It’s nearing the end of June. I arrive at my friend’s house located within the inner suburbs of my hometown in Melbourne. It’s a cold and cloudy winters day, accompanied by intermittent moments of beaming sunlight.
I knock on the front door several times with no answer. I decide to walk around the side through the old wooden fence attached at the back of the house. Walking up the cement path I hear music emitting loudly from the back door that has been left ajar. I see Britta sitting among a pile of bags and clothing, preoccupied with something in front of her.
She’s leaving for Denmark in two weeks to study a Masters Degree in Videography – I’m heartbroken to be losing my friend. This would be my last chance to speak intimately with her and document it for others to read.
It is in this interview that I aim to find out more about the life of a Drag King, and the opinions of a friend who gave me confidence within my own identity.
So what initially drew you to performing as a Drag King and why?
Well I’ve always been into performing. In high school I was in the school play and I was always really into performance art. Then as I got older I got into the queer scene and I became increasingly interested in gender, how society views gender and how you can play with that and use it as a performance in of itself. I found out there was a Drag King night [here in Melbourne] and there was an audition night – they said just show up – and so I did. So that’s how it started really.
Have you ever considered making Drag performance a full time pursuit or is it more of a hobby for you?
Oh it’s definitely just a hobby. I love performing and I love getting that energy out to the audience, but it can also be quite draining.
I know you go by various names in your personal life, I personally call you Zack – what are the names you go by and what do you prefer to be called? Why did you create these additional names?
Well Conner Lingus is my Drag name, I just thought it was a fun play on words. I started going by Zack when I first moved to Melbourne ‘cause I was questioning my gender at the time. I was considering transitioning but I wasn’t sure, so I felt that I should test the waters first. Being a Drag King actually helped me realize that I didn’t want to transition and that gender bending was just a hobby for me and it wasn’t something that I wanted to do full time.
So you realized you were more interested in being androgynous identified, with female pronouns, instead of actually changing your gender to male?
Yeah, it was just a fun thing to dress up as a dude. Drag definitely helped me understand that better. My birth name is Britta, which is what I’m going by now.
So am I calling you something that you don’t want to be called anymore?
Oh nah I’m fine with whatever. If someone asks, “What should I call you – I’ve got no idea!”, I’d say Britta. But I respond to Britta, Zack or Connor.
How would you describe your appearance in day-to-day life? How do you feel others would perceive you?
I’m quite masculine – I like to wear shirts and pants to work and even going to lesbian bars I get mistaken as a guy a lot, which admittedly kind of annoys me. If I’m not in drag then I don’t expect to be mistaken as a male, but I think it’s not just in the way that I dress; I’m sort of broad shouldered and I’m built pretty solidly, but it does help for being a successful Drag King.
Do you think that your personal style is influenced by drag?
I think it’s the other way around, I think that my interest in drag is influenced by my personal style. My first drag show I ever did I dressed up as a very effeminate gay man and performed to a very effeminate song that was really bitchy and vogue, and that was really fun. I like wearing tight jeans and tight tops and then being able to work that into my drag, it’s just so awesome.
So do you think that Drag performers are generally more gender fluid in their personal lives?
Oh absolutely. I know a couple of trans-men who started off performing as Drag Kings and then through doing Drag they realized that they were interested in being perceived as male full time and ended up transitioning. So Drag was a venue for them to explore their gender and then confirm that they wanted to be male. Whereas for me it was kind of the opposite, it was a venue for me to realize that I didn’t. So I think a lot of people get into Drag for reasons outside of the performance aspect.
And how do you perceive gender?
I think what I’ve learnt in the last few years is that gender is not as, umm – I don’t want to say important – it’s not as influential over your life as what people would have you believe. Whether you’re born male or female it doesn’t completely change your life path, and it’s sad that some societies – or aspects of our own society – think that it does.
So would you say that you define gender more from a biological standpoint or how a person might define themself?
I definitely think that gender is more how people define themselves. Like, here’s an example – if you were to ask Joe Bloggs or Jane Smith on the street, “Close your eyes and picture a woman,” and then ask them if she has long hair, if she’s straight, if she’s probably able bodied and white – I’m guessing they’re most likely going to say yes.
