Posted by: kaleidophonic | November 17, 2011

Hard Workin’ Man (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Inner Drag King)

It’s Thursday.

Today is a big day.

Today I am Wellend Dowd, my drag king alter-ego, and I’m going to be performing my first drag king stage act.

Decked out in construction boots, tool-belt, and hard-hat, I will do my best sexy man-dance to the bluesy hammering of early Captain Beefheart.


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Playing with gender and blurring the lines between masculine and feminine is something I’ve done, in some way or another, throughout most of my life. But this wasn’t always a fun thing for me. Growing up as a tomboy meant I was a target for ridicule and hurtful comments, simply because I didn’t fit into traditional gender roles. It used to really bother me when people told me that I looked like a boy – because I had internalized all the shame society told me I should feel about occupying an ambiguous place in the gender binary. I wasn’t able to embrace my inner man until I had wrestled with some angry inner demons, and until I found a community that celebrated my butch/boi/gender queer traits as something desirable, rather than deprecating them.

Now I celebrate my androgynous identity and revel in the power that I feel in knowing I am challenging an antiquated and repressive model of gender. Man & Woman are not two separate, absolute, categories. Men can be feminine and women can be masculine, and both can be both or even neither. What I’m trying to say here is this: fuck the gender binary. It binds us all to restrictive definitions of who we are supposed to be, what we are supposed to do, and even who we are supposed to be attracted to.

I don’t usually talk much about my personal life on this blog, because frankly its none of anybody’s business. But I wanted to post some of the other songs I considered as backing tracks for my drag king act, and somehow I felt this necessitated a few words about my own gender politics. Also, listening to these songs in the context of queering or blurring gender creates a radically different listening experience.

Think about it. How does Muddy Waters’ “I’m a Man” take on new meaning when it is performed by Erykah Badu? Or by a butch lesbian? Or a trans-guy? Or a flaming queen? Try to listen to the Beatles “I Wanna Be Your Man” from the perspective of someone who may not fall into traditional categories of ‘normal’ masculinity, yet who is claiming the masculine prerogative nonetheless. You can do the same for the Ramones “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”. In fact, the rock and roll back catalog, constructed as it was mostly by men assuming a hyper-masculine “rock” posture, provides a million opportunities for queer re-invention.


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Drag kings have long known that songs such as these are the perfect backing tracks for their gendered performance pieces. These songs place masculinity front and centre, and therefore are perfect targets for drag acts – acts that use camp, satire, and parody in order to throw gender performance into a new light. Thinking about these songs through queer listening and watching drag performances to these tunes helps to displace normalized masculinity by revealing the tenuous nature of the surface trappings that help hold this masculinity together.

But I digress. This discussion has gotten way too theoretical and not nearly enough fun! So check this out: one of my favorite drag king vids from youtube. Richard B. Grande, Philadelphia’s Mr Drag King 2003, does a reverse strip-tease to ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man.”


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That should feed your imaginations for the next few days…

See you then.

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Responses

  1. I super cheer for Wellend.
    And I looooove the academics of all this too. Pop music studies here you come!!


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