**Potential spoiler alerts for Orange is the New Black, season 7**
My spouse and I were watching Season 7, Episode 8 a couple of weeks ago, and a familiar face suddenly popped up! In Piper’s story line, her sister-in-law gets the two of them to go on a transformative wilderness retreat. The leader of the retreat, Rio, is someone I used to perform drag with!!! When I saw her, on TV, I wanted to shout, That’s Windz! But since I’m historically bad at face recognition, I waited until the credits, to confirm that the actor, Linday Coryne, was for sure the person I’m remembering.
In the scene, she is teaching Piper and a group of ladies, how to hunt with a bow and arrow. She has a handful of lines, one of which is, ““Recognize the bow as both arbiter of death and provider of life; recognize the multitude that exists within each of you; be proud of it.” She’s like, part hunter, part spirit guide.
We didn’t have a whole lot of overlap, in real life. By the time I started performing in 2006, she was moving to Baltimore (if I’m remembering correctly). But she’d come back home to visit periodically and perform with the “Muthers Boyz.” I was also there, some of those nights, performing and/or watching.
Windz was the star. Within the context of this dark and dingy gay dive bar, he seemed more like a megastar. The crowd ate it up, everything he did. I definitely felt some envy toward him, at times; I looked up to him. On the other hand though, our approaches, attitudes, and motivations seemed so far from each other that it wasn’t much use to try to compare myself to him. He was doing his thing, which was very different from my thing.
The following are just my impressions and things I remember (which might be fuzzy). We didn’t actually know each other or have many conversations…
Sometimes, he put a lot of work into his costumes, especially when he was emulating Michael Jackson, which was one of the things he was most known for. His impression was spot on. Other times though, it seemed like he went on stage in just what he might have been wearing that day anyway, business casual or whatever, with no drag make-up, facial hair, or flourishes. His repertoire of songs was small. I definitely saw plenty of repeats within the few times I did see his performances. But what he did, he had it down, and he always looked like he was having a blast up there. Really drew in individuals from the audiences, creating special moments.
I, on the other hand, struggled to connect with audience members. I didn’t particularly want to; sometimes I wished I could be doing my performances in a vacuum instead. Being at a bar, at that time, was uncomfortable for me, but I was driven by the gender-play; the opportunities to try out being someone else. And for me, it was a one and done kind of thing. Once I did a song, I never did it again. (There are a handful of exceptions to this.) Like, it was onto the next thing. I was going to learn another song, try a different vibe, try new costume elements, get the essence of the original performer or time period or mood of the song or whatever. A lot of times, for me, it was silly or it was out there, robotic or other-worldly or very much effeminate or even aggro/punk. I wanted to get the whole range of gender expressions, try it all, experiment. I also used drag to work through a lot of feelings at the time. But that’s a story for another post…
I remember one time, the two of us were backstage together, and Windz said, “Maybe you should do some Duran Duran. People would be into that.” I thought to myself, “OK, at least my ’80’s vibe is shining through, but I’ve already done Duran Duran!” Haha. In Windz’s world, maybe it was more like, you collect a handful of “signature songs,” and you cycle through them. Like a radio station. For me, it was more like I was a kid in a record store, pulling out vinyl and looking for the next thrill.
I am, essentially, a kid in a record store, pulling out vinyl and looking for the next thrill. I literally do this a lot.
These photos are not the best, but they’re all I got. This was from a time before digital photography. Do you remember,way back when, taking a photo and not being able to instantly see if it turned out well or not? And then you really have only 24 chances (or 36 if you splurged for a 36 shot roll of film), and then you’re gonna pay around $7 for those 24 pictures, and after you pay, then you finally get to see whether it’s a good shot or not??? OK, so I’m fibbing a little bit. Digital photography was a thing (this was probably 2007.) It’s just that I didn’t yet have a digital camera. I brought my Pentax film camera with flash, down to the bar to try to capture some of the performances.
Windz was very aspirational. And it paid off! Holy shit – she (the person, not the drag king) is an actor on TV and stuff!!! I was super floored to recognize her on TV! I hope to see her in lots more stuff; I want to see more gender-nonconforming people in more roles in the media, like, all the time!
Last week was Pride in this mid-sized city I live in. The theme this year was “Stand Out: [Live] in Color.” For the first time ever, I attended a week’s worth of events; it was pretty awesome!
On Monday, my spouse plus my drag buddy and her boyfriend and her friend from out of town all went to a panel discussion / conversation called “Fabulous Lives: [Drag] in Color.” The purpose was largely to honor a bar owner and drag queen named Naomi Kane who had passed away a few years ago. Everyone wanted to share their impressions of her (both her essence, and literally doing hilarious impressions of the way she talked and her signature phrases / philosophies). My drag buddy and I used to perform at her bar. One of the old school drag kings from that time was on the panel, as well as the drag queen who regularly hosted the weekly show. We got recognized as fellow drag kings; the vibe of the event was full of love and emotion for the scene and community.