Most likely she’s going to fall into these categories – she’s going to be straight, ‘cause that’s just what people think of when they’re going to imagine what a woman is.
Working off that sort of mindset there are arguments for a plethora of genders, where lesbianism is a gender within itself. Because if you ask someone to picture a lesbian, they’ll picture a lesbian, but if you ask them to picture a woman they’ll picture a straight woman as a separation to what they’d imagine for a lesbian.
So sometimes you can identify as a woman but not necessarily relate to the term, and if you’re looking at gender like that by the whole variety of ways that people perceive you socially there can be a whole range of different definitions people hold and how you personally might think of yourself – it’s just so diverse.
So I know you’ve travelled around the world a fair bit. Of the places you’ve been to, which culture would you say most shares the perspective on gender that you hold?
I can’t really say Australian culture as a whole because the only place that I’ve been in Australia is Melbourne, and Melbourne is meant to be very open. It’s kind of hard to compare us to the rest of Australia – but definitely Melbourne as a city [of the places I’ve been]. There are a lot more queer resources, even the fact that there’s a clinic that caters primarily for LGBTQI people that’s just really awesome.
Was that available over in your hometown in New Zealand?
Absolutely not, I come from Auckland that is the capital city of New Zealand, which has a population of about a million. I just went to see the local GP and I had a hard time explaining to her what being a lesbian meant for my sexuality. She still got me to do pregnancy tests and she didn’t quite understand what being sexually active as a lesbian meant to her medically – she just didn’t have training or the real understanding, it was just really frustrating. So it’s definitely great being able to go to a doctor who just knows what that means.
Do you think that Kings are generally more masculine in their personal lives?
It definitely varies; the two MC’s at [the club I perform at] are quite masculine in their personal lives, but then there’s these two other King’s that are both very feminine in their personal lives. It’s interesting, their own persona and their King’s persona are dramatically different. Some Kings hardly change at all when they go and do a show, they just put on a moustache and that’s about all they have to do whereas some Kings change their entire look ‘cause they are very feminine in their personal lives.
There was this one King that came over from America a couple of months ago and I spoke to her before the show – and she’s there in her skirt and her little frilly tarpan, and then I saw him in his show and it was just amazing – he’s completely different. And not just the way he looks, but his entire energy, just like a switch had been flipped – it was really awesome to watch.
How accepting do you think society is of Drag Kings in comparison to Drag Queens?
Drag Queens have been a very public figure in the LGBTQI community, for quite a while. They’ve been at the forefront; they’ve been very visible. And I don’t think Drag Kings have been neither nearly as visible nor around as long. So it’s kind of hard to say what people in general think of Kings because a lot of people don’t realize that it’s a thing that exists.
Do you think that has anything to do with either Drag Queens having a longer standing history in popular culture or is it some sort of sexism against Drag Kings and women in some way?
Absolutely, there’s a really interesting photo of Iggy Pop where he’s in a dress and he’s quoted as saying something like, “I’m not ashamed to dress like a woman because I don’t think it’s shameful to be a woman.” And I just think that it’s seen as very outrageous for a man to put on a dress because a lot of people don’t understand why he’d demean himself and lower his social status by putting on a dress. A woman putting on pants and a suit are seen by some people as aiming for a higher social status and are climbing their way up in the world. And so they’re less threatening because they’re supposedly adhering to the idea that masculinity is what will get you to the top.
So [by being a Drag King] it’s less outrageous because people think they understand their reasoning more, even though that’s not at all where Drag Kings are coming from. If a man puts on a dress they’d be like, “Why would he do that? Why would he make a fool of himself?” and it’s much more of a spectacle – people are more interested in seeing that.
So overall do you feel you’ve been able to learn from being a Drag King in regards to your perspective on gender, sexuality and societal views? Do you think you’ve been able to become more liberal and open-minded by becoming a part of this aspect of community?
Yes, I’ve definitely been able to learn a lot about the community, and myself. As I said before Drag helped me realize that I didn’t want to transition, but I definitely think I was already pretty liberal and open-minded beforehand. I’ve always seen gender from a very liberal standpoint.