King Me! Alberta Drag King Performance, 1997-2016: Examining Constituency Audiences and The Communicative Functions of Gender

  • Author / Creator
    Meyer, Angela M.
  • When it comes to issues of sexual diversity specifically within Canada, Alberta’s history demonstrates a track record of extreme social conservativism and intense policy battles over sexual minority rights. Prior to 2015, the Alberta government consistently “resisted the inclusion of GLBT people into public sphere policy-formation” (Bonnett, 2006, pp. 1-2), and Albertan legal and political discourses on gender and sexuality consistently placed queers and gender non-conformists as not normal Albertans (Filax, 2006; Rayside, Sabin, & Thomas, 2012). These kinds of discourses follow centuries-long history in the North American legal system’s treatment of sexual and gender minorities, which includes but is not limited to anti-cross-dressing, sodomy, and anti-gay statutes in American and Canadian contexts (Warner, 2002; Stryker, 2008; Eskridge & Hunter, 2004; Sutherland, 2000; Weeks, 1977; Jackson & Persky, 1982; Feinberg, 1996; Kimmel & Robinson, 2001).
    As a community theatre practice, we must understand drag as enmeshed within these socio-political contexts in which queers live, struggle, and survive. Drag, both queening and kinging, has always been a response to the legal and social regulation of gender and sexuality. In multiple ways, drag performers engage in drag as a way of going inside to a safer space because of their experiences in the outside world, both in public spaces and with family. Drag kings have been popularly understood as female lesbians dressing up as men; however, they can more accurately and contemporarily be described as anyone, regardless of gender or sex, intentionally performing masculinity. In this dissertation, I use performance ethnography and auto-ethnography to document the experiences of drag kings, including myself, who have performed in Alberta between 1997 and 2016, and to explore the role of drag in our lives. I interviewed two cultural elders and 19 drag kings from four drag king troupes spanning three decades investigating the following questions: What kind of transformations or realizations about identity and masculinity take place, if any, through drag king performance (and why)? How/why does drag kinging offer space for gender experimentation within the lgbttq+ community? What do these interviews reveal about the connections and/or tensions between drag kinging and transgender communities? One of the overarching storylines that emerges within these drag king stories is the experience of self-discovery, experimentation, and new possibilities through drag kinging. There was a sense that, through drag performances and engagement with drag communities, participants could safely play with transgression; many interviewees were able to increase their self-confidence as well as develop and express their politics and gender presentations/identities in daily life. For some, drag was a lifeline for survival. In this study, I employ the concepts of constituency audiences (Defraeye, 1994), liminality (Turner, 1969, 1974, 1979, 1982a, 1982b, 1985, 1986, 1992), disidentification (Muñoz, 1999), and the natural attitude (Bettcher, 2007) to analyze the experiences of these drag kings and to theorize why and how drag king performance functions as a space for personal transformation and political resistance (and/or conformity) in a distinctly anti-lgbttq+ socio-political context. In doing so, I analyze the complex impulses and effects of drag kinging as a personal, performative, and political practice. This dissertation reveals how drag kinging offers (or doesn’t offer) space for reimagining the normative communicative functions of gender; the complex layers of performativity that kings negotiate; and what it means to align oneself with certain kinds of masculinity while simultaneously critiquing them. These stories and analyses not only reveal interesting theoretical, political, and ethical tensions in the performative practice of drag kinging, but they also illustrate the value of community theatre for minority groups.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2018
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
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