On Thursday we went to another venue for a DJ night and drag queen show. I got picked out of the audience (unwittingly but not totally unwillingly!) along with 2 others to play a game involving a bucket strapped to my groin area with a dangling tennis ball – thrust your body in such a way as to get the ball in the bucket. I lost, but still got a complimentary beer koozie. The important part is I felt more than comfortable up there on stage doing something so completely silly.
Satutrday was the parade. My spouse and I (again) marched for their employer, a food co-op. It was just us and 2 other people! We had a lot of fun though – it felt like the perfect combination of laid-back and exciting. We were right behind the local goth nightclub, and the DJ was driving his goth-mobile, playing gloomy / angsty mostly 80s music, which was a great soundtrack! One of the other marchers with the club told us he’s taking requests. I asked for “Swamp Thing” by The Chameleons. After we were done in the parade, we stepped to the side to watch the rest. When there was a lull, two kids, probably around age 10, ran across the street, directly to me, and handed me a heart shaped rainbow balloon. I have no idea why, but it pretty much made my parade! My spouse and I used the balloon in our photo shoot we did back home.
Then that night, I went out to a dance party with my spouse’s sister and a group of her friends. It felt really good to get wrapped up in dancing. And!!! Completely out of nowhere, a guy approached me and said,
“Hey, are you Kameron.”
“We did a David Bowie thing together.”
“Oh, yea, cool… At The [name of venue.]”
“No, it was the one at The [different venue.] I was the promoter. I never paid you.”
“Oh, OK yeah I remember.”
“I owe you $50. Here!”
And he just handed me the money! This was like 6 or 7 years ago, and I hadn’t seen or heard from him since! I didn’t even go by “Kameron” at that point. I was so amazed this was happening, I gave him a hug. He laughed. Then I went back to dancing, but I’ve been telling this story over and over again ever since, haha.
Sunday we went to the picnic. Saw more drag. Hung out with friends. Said hi to more people.
I like the fact that this year it was a full week of festivities! Here are some pics:
First off, happy Trans Day of Visibility to you!
It’s been a long time since I’ve done any sort of performing. I felt compelled to do something for a DJ’s birthday bash at a bar, because I thought it’d be low key and fun. And because I had a good idea. And because this is a group of acquaintances I’d like to get to know better. And also I had been asked about a month ago by someone in this group, and I declined at the time, but it got me thinking.
So this was last night – it consisted of 2 DJs, one other performer and then me, and an MC kind of trying to get people to play ridiculous games for a little while, and then another DJ.
My plan was to get the birthday gal situated in a chair, have a birthday song play as I come out with so many layers on (including a motorcycle helmet with a party hat on top) that she has no idea who it is, pass out birthday hats and those tootle things, get people involved in a chaotic way, and then for this song, “Strip” to play, by Adam Ant, and just start taking off all the coats and other clothes I’m wearing. Not to the point where I’m down to underwear or less, haha, please! My “base layer” was a vest, bow tie, pirate pants, and socks. Plus full on Adam Ant make-up, which was one of the best parts about it!
My drag name is Adam Andro-matic. It’s derived from Adam Ant, but, after all this time, I had never once portrayed him! Not sure why! One of the first CDs I bought with my own money, as a youth, from Media Play, was the best of Adam Ant. I know almost all those hits and non-hits by heart. As I planned out this performance, I really embraced it / him. “Strip” is such a ridiculous song. The video is even more so, I just learned! But it’s also just purely joyous, which is something I’d never gotten from it, in the past.
Last night, also, was just purely joyous. I didn’t have any pre-performance jitters or anxieties. Generally, my anxieties around performing manifest themselves by being too much of a perfectionist and obsessively timing things out. This time, not at all! I just went in there, hung out, got ready, did my thing, and then stayed in costume for the rest of the night, talking to people I’d never talked to before, getting trapped into dancing with some drunk people who seemed to really want to dance with me, etc. The birthday gal really really loved the striptease / lap-dance, and so did her boyfriend! She hugged me a bunch of times and kissed my cheek. This may have been the most fun I’ve ever had, during a night I was performing. All the stress was out of the equation. So was the extreme elation / relief when it was over, but I’ll take the straight up fun over all that intensity!
The MC introduced me as Adam Andromeda. Haha. I’ll have to think on that!
