I wrote a personal story about drag kings and being artistic with gender expression for the Belgian magazine Nina and it got published yesterday. If I didn't have a working history with Nina, it might have taken a while for such a subject to be discussed in such a medium, but mutual trust can speed things up and I'm happy to share the translated version here with you.
Everyone knows drag queens, but you read it correctly: this week we are delving into
drag kings. Several events triggered the drag king discovery of journalist Evelien Delgouffe. A break-up, sexual harassment and Beyoncé. They all led to her putting her femininity aside in due course in search of answers.
Evelien: “It is a quest, travelling on the gender spectrum. I have always been a rather feminine woman. Striking haircuts, a lot of make-up, always a high heel under my calves … From an early age, I was very expressive about my gender identity. I never questioned other gender identities, I just felt comfortable as a woman. But somewhere around my 28th year of existence that started to change. Suddenly, my expressiveness with my own gender started to get the better of me. It was a time in my life when I had to deal with a lot of sexual harassment and sexism, a time when I suddenly felt very reduced as a woman. I got the most disgusting slurs thrown at me on the street and I started to pay a lot attention to the whole ordeal. One summer I only wore jeans and T-shirts. Not once a dress or a top. I even wore a bra that flattened my breasts. I wanted to be invisible. It was a fight against the laws of being lascivious. I felt disillusioned and it was as if I had put myself in that predicament, because I had been so vain and enjoyed being a woman so much. I was completely dislocated.”
“Drag kings are often thought to be merely a caricature of the man, but it goes so much deeper.”
MY ALTER EGO
“I had just suffered a devastating breakup and heard Beyoncé repeat the words: ‘If I were a boy, I think I could understand’. I suddenly had to examine everything, put myself under the microscope and dissect. Who am I, really? If I have so many accumulated emotions and questions, what do I do about them? Many wanderings later I moved to Berlin, somewhat at random. The capital of techno and drugs, but I found refuge in country music and drag. One evening, I went to a café where a drag queen from Israel was lip syncing in all the languages of the world. She put on such an extraordinary show and put femininity on such a pedestal, that I was knocked off my feet. I discovered in the world of drag queens another place to embrace femininity. My alter ego FauxKatya was born a few days later. That way, I could be a woman again without any shame. Gradually, I discovered something like drag kings. At first I was sceptical: ‘Why would I ever want to pretend to be a man, my almighty suppressor? But that attitude turned out to be wrong. I discovered the drag king collective ‘Venus Boys’ that did nothing in the classical sense of the word and where every representation of masculinity was possible, beyond the conventional. By stepping away from my gender, I found a way to heal my traumas, disappointments and broken heart.”
“When my mum said I was a beautiful boy, that did something to me.”
“That first time in ‘boydrag’ I was surprised at how quickly I could get rid of my femininity. Until then I had only known occasions where I ‘had’ to shave my legs, but suddenly I had a reason to let go of body hair. I had wrapped my torso in Tesa tape (not the healthiest way to bind) and borrowed clothes from a friend. It was as if I had given birth to a younger brother. I could not believe it was me. Because I had started out as a drag queen, I already had a name: FauxKatya, so for my other exploits I just became ‘Faux’. The sense of family I found with the other boys was instant and magical. So far from home I had found a diverse group of people who had been drawn to each other by like-minded experiences and ideas and from whom I could learn so much.
LESS MARGIN FOR ERROR
“Drag kings are often expected to be mere caricatures of men: the macho man, the rapper, the construction worker. But being a drag king cuts so much deeper than a cheap laugh or the best illusion. There can be entire monologues, meaningful catharses. Seeing drag kings at work has given me a new respect for men. How they have less margin for error, are not expected to burst into tears in public and statistically die earlier. By imposing rigorous gender expectations and patterns onto people, you create a lot of trauma. And traumatised people in turn create traumatised people.”
“Drag kings still have a long way to go in Belgium, but when I see how the drag king community in America, England and France among others is growing, and what the drag king collective I am in has achieved in the difficult year of 2020, I see a bright future ahead. 2020 was going to be our year, we were going to do a fantabulous show in a Berlin movie theatre and we were even booked for a ball ball with Conchita Wurst, but because of corona all of that got cancelled at the last minute. Yet our collective continued to birth new members, magazines such as VICE and also Tagesspiegel devoted articles to us, we performed countless of shows on streaming platforms. We were able to reach out to people all over the world from our living room. I think the lockdown at the beginning of 2020 was a great opportunity for many young people to experiment with gender and identity, from the safety of their own bedroom, supported by their peers on the internet.”
“I also have to confess: when my mum said I was a beautiful boy, that did something to me. It was an unconditional love and confirmation that came from it that touched me. Knowing she loves me regardless of my many guises.”
“That first time in ‘boydrag’ I was surprised at how quickly I could get rid of my femininity.”
“No matter what kind of drag you’re into, whether it’s drag king, drag queen, everything in between or beyond that: I can recommend it to everyone to go on a gender quest – even if it’s just once. I have already transformed a few friends from head to toe and each time it is like turning on a light. Time after time, the attitude changes, the way they speak, certain personality traits come more to the foreground. And if it is so easy to channel masculinity or femininity, how much more evidence do we need that gender is bogus? ‘We are all born naked and the rest is drag’, is what drag queen phenomenon RuPaul has been preaching for years now. We were all born naked and immediately our sex was linked to an identical gender identity and we grow up with pink sugar beans and dolls for girls, blue balloons and toy cars for boys. That first frame of reference is so strong that it will determine the rest of our lives until we die. Unless you step away from it and discover that there are bloody corners and secret passages in yourself that you had never discovered before. And you can do that, at any age. It is an incredibly powerful thing, almost spiritual even. And no, I am not talking about walking around with a birdcage and putting a lampshade on your head to join the ‘Voil Jeanette’ procession at Aalst Carnival. That is more of a disgrace to women and the gay community than a celebration. But I have to agree with the people of Aalst on one thing: Iedereen Ajuin! (Everyone Onion, we would be the translation I guess?). We are all a bulbous plant with more underlying layers than we think and we can make ourself and others cry a good deal by peeling off those layers one by one.”