Kingdom Comes

Girls who dress and act like boys, St. Louis' drag kings get up onstage to bend and blur the line between the sexes

She did it anyway. Afterward, she stood there sweating, listening to the applause and thinking dazedly, "It is OK to be who you want to be."

The Bent Boyz made careful choices, though: They created guys who were basically nice, maybe just a little wilder than they were. They weren't anywhere near as cruel or as crude as the more extreme performances in New York and San Francisco. They didn't have names like Buster Hymen, didn't dip into S/M or shock for shock's sake.

"I feel like that's one of the ways we're Midwestern," says Lauren. "We're gentlemen."

Sweet, sensitive Paco Jr. appeals to straight women, gay men -- just about anybody.
Amy Bautz
Sweet, sensitive Paco Jr. appeals to straight women, gay men -- just about anybody.
Justin Case (a.k.a. Rosie Schuff), an old-time country & Western drag king, "gets 'em goin'" with songs such as "God Bless America" and "Angels Among Us."
Amy Bautz
Justin Case (a.k.a. Rosie Schuff), an old-time country & Western drag king, "gets 'em goin'" with songs such as "God Bless America" and "Angels Among Us."

Lauren's loud and bubbly, but her drag persona, Luke Lonewolf, is a quiet rebel, his eyes downcast and his spirit gentle. He expresses part of who she is, and she's glad she came up with him on her own. The troupe didn't even go to the annual International Drag King Extravaganza conference until months after they'd shaped their own characters, and it shows. Brodie, for example, is "probably more coy than sexy. I get embarrassed easily," admits Tricky Burns. "When I perform as Brodie, I try to project something nice and good and honest."

The raunch and mockery common among big-city drag kings "make for very entertaining shows," she adds politely, "but that's not how I get inspired."

The St. Louis gentlemen have quite a following. Kim McKelvie-Moon, bartender/ manager at The V, says the Bent Boyz "pack 'em in." Nancy Novak, owner of Novak's Bar and Grill, hired the local troupe in November to open for a national touring act of drag kings and says both shows were smashing successes. "I only wish the Bent Boyz were available more often," she adds. "Everybody loved them."

Jeanne Sevelius, another Bent Boyz founder, moved to Eugene, Oregon, this fall to do graduate work in clinical psychology. She's starting a Bent Boyz satellite troupe there because she found "no drag-king scene at all -- but a lot of interest."

Two years ago, she would have said the same of St. Louis. Jeanne was directing the Institute for Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis when Lauren, then nineteen, came back from a college conference for gay kids raving about the drag-king show and how there was nothing like that in St. Louis. They started inviting friends to join a troupe, learned to glue on facial hair and imitate male gestures and choreographed a few dance routines. They gave their first official performance a few months later, at the June 2001 PrideFest, and since then they've had more offers than time.

"St. Louis's queer community was ready," says Jeanne. "People wanted an alternative to the same old bar scene, and they were intrigued by the gender play."

After the Bent Boyz' November show, Tricky was engulfed by young women from the audience, all interested in performing. People flow in and out of the troupe, which at one point included Simon, biologically male and transitioning to female.

But they've never had a straight woman.

"I've had straight friends come to watch, and they think it's really fun," says Tricky, "but I've never even proposed the idea that they might want to perform. I don't really know why not."

Other troupe members point out that when young straight women are looking for a mate, their power comes from their femininity. Transforming into men is the last thing they want to do.

Besides, lesbians have already declared themselves outside the norm.

Breaking rules is easier for them.

Maureen clicks open Mo Faux's thin retro suitcase and pulls out a roll of duct tape. A Beatles CD. A gelatinous, anatomically correct homemade penis.

"I just made this one yesterday," she says, explaining that porn toys are too expensive, so she mixes her own gak (borax, water and Elmer's Glue and glops it into a doubled condom. "Remember, this is a flaccid penis, so it doesn't have to be huge -- unless that's part of your act." She demonstrates the creation of testicles (less gak) and the bundling of the entire package in the toe of a pair of pantyhose. "That's important, because otherwise your penis will get all linty and gross."

She rummages again. A pack of Kings bubblegum cigarettes. A black-and-white photo of a friend in a man's suit, leaning rakishly against a tampon machine. Goatee hair salvaged from her last haircut and spirit gum to glue it to her face.

"Boy panties so my dick doesn't fall out," she continues, tossing them over her shoulder. "A sewing kit because I ripped my pants once. Duct tape to reinforce the binding, and more duct tape, symbolically, to make the suitcase's compartments." She waits a beat. "Guys like duct tape."

A girl can't tape right next to her skin, though. For binding, Maureen carries control-top pantyhose with the legs cut off and a hole cut through the crotch. She sticks her head through the center, puts her arms through the legholes and uses the panty part to flatten her breasts. "You don't have to bind," she says, "but it helps me stand different, thrust my chest forward like a guy -- mostly so I'm not in pain."

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