JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Drag Kings on Tour (Director: Sonia Slutsky) - May 24, 2004
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Drag Kings on Tour

4 4
80 min.

Reviewed at the 2004 Inside Out Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival
On the road to “gender fluid” understanding

“I forgive myself for not fitting in and blame the world for lack of clarity.”

With these few words, Neeve (Pat Riarch) sums up the salient points of Sonia Slutsky’s first-rate documentary that captures the lives, loves and personal liberation of a troupe of Drag Kings as they travel their “Kingdom Come Tour” from New York to Toronto making sixteen stops in just three weeks.

Neeve is also the organizer of this ambitious project where everyone pitches in with the driving, cleaning up and even the nasty chore of emptying the on-board septic tank of the Coachmen RV that doubles as their wheels and living quarters. But even Kingdoms have friction. On just the third stop in Washington D.C., the host King, Ken Las Vegas (Kendra Kuliga) is voted off the trip. “It’s tough being with a lot of people all the time,” laments the popular star as she/he prepares to take stage at Club Chaos. Then in a frank exchange with Luster (Sile Singleton) we learn that Ken “doesn’t know how to play together.” Exit, no hard feelings.

Much of the video focuses on the reaction of parents to their gender-fluid offspring. In Milwaukee, Neeve’s folks are cheered enthusiastically by the delighted audience. Dad was philosophical “I accept that everyone is different,” while Mom spoke for thousands in similar situations with the telling understatement “We knew she wasn’t a typical daughter.”

Luster’s parents were less supportive as she came out but chose to use the occasion of the film crew and hometown performance to, finally, catch her act. When pressed as to why he’d waited until now to come, Dad said it all: “I don’t care to see one [Drag King show], just like I don’t care for drag racing.” Her mother’s comments “The hurt, that that child was fading away,” and then, years later after realizing that she could not make her daughter be anything but herself “I’ll always love you, that’s when we first came together,” should be required viewing for any parent who is struggling with the reality that “there are probably more than two sexes in the world.”

The RV plumbing advisor in North Carolina states bluntly that he thought homosexuality is wrong but also had the wisdom to admit that “I have plenty of [moral] issues in my own life [to deal with] before I correct someone else.” That ray of hope was soon put behind a dark shadow as the camera found a homestead proudly flying a confederate flag and a skull and crossbones.

Carlos Las Vegas (Reece Lagartera) is in hormone therapy and speaks candidly about his desire for more masculinity but prefers not to be labelled one way or another. In a hilarious sequence where genitalia is the topic, Carlos confides “If I had a penis for a day, I’d play with it, and just look at it.”

The performances of the Kings are generally fun with Christopher Noel (Noelle Campbell Smith) stripping with style and heat for the hometown crowd jammed into Toronto’s Drag King HQ: Crews. But the music, “faces,” and off-beat poetry “My vagina was punched when I played with the boys,” take a back seat to the more considerable achievement of honestly delving into the issues and ideas of gender no matter where one is on their personal journey.

The perfect illustration came after their performance at the prestigious Womyn’s Music Festival when it was revealed by an organizer that the Kings had previously been turned down because they acted like men. A couple of aging patrons said it differently, one admitting that “I feel threatened as a feminist.” But later allowed that the Drag Kings of the twenty-first century, were not dissimilar to the radicals of her era. Point taken. Tour on! JWR

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