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Part 1: Hello Unicorns: Gender Non-conformity & The Drag Kings

A personal narrative in the life of gender non-conformity and the importance of Drag Kings, queer education and educating one's self on the realness of all peoples--even those that are as though a unicorn.

The dizzying phenomena of the binary genders infiltrates my spirit. There is not just a third gender as ancient Rome and Greece would suggest—there are infinite genders. 

I feel like people (mostly cis-gendered people, people who identify with the gender assigned at birth) read about the spectrum of gender, hear it on the news, watch of it in a show, but I see that the spectrum of gender is read with the scope of a question, the reader finishing their short view into a world that flows with only more questions. Meanwhile the truth without the visibility—the vastness of genders—becomes a sort of unicorn invisible until otherwise…

_________________________

“Ah, the mustache is a little mediocre,” says my 28-year-old brother Keith brushing mud dust down my sideburns. He works for the Department for Environmental Protection, but is currently assisting in crafting my drag king persona, Sweltering Kellington.

He brushes my beard with an odd eyebrow crayon my mother planted in my hand just moments before. “Here…” she says, “…this is a lip pencil.” AKA the pencil I will use to deepen the crease lines above my brows and below my eyes. I will use these simple products to roughen my skin, aging myself into a deepened societally associated version of masculinity.

“See. Like this, Keith.” I demonstrate taking the lip pencil while tracing it along the lines of my face. I, accentuating the aging brute of my soft mug smile. 

“Aha! I understand now,” he admires.

I buff out the exactness of the lines I’ve drawn, and with suddenness, I resemble someone I know very well. I reflect him more than I ever have before. I step into the room of my womb roommate, his eyes a mirror. I could pass as my twin, born male, identifying male, straight. I am ablaze of many emotions. I feel a sort of richness—an alignment within my soul I’ve not (with certainty) stumbled upon before. I think he felt uneasy by our exactness. As if, my physical transformation protruded my gender non-conformity beyond what he’s been able to see in my gender expression. Parts of my insides seeping out of my outsides. He hugged me after staring at me for a bit. He didn’t say anything, he just hugged me. 

***

“How do you feel in drag, Lana?” asks the co-founder of Boundless Identity Outlet, my partner in activism, my soul sibling, Steph Salvador. She too has just finished experimenting with her Drag King look. A golden beard accents their already bright smile. We will be presenting a workshop about Drag King History and Culture in just three days time with special Drag King guests, Mr. Lee VaLone and Ash Blight. This is a new frontier in expression for us.  

“I feel as if this part of my gender expression has been in me all along. This gives me more power to love myself beyond myself,” I tell her.

“I feel more power not because I feel like a man but because I feel my gender queerness mounting in assertiveness. I feel like my ability to express myself emitting a rainbow—as if a super hero.

Lana Leonard and Steph Salvador of Boundless Identity Outlet’s first time in drag

My special ability is to separate the vices of the gender binary, that men and boys do this and girls and women to that. The idea of exactness towards behaviors also manifested in society behooves me—it’s an expectation. A mind control I am untouched by—that I have rejected since birth: 

Do not control my color attachments; do not minimize my existence as only cute; do not force the five-year-old imagination of I to drive a mini cooper when I want to drive a red hot phoenix red convertible; do not conclude that I am not as tough as you because I was born with a vagina. How dare you society and how dare you use the word pussy as a means to say I or one or many stands weaker than the rest. I am not women, I am not man, I am a person who can form a baby in my uterus if I should so decide.  ~These are pieces of self I had learn to trust, assert and advocate for. These words have cemented in my actions and thoughts over time… as I’m sure they have for many of you.

Presenting in Drag continues the truth: gender binaries are the biggest crock of shit sold in a store near you. Nothing in the world is that black and white—why would gender be? Steph agrees. We feel a sense of victory, proof that the gender binary categorical is a radical farce to control, follow markets, and scapegoat around stereotypes. We are breaking the binary—that is what I feel; I feel anew, something unlike my previous life called female, baby girl, woman at birth. Maybe womxn is in me but it is not me. I am too variant—complex—to the simplification of two… And so are you.