Oh, and also, later in the night, I was dancing to a favorite song – “Revenge” by Ministry, when a woman I’d never seen before came up to me. She said, “Will you come with me for a minute?” I followed her without hesitation, and she presented her boyfriend to me. I knew this guy! I’m not great with faces, but I narrowed it down to it being 2 possible people… We shook hands. He said, “Do you know me?” I said, “You work at [the food co-op].” He shook his head, no. “You work at [school],” I said next, and he affirmed that. I see him almost every day, at the YMCA after school program where I work. His girlfriend asked me, “Is he good with the kids? Do the kids love him?” I just nodded slowly, because the answer is, “No,” from what I can observe, but she seemed to want to hear good things, haha. He said he was buying me a drink. I was pretty much done drinking by then, but I thought it’d be nicer to accept. I said, sure, a PBR. A couple of minutes later, he handed me TWO PBRs. I shook my head and kept saying, “no, just one!” But he kinda forced them, nicely, at me. I took them both, drank half of one of them, and put them up on a piano, for safe-keeping. Really the only reason I would waste beer – so that I can get home safely!
Also, I saw my neighbor on the dance floor. This tiny, older woman who is ALWAYS out at clubs and bars, dancing and not drinking. She just seems so mild mannered!
I stayed out till closing time. Things had gotten really chaotic on the dance floor. It was interesting to observe, dip my toes into… When I got home I got ready to take a shower / get all the make-up off my face. I noticed I had a kiss mark, from the birthday gal, on my cheek. Haha.
David Bowie was one of the biggest reasons I wanted to become a drag king. He was the epitome of androgyny amongst the famous, and I wanted to emulate him. Whenever I did drag, I tried to capture the look of the singer, something that not all drag kings take the time to do. And since I was leaning toward music of the late seventies and eighties, flamboyancy was big – eyeliner and eye-shadow, lip-liner and lipstick. Clothing found in the women’s section of thrift stores, tight pants, boots with heels…
I just went back to an old email chain between my drag buddy and me, prior to my first performance, when we were bouncing ideas off of each other. I’m sure that I talked about all the gender variant singers I wanted to channel, especially David Bowie. For some reason though, my side of the email correspondence is all blank. 😦 (Otherwise I would have cut and pasted what I wrote, ten years ago.) I hope my drag partner might still have these emails. That’s disheartening that I might have lost that… (This same friend’s first 7″ record was Blue Jean.)
I definitely did David Bowie songs more than any other musician, over the years. Here is a list as best as I can remember, in chronological order:
– Ziggy Stardust (a Bauhaus cover)
– Space Oddity
– Rebel Rebel
– Breaking Glass
– Space Oddity again
– A Ziggy Stardust medley
– The Man Who Sold the World
– Let’s Dance
The first time I was asked to do drag out of context (not at a drag show), was for a David Bowie tribute night, for his birthday. I can’t remember how I got connected to that – I think through a friend. I was super psyched to have been asked. This was a show of local bands doing covers, and I was performing to a crowd that was made up of people who perhaps had never been to a drag show. It was at a bar I always had wanted to perform at – a bar that definitely does not put on drag shows. I did David Bowie as a glam rocker, and David Bowie as a mime. (He was a member of the Lindsay Kemp Mime Company in 1967.)
A different organizer put on the tribute show the next year, and it was at an even more mainstream bar, with even more out-there musicians doing covers. I did David Bowie as a glam rocker, and David Bowie in a dress. The idea to do that came from the cover of his The Man Who Sold the World record. I was mixing things up, wearing Aladdin Sane inspired make-up (see photo – I applied this make-up in the mirror before realizing it was the reverse!). Interestingly, I felt very self-conscious wearing that dress – I didn’t feel like people were going to accept that, even though it was just a costume, and David Bowie definitely would have / could have flaunted it… That performance felt stilted because of my discomfort in the dress, I think – not because of my thoughts that it didn’t do David Bowie justice.
Yesterday, after hearing the news of his death, a friend posted on my facebook wall that she thought of me when she heard the news. I made this Aladdin Sane picture my profile pic, and many other friends commented that they thought of me. I had no idea we were so connected in the minds of the people I know! That feels good! My mom even sent me an email that just said, “My condolences for your loss. David Bowie, I mean.”
I have a radio show now, and I think I’ll play all Bowie songs on the next show – play some covers, play some of my fave songs of his over the many decades he was actively making music – right up till his death. (I have yet to hear his new album…)
David Bowie, I will miss you being in this world and out of this world…
A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if I could portray Bob Dylan, as he were in Subterranean Homesick Blues. (My initial plan for “Drag King Stories” was to be chronological; obviously I’m not following that because I’m now jumping to the most recent story I have on the topic!) The friend had been invited by the local Improvement Society to give a power-point presentation at a literary/cultural hub, just up the street from me. He was going to be one of 11 people, doing flash-presentations to highlight what’s new!
