All Over the Map
The many moods of International Drag KingCommunity Extravaganza 8
Dragdom, the International Drag KingCommunity Extravaganza's Friday-night open mic at Emo's, was a conference party, like any other: Conventioneers drank, smoked, danced, cracked up, made out, cruised people who live thousands of miles away, and floated noncommittally around the trade booths; a striptease drove all the young dudes crazy; ladies and (mostly) gentlemen courted and strutted in carefully rehearsed, karaoke-ish lip-synch routines, performing pageants of love, lust, loss, jockdom, infanticide, Kelly Clarkson, and network news. Okay, maybe it got a little weird (in a good way) there toward the end, with Black Betty and her besotted love child, the draft-card burning, and the sailor/cowboy/leather queen/Scooby-Doo/Carrot Top pastiche performed to a "Faith/Sweet Home Alabama" mash-up. But, make no mistake, even at Emo's, what took place at IDKE8 was work: performative, pensive, pleasurable, goofy/cool, transgressive, gender-twistin', rump-shakin', workin'-it work.
And, of course, it was not a convention like any other: IDKE is fairly unique in its combination of performance and academic discourse sometimes in the same event as well as being about as "outsider" as it gets. On the other hand, to the extent that there even is a radical feminist conversation these days, it's pretty insistently taking place around the subject of gender not the direction some of us thought things would go, but here we are: a moment when feminist and queer culture find it essential to examine, and embody, notions of masculinity as thoroughly as we have looked at femininity in the past. Keynote speaker Leslie Feinberg a journalist, activist, and author (Stone Butch Blues, Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue) who prefers the use of "ze" instead of "he" or "she" and "hir" instead of "him" or "her" took the position that struggles for gender diversity and expression are inextricable from other battles against oppression and are older than most. Hir speech traced those struggles from the Weimar Republic through the present day and drew historical comparisons between the rise of National Socialism and our current period of "imperialist racist colonial war for empire," moving through the involvement of the abolitionist movement and the Stonewall riot in this country in the process, and concluding with an inclusive, though potentially exhausting, mandate: "We may use the language of nobility, of princes and kings, but the only nobility we should aspire to is to fight each other's oppression."
Talk and walk came together in Performing Blackness, a workshop designed to "address issues of drag and racial performance, specifically performing Black characters and cultures" and to work on ways to "interfere with ... dominant representations of Blackness," according to the IDKE program book. Led by Bill Dagger (Matt Richardson) and Nepharious Vulvaleen (Nia Hamilton), both of all-black, Oakland, Calif., drag king troupe Nappy Grooves, the workshop kicked off with Dagger and Vulvaleen performing to 50 Cent's "Candy Shop." In a purposefully loaded vignette that included a willing Dagger being whipped, blindfolded, and in collar and chains, Vulvaleen's powerfully provocative character flipped the script on Dagger's 50, transforming the hot-but-misogynist hit into a blistering paean to respect, masculine receptivity (thanks, Cvetkovich), and feminine power. You could hear a pin drop at the fade-out, and Dagger noted that usually he hears "hoots and hollers," not silence, when they perform the piece; nervous laughter quickly evolved into scintillating, nerdy discussion (including a discussion of the existence and erotic qualities of "black nerds") in which all manner of cerebral kicks were had. The group conversation broke up at the bell and become a series of conversational dyads, after which participants presumably wandered off to that night's crowning showcase, where many more thrills lay in store.