Montreal performance collective The Dukes of Drag — coming to Ottawa to perform with Sexual Overtones in Tales from the Strypt on Dec 5 — is “not just about cocks and humping,” says troupe member Mitch Mitcham. Though there’s a lot of that, too.
“We really support people exploring their gender, doing their own thing with it, whether it’s drag kinging or genderfucking or transitioning, all that stuff,” says Rod Screwheart. “We just want to educate.”
To that end, their website shares tips on how to become a drag king. “You’re interested in gender diversity for yourself?” asks Johnny Cox. “Well, why don’t you put a little bit of mascara on your ’stache?”
This cooperative, do-it-yourself spirit is the collective’s foundation. In the fall of 2006, after performing in a drag king contest at Meow Mix, Dukes co-founder Gary Dickinson networked with fellow contest participant Dirk Van Dyk to create an email list for experienced and aspiring drag kings in Montreal. The response was overwhelming.
“Dress-up was always something I loved,” says Cox, explaining his attraction to the group. “I went through different phases from five-year-old tomboy to a 20-year-old trying to be a woman. And being Johnny feels less like dragging than being my 20-year-old self.”
Responding to the critique that the “masculine side” that drag kings portray often represents the worst stereotypes of manhood, Screwheart says, “For me, a lot of dragging is about being convincing. A friend of mine put it so well: ‘The fact that biological women can dress as men and reproduce stereotypical characteristics of men and pass that way and really represent, that’s radical.’ That’s one thing that really strikes me. If I can pass by acting in this really stereotypical, macho way, that’s amazing.”
“We’re not just gender performance artists,” Mitcham says. “We’ve had a native switch dancer. We have people of different sexualities, obviously, and different genders, different sizes, different nationalities and backgrounds. Some of our members are trans and they’re exploring dual or tri or however many multi-sexualities all in one. I think it’s important to say that we make a conscious effort to be inclusive and to challenge the audience about what would be in a drag king show.”
Apparently, their audience is up for that challenge. The Dukes get a huge turnout at their Montreal shows, and they were part of a sold-out performance at the Bronson Centre during this year’s Pride celebrations. They’ve even coined a name for their enthusiastic fans: King Blings.
Ironically, Mitcham began hanging out with the Dukes as a King Bling. “My original connection was definitely to try and get busy with some of the drag kings!” says Mitcham.
In addition to King Blings, who are usually female, Mitcham says, “We’ve gotten great feedback from dudes. One guy said to us, ‘I didn’t think I could get turned on watching a bunch of drag kings, but that was hot.’“