His project: He is the mastermind behind a new radio station that will be hitting the airwaves by October. It’ll be run by and for the community; all funds will be raised by community efforts (as opposed to commercial, although there might be underwriters and/or sponsorship members).
So when he approached me, he said that each group presents 20 slides and a representative talks along with the images, which are on an auto-timer of 20 seconds each, for a total 6minute, 40 second presentation (per group). And the audience sits and watches each presentation, one after the other. He told me he’d already gotten permission to stray from the rules and just not use power-point or slides at all. To instead go totally lo-fi, using poster-board with words sharpied in black. Just my style!
In the past, any opportunity to be in drag and perform outside of a typical drag show format has been a total blast, and so I jumped on the chance. My friend and I hung out in his attic the Sunday before the event, listening to music, practicing, and drawing out the words with sharpie markers. He had written out a script, telling the story of the radio station thus far. I assumed a wide stance and stony expression, just like Mr. Bob Dylan. We decided in advance that I was going to have an attitude. I was just going to drop each poster onto the floor and then at the end of our 6:40, I would throw the last poster up into the air and walk off, leaving others to pick them all up.
We arrived early, and I was excited to find out we were on first. Love getting a performance out of the way and then kicking back! The audience was a bunch of young entrepreneurs / hipsters / yuppies / intellectuals. Haha. We got up there, did our thing, I walked off, and then we watched everyone else. There was an intermission with cucumber sandwiches, meats and cheeses, and tiny fingerling potatoes(?), and beer. This was, ultimately, a networking event, but I dislike that stuff, so I let my friend do the talking, and my partner and I grabbed food and beer and went to explore the building a little bit.
After the event, my partner and I went out to a bar to see a different friend’s new band. I felt really solid in my button-up shirt, vest, and sideburns. I should remember to go out “in drag,” just for fun, more often!
Also, if you wanna check out what I wrote in Part 1, it is here!
If you’d have known me in college, you’d know 1) I was fond of saying, “One day I will be a drag king” and 2) I appeared to be one of the least likely candidates ever, for such an endeavor. I was beyond shy. I had very few friends, so it’s not likely you would have know me in college anyway! I avoided people at a lot of costs – never attended parties, found the back entrances and emergency staircases to buildings so as not to walk with the masses, went to dining halls at off times, etc.
But I was mesmerized by the idea. I wanted to personify different artists. I wanted to be seen by others in this specific context, which largely meant being seen as male. Then again, I never danced. I never went to bars, night clubs, drag shows. It was all just a hypothetical idea.
Fast forward a year after graduation. I was living at home with my parents, just starting out in my career as a janitor. I had gone to a drag show once with some friends. I was starting to make friends. The way the drag kings presented themselves was enviable, but also to me, a little uncomfortable. They were so overtly macho and sexual. Wasn’t so sure about that. They were fun to watch, but could I actually do that? Still, I never ever danced, let alone grind up on strangers and gyrate on poles.
I knew of one drag king, a friend of a friend, named Maurice (K). But we had never met. She worked at a local historic theatre, so when I found myself there, with my mom, I decided to ask, does K still work here? The person replied, “I’m K!” I told her that we have a mutual friend, and it’s really cool to meet you and stuff. She said we should hang out; she told me when her next show was.
I went to that dingy dive-of-a-gay-bar; it was my first time there, and I’m sure I arrived early. The floor was black, the bar was black, the walls were black, the tiny stage was black. The only thing that seemed only slightly fabulous was the shimmery silver drapes that lined the wall behind the stage. A mix of techno and hip-hop hits blared way too loudly. A few people milled about in groups. I was there with a friend; we didn’t drink. We stood around awkwardly.
I don’t recall much about the lineup that night, but I can still picture this mysterious potential friend’s performance vividly. Maurice had on a pink blazer and a visor. Everything about him was colorful – his swagger, his movements, his outfit. I’d never heard the song before, but I was instantly in love with it. (I asked him later; it was Japan – The Unconventional. I tracked it down on record soon after, and listened to that whole album over and over and over.)
He was certainly not exuding a macho persona, and he’d tell you he’s not going for sexual overtones (although I’d argue they’re there, unconventionally). I mean, of course! There are so many styles of music from which to draw from. Not just hip-hop, country, and pop punk, which was all I ever saw from anyone else. Maybe I could do this thing, if I just stuck to what I liked, which tended toward effeminate anyway. Glam rock, new wave, post-punk, there were all sorts of things to explore. And somehow, my path let me to find this person who was already doing this thing, his way, and wanted to connect with me about it.
After the show, he asked me, “So have you thought of being a drag king? You wanna be one?” And the rest is history. (By which I mean, there’s more to come.)
David Sylvian, of Japan, looks so very effeminate, in this video, and always. Maurice was, essentially, a woman impersonating a man who looks an awful lot like a woman. It was fantastic.