessibility, IDKE made a point of involving younger guests in the gender-flexing fun. In a hall dubbed the “Gender Playhouse,” children and young teens played with costumes and make-up. The kiddies even worked on a routine to be performed at a family-friendly breakfast taco brunch on the last day of the fest.
A three-hour Saturday-evening showcase at the downtown Palmer Events Center was IDKE’S best-attended and most anticipated event with good reason: Big stars of the drag king scene delivered performances that were outspoken, hilarious and just plain sexy.
Best laughs of the night included New York’s Charleston Chu for his retro-disco routine to Jonny “The Gay Pimp” McGovern’s “Lookin’ Cute/Feelin’ Cute.” The plump prima donnas of Oakland’s ButchBallet donned tights and leapt, spun and stood en pointe to a classical routine that was at once seriously impressive and uproariously over the top.
Political points went to North Carolina’s Cuntry Kings for their multimedia performance addressing violence against women. And New Orleans’ Carnival Kings turned a well-deserved critical eye to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina to the tune of Scissor Sisters’ “Take Your Mama.”
Few troupes evoked as many delighted squeals as the impeccably zoot-suited pachucos Rocco Steele and Papi Chulo from the Albuquerque Kings. Local troupe The Dukes of Dallas didn’t perform due to two members of the group being unable to attend.
Spotting an Austin king at the showcase, I congratulated him for his performance of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which he performed at the previous night’s Dragdom.
“Well, thank you, sir,” he said then added, “Or ma’am.”
Though I do have longish hair, I never considered myself to be that androgynous. However, his remark was strangely comforting and embodied IDKE’s true spirit.
As diverse as the IDKE participants may have been with regard to their sex, race or gender orientation, these labels quickly dissolved. Nowhere was this idea better expressed than in Feinberg’s keynote, where she wryly observed, “Gender isn’t a game for anyone. But we are allowed to play.”
MORE HERE THAN MEATS THE EYE
Thanksgiving is about gratitude for having enough to eat.
In 1863, Log Cabin granddaddy Abraham Lincoln made the fourth Thursday in November an official holiday to brighten the spirits of the American people, who were then in the thick of the Civil War. Now, 143 years later, Dallas’ finest drag entertainers are kicking up their heels to carry on the tradition.
Each week, more than 750 clients living with HIV shop for perishable and non-perishable goods at The Resource Center of Dallas’ Nutrition Center. And each year, the Nutrition Center makes Thanksgiving more bountiful by giving each client a turkey and some holiday items.
To lighten the financial load, the Resource Center cooked up “Something to Be Thankful For,” the second annual drag show and auction, hosted by drag entertainer Cassie Nova, pictured left, featuring an appearance by Edna Jean Robinson and others.
Event coordinator Dean Wilson said last year’s show raised more than $7,500.
JR.’s, Bar and Grill, 3923 Cedar Springs Road. Nov. 5 from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
GIVE IT UP, Y’ALL: LADY PT TRIES OUT FOR DEF COMEDY JAM
Yo, yo, yo! When hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons first produced Def Comedy Jam, he probably didn’t envision drag comedians. Well, Reggie Dumas, a.k.a. The Lady PT, hopes to test Simmons’ limits of def jam.
Lady PT notified Dallas Voice that she’s auditioning for a Def Comedy Jam open call, which will be held at the Addison Improv on Wednesday.
PT says she’ll unveil material about disgraced former pastor Terry Hornbuckle; how black kids clock her at the mall; and, of course, the train-wreck known as Whitney and Bobby.
Improv Addison, 4980 Beltline Road #250 Addison. Nov 8 at 8 p.m. 972-404-8501.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, November 3, 2006.