Randy Marshall knew that if he wanted Ottawa’s drag kings to leave the sidelines, he had to take the city by storm. He decided this could be accomplished only if the kings had their very own troupe.
A year ago, drag queens dominated the scene. Now, Marshall and Ottawa’s drag kings have carved out a niche of their own.
Appropriately named the Capital Kings, the group has been performing Sunday nights at The Lookout Bar since January.
On a recent Sunday, guests arrive early, taking coveted front-row seats. Others dance and invade the stage.
Jasper Cox, co-founder of the troupe, says drag king shows typically involve more audience participation than drag queen performances.
“We’ll get off the stage and dance with different members of the audience,” he says.
True to his word, Cox seductively approaches members of the audience, gazing directly into their eyes while he sings.
One woman says she thinks the shows are an integral part of Ottawa’s lesbian scene. She comes every week.
Cox, who moved to the capital from Toronto, cites Ottawa’s quiet and “conservative” nature as the reason it didn’t previously have a troupe. Contrast that to Montreal, which has had the Dukes of Drag since 2006, and Toronto, which, he says, has four nights of drag king performances every week, each at a different venue. Even Edmonton, with a smaller population than Ottawa, has the Alberta Beef Drag Troupe, founded in 2007.
Neil Massey, events coordinator at The Lookout, thinks another reason the scene didn’t flourish until now is that people think drag kings are merely dressing in regular street clothes.
“When a drag queen comes in, you know she’s the drag queen,” he says.
Ottawa’s drag king scene blossomed after Marshall was crowned Mr Capital Pride in 2011 — making him only the second crowned king at a pageant that has run for 17 years. Marshall recalls a promise he made to himself at the time. “I thought, ‘If there’s one thing I’m going to do, I’m going to start a drag king night.’”
Marshall soon approached Cox, who shared his enthusiasm. They met with Massey, who has been organizing The Lookout’s drag queen performances since 2005. Despite the long wait, Massey says he always had the drag kings in the back of his mind and wanted to create an event that would involve them.
Meetings took place in September 2011, and the troupe was born in December.
Massey says he’s happy that local lesbians now feel more included in a scene that had been predominantly male.
“It’s cool for the girls — they have a place to come on Sunday now.”
Massey says the drag king scene is also more welcoming than the queen scene, which has forced him to draw the line certain evenings. “If they could, the kings would let anyone perform,” he says with a laugh.
So is Ottawa really that conservative?
“We are more conservative, but it’s obviously working here, and people are enjoying it,” Massey says.