In praise of drag kings

In Columbus, drag queens get all the attention and I don't begrudge them their shine. My heart, however, will always be with the drag kings.

There aren't many stages where Columbus kings can shimmy and strut, but that changed last weekend. From May 9-12, Luster Dela Virgion hosted the International Masculine Gender Spectacular like Columbus' own Billy Porter. A living legend, Luster has been serving looks while serving the LGBT community for decades. This weekend was one more gift to us.

On Friday night, Santana Romero, a drag king from Toledo, held the crowd spellbound while he danced to Bruno Mars, moving with a smooth sexiness the pop star could only dream of emulating. If the world were fair, it would be Santana walking the red carpet. Or maybe not. The king has a way of making you feel like there's nothing he'd rather do with his immense talent than share it with queer and trans people.

That's the power of shows like the Spectacular: The entertainment is for us. Neither bachelorette parties nor TV producers have discovered drag kings. Let's promise to never tell them.

At the Spectacular, you didn't need a college degree to participate in a sophisticated conversation about queer and trans politics. Apollo Vidra wore an otter onesie to do a joyful dance to ragtime that turned into an angry strip tease to Alanis Morissette's “You Oughta Know.” Wearing shell pasties and a fur thong, he criticized toxic masculinity in gay communities.

Ennis F.W. dressed as a toy soldier and marched down the runway holding a sign with facts about U.S. military spending. He thrust his hips to Edwin Starr's “War.” He hit every beat of the song with military precision. Then, the music dropped away and the king pantomimed accepting an envelope from the U.S. government addressed to the military. When he opened it, glitter and dollar bills poured out.

The music switched to “Born to Be Wild,” as he stripped down to camo boxers and an American flag headband. For the length of his performance, it was 2001 again, a time when drag was radical and queer and trans communities marched against George W. Bush's wars. I nearly cried in the middle of the bar.

The first International Masculine Gender Spectacular was a triumph – and against great odds. Every year, subversive spaces like the Spectacular are harder to find. Sometimes I feel that we're losing the parts of our culture I love the most. So, as long as they're still here, let's hear it for the boys, the bois and the boiz.