***

I worry though. These days, children are grappling with an influx of information traveling within various devices while they develop. Are we as adults confusing them? Is it our right to insist what we ourselves (the gender bending, non-binary, gender-nonconforming, transgender individuals) have and are experiencing? Are we adding to this influx of information and how do we know? 

I ask these questions not out of doubt. In fact, I place a solid abso-fucking-lutely on the discussion of queerness and gender queerness to children and students. I am firm that the discussion of gender identity, expression and queerness are of a great service to the young mind. Those are the minds I want to do right by. Therefore, these discussions are a necessity.

Gender lives without a definitive. The confusing part builds when gender is made to be one or the other—boy or girl—at birth. Distinctly placing children in the role they should be rather than what they will eventually form to be. 

***

“Get into your groups—have a discussion,” claps an energized Magic Dyke AKA Steph. Their non-binary persona radiates into the room. Their gold glitter beard contrasts the depth of blue that buttons up their torso. Reluctant to socialize, the students scatter. 

“What do you think about gender?” I pose to two workshop attendees. A short haired 15-year-old takes their swimming eyes into mine, “I don’t know where I am on that.”

I felt guilty for a second, as if they felt like they had to know and I was imposing on their process. However, I know all too well that the constant traveling of self is a part of a journey. How I longed for someone to ask me what I thought about my preconceived idea of self. 

“Well, perfect answer. You don’t have to know anything. This is purely to say that it is okay to question gender and self as we do know it.” 

The teen and their friend smile at me. They nod their heads and tell me about how visibility and friends make them feel. We discuss the way we can better advocate for each other in our friend groups just by speaking up. 

“Some of my friends just don’t get it.” 

I relate heavily to this. The thing that rocked my socks after high school was the freedom to take myself into any space I wanted to and answer these questions in the physical community of my personal universe. 

The group of 70 something students have been explorative—here to learn more than they are to state a direct opinion or knowledge. However, they are very knowledgeable and bold, interactive and FUN. 

One student says they don’t care about gender, that people should do what ever they want. They discuss their grandfather and how he dressed in drag. They tell us about all the drag attire that consumes their attic. We were all in awe. How beautiful, I thought.

Drag Kings are some of the most explorative individuals I have (in recent time) experienced. There are no rules in the art of expression except respect. And it appears that this vast realm of Drag King expression, in of itself, is what fascinates this group of students. 

One student stands tall in the room. They except the notion of respect over understanding, for maybe they don’t know much about who they are going to be or are in this moment, but they want to learn about drag. They want to learn about us.

“How long does it take you to dress?” asks a student to the guest host, Drag King, Mr. Lee Valone—

“It all depends on the look.” Mr. Lee Valone is a 32-year-old gender non-conforming transgender individual of Brooklyn. Their pronouns are he/him/his. Lee discusses how some looks can take upwards to five hours to put on, while others, less. He discusses the detailing of makeup and the preparation of dressing for the length of the night.

Mr. Lee VaLone in Gandalf drag

Ash Blight, our fellow Drag King guest host, dear friend to Lee, discusses their persona, the way that they do not dress in the mystical dream land of femininity outside of their drag. Ash is a trans-masculine non-binary individual, their pronouns are they/them/theirs and their drag does not coincide with their gender expression outside of drag.  Ash says they are shy, that they always liked the idea of performing but never thought they’d be here

The students are in awe dressing in Ash Blight and Mr. Lee Valone’s drag pieces. Mesmerized by the work that’s gone into Lee’s wardrobe, the students hold each piece with honor to its owner. Lee invited two students to keep the matching twinkling gold blazers he had. “I’ll never take this off,” the friends had said. Pride echoing within the room as if a part of something much larger than the questions held in their heads. We all took photos together, a ritualistic reflection. 

Student wearing Lee’s gold blazer

Steph, Lee, Ash, and I stand in the room smiling. Lee and Ash have spent hours on train just to be here and are ready to strip the layers of make-up from their face. As we wave our goodbyes, you can hear the faint trail of,

“I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life.”

***  

In this celebration of brazen voices, I conclude in memorial. As we near the end of 2019 let’s take a pause in life to remember the lives of intersectional Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming individuals & POC names we will be honoring this year as we discuss visibility, rights, safety, the violence and murder tolling the community each year, here: HRC website.

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