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 keeps a light and a mirror inside the suitcase. "I had to change in a closet once," she explains, too young to catch the irony.

Dressed, Mo Faux sets a fedora on his head and tilts it forward. He strides around the room, his hands low on his hips, head nodding, gaze slanted down. Then he sits down, throwing himself into the chair and slouching back, his legs apart, his elbows angled out. "This," he announces, "is taking up space. It's very important."

Something else has changed, too: the slow smile that lights up Maureen's face when she's shared an idea, the quick smile of response, the mischievous grin of complicity -- all gone.

Amy Bautz
Luke Lonewolf, who manages the Bent Boyz troupe, tries not to smile.
Amy Bautz
Luke Lonewolf, who manages the Bent Boyz troupe, tries not to smile.

"Mo works very hard to preserve a badass face," she says later. "You've got to protect your territory."

She's read the rules, as presented by Jim Cross, one of Diane Torr's personae, on behalf of the American Society of Men: First, territory: Walk into a room as if you own the ground under your feet. Rule two: Stop smiling. "It's important that you allow no way that somebody can permeate you." Rule three: "Stop apologizing. As a man in a man's world, you are right." Rule four: Speak slowly; let 'em wait. If a woman asks an unnecessary question, there's no need to answer -- just "look at her with an air of bemused tolerance."

It's working.

Straight women have seen Mo's picture and pronounced him hot; gay friends have told him he's "almost cute enough to fuck." Mo likes the attention. And Maureen likes the confusion. "It's causing people to question their perceptions of gender," she says, "and also question the idea that a person can ever be attracted to only men or women. When I find drag kings attractive, I wonder if I could ever find a man attractive. Because just as gender cannot be either/or, sexuality cannot be boxed in."

As she talks, she flips idly through the Drag King Book, heavy on graphic photos, leather and props, full of genderfuck and the other sort, too. Her mom called the book "pornographic" and warned her not to carry it about in public.

"It's not really dangerous unless people look inside," notes Maureen. "Otherwise they'll probably assume it's about the royalty in some weird country. People like making excuses."

Overall, she says her mom's been cool: "My dad -- people always ask what he thinks. We've never really had a heart-to-heart about it. But sometimes I'll be walking around the house in drag -- when you're bound you can't breathe as well, so it's good to practice someplace safe -- and he's just, like, 'Oh, hi!' I think he just doesn't quite know what to say. We did talk once about the alleged Gospel of Thomas ... the part where Jesus said there would be a time when gender doesn't matter" (a time when "the male will not be male nor the female be female," by one translation of the recently discovered text).

The mirror ball spins, shooting sparks of light at a draped rainbow of multicolored curtains. "The Bent Boyz!" yells the emcee, and the crowd goes wild. A tall dude in camouflage pants takes center stage, joined by a gang of guys. Their arms swing loose from the shoulders, their heads nod loosely as car toys. One guy's lanky, and when he slouches, his chest looks almost concave.

The music speeds up and one performer drops to a squat, kicks out like a Russian. Another does a shoulder stand, and, for a second, those are a woman's hips, the curves outlined when gravity tugs the baggy, saggy-crotched jeans into place.

Jay Walker dances out and looks down at the audience, slant-eyed and knowing. He ejects each word of the song from a mouth taut with rage, muscles pushing at the air, face the tribal mask of an angry, sexy god.

A woman in a backless pink dress and dangly earrings comes up with a tip, slides it into his waistband and kisses him. To the heterosexuals in the audience, the scene looks right, comfortably seductive -- until they remember that the he's a she. So maybe the she is a lipstick lesbian? Wait -- she could just be bisexual. Or a male-to-female transsexual. And by now the next act's starting, and what does it matter, anyway?

The categories are loosening.

"My friend Randy was voted homecoming queen at Soldan," offers Maureen. "He got a tiara and everything." A lesbian couple was voted "cutest couple" in a suburban Chicago high school. Cross-dressers are testing school rules across the country. Bisexuality's been vaunted as hip for so long now, it's almost boring. Gay and lesbian teens are experimenting sexually with each other, just to see what it feels like. In San Francisco, a growing subculture of dykes style themselves as young gay men with pretty-boy hair.

It's called fluidity.

But trail a finger through the watery new world and you'll cut it on bits of mortar and shrapnel.

The war's not over. And every time a category is smashed, somebody inside the walls fires back a missile.

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