Alibi V.15 No.23 • June 8-14, 2006 

Feature

The Academy of Drag

Being king requires an attention to detail

Jason Daboi completes Maria Johnson. They're not dating. They're not related. They occupy the same body, and both are essential. “I looked like a little boy most of my life and felt really comfortable in that,” Maria says. She can recall her first experience as Jason three years ago. “It was really, really scary, but it's that inner dimension, that male persona. Jason's a lot of fun.”

At first, she says, Jason was pretty scared. He wasn't sure of his sexuality, and he was kind of a young punk. These days, he's a dirty old man, she jokes. He's much more forward, more secure about being gay, and he knows what it takes to put on a stage show. Maria, who is a lesbian, spent 20 years as a soldier and a mom, never exploring the Jason side of herself. “I've always been in love with drag queens and thought they were phenomenal. I always wanted to find that for me.”

Jason was crowned Mister Pride for 2004-2005. Though there are fewer components to the transformation for a king than a queen, Maria's tried a variety of approaches for each.

Strapping ’em down: “My biggest thing is I could never get flat enough.” When Maria first started dressing in drag, she was 50 pounds lighter. Still, her breasts provided a challenge, as she is “very big-chested.” She tried ace bandages, which a lot of kings use. She tried Saran Wrap, but found it couldn't force her flat enough.

She settled on a regimen of pantyhose with the crotch and legs cut off, pulled over her chest upside-down. Then she would spread her breasts apart and duct tape the whole thing. “It doesn't hurt after the first year,” she says. After gaining the weight, the duct tape restricted her breathing, forcing Jason to scale back his dancing. Today she's settled on a binder bought off the Internet (check underworks.com for this). “It's confining, but it's not like you can't breathe or anything else.”

Smaller women can opt for sports bras or can use loose vests to cover their chests without having to strap them down, according to www.dantedifranco.com. The website also cautions kings against applying tape directly to skin, which can pull off skin or just generally get uncomfortable as the night wears on.

The hair: Dante Difranco, a famous drag king from Duluth, Minn., recommends against going for an all-over crew cut, because the smaller shape of a woman's head is revealed this way. You've got to leave something on top, the site says. Also watch out for those pixie-like bits of hair that appear in front of a woman’s ear. Instead, cut it straight across. Bangs are also a no-no, as they are more often seen on women and children, not grown men.

The facial hair: Maria used to use braided crepe wool to create stubble. It's available in 10 colors at Disco Display House and Off Broadway. It comes in a braid, which you then fray and chop to bits. Mixing two similar colors helps create a realistic look, as hair is rarely monotone. Maria applies spirit gum to her face and dabs it with pantyhose to dull the shine and make it stickier. The hair goes on in layers and is then trimmed. Maria calls this her “three-hour face.”

Since her hair has become grayer, she's begun saving her hair clippings after haircuts to use as facial hair. She cuts the clippings until they are a fine powder, and then applies them in basically the same way. This version takes only 30 minutes. Be careful to protect your clothing while you put your face on. The powder and hair will likely get everywhere and could make your clothes messy beyond repair before you go out.

The package: To pack or not to pack is a very personal question for drag kings. “In my head, it takes me to a place of being a man.” Jason sports an 8 1/2-inch dildo, but not everyone's OK with adding a penis. Maria's clear that she doesn't want to transition full-time into a man. “I'm all woman,” she says, and at first she was really concerned about messing with her femininity. “You ask yourself, 'Am I impersonating a man? Is that OK? Or am I becoming a man?”

It all relates back to how our culture copes with gender. “It's one of those things we're taught as children, to be one side of gender or the other, as opposed to gender fluid, where there is no gender.”

If you want to pack but don't care to do it with a dildo, condoms and hair gel can make a convincing penis. Fill a condom with gel, but make sure to double bag it. Two more condoms can create testicles, and pantyhose can tie the whole thing together. A jock strap holds it in place.

The clothes: For a king, especially one who's wearing a brace, layers are very important. Jason wears a T-shirt underneath his evening wear to cover everything up. Clothing can help with comfort, too. Jason wears his dildo over a pair of bicycle shorts and under a pair of underwear to keep it secure. He sports all different kinds of clothes, though when he's performing classic lounge-style songs, he makes sure to wear one of his two tuxes. You can’t beat his spangled jacket-and-pants combo that he uses for his Elton John impersonation.

The attitude: Maria's voice drops an octave, and she can feel herself becoming Jason. Most important, though, is to have a good time. “If you do drag, make sure you're having fun, because it's too painful if you're not.”