Drag Kings Take a Time Out
There’s something you should know about the stage at Time Out: If you cross it during a drag king performance, you will be slapped.
The bartender issues this warning twice before the first king ever sets foot on the polished parquet placemat that passes for a stage at the tiny lesbian hangout on Bellemeade Street in Greensboro. She follows it by suggesting that anyone with problems with another customer kindly take their business elsewhere. These two cardinal rules do their job. Despite the fact that it’s Friday, the bar is packed and the crowd sufficiently lubricated, no one fights and no one crosses the stage during performances. Instead the thirstier members of the crowd carve a path to the bar through the middle of the audience. But the bartender’s edicts aren’t the only guidelines governing conduct in this shotgun show palace, a discovery I make after I spurn an invitation to dance with Chuck Duck, the evening’s second king. I’m a little shy, I say by way of explanation. “There’s no ‘shy’ in a gay bar, darlin’,” he drawls. Chuck was preceded by Tim, the first of the many cowboys who will take the stage tonight. Tim crooned a low-key number from a spot near the control booth and earned a polite round of applause. Chuck is also a cowboy — a dancing cowboy who invites anyone in the first row for a spin across the boards. Between Chuck, Tim and the rest of the lineup, there are enough 10-gallon hats and hubcap belt buckles in this joint to convince the casual observer that they’ve stumbled into a country bar. The whole tableau brings back fond memories of the Lone Star State — if it was populated by diminutive, baby faced two-steppers toting sweating mini pitchers. My friend Lara says this is the first drag show she’s ever attended that started before midnight. Most of the performers aren’t using Time Out’s small, curtained dressing room because most of them arrive in costume, cutting the prep time. The evening heats up with a rousing rendition of Keith Urban’s “Love Somebody Like You” by Devonte, a stockpot-built African American with close-cropped hair. He collects a pile of singles. Nechelle Calhoun — AKA Justin Pussylakes — worked up her routine because some of the regular performers noticed her passion for Justin Timberlake’s “My Love.” She concocted her performance out of her own moves and others culled from the internet. “I didn’t actually ever get to practice with what I’m wearing,” Calhoun says. She gestures toward her ensemble: belted pants, a vest and a striped tie. Her girlfriend, a makeup artist, helped her lay down a faux chinstrap of spirit gum dusted with eye shadow. “I used one of the brushes you use for your cheeks,” she says. “I don’t know what those are called. I don’t really do makeup.” The key to convincing facial hair is its geometry, Calhoun says. “You gotta make sure it’s straight.” Now, I haven’t seen a line dance since Texas — Dallas, actually, when, in a moment that could have been written into Peewee’s Big Adventure, an impromptu western shuffle erupted at an opening night after party. But tonight a crew of half a dozen drag cowboys known as the Desperados scoots boots across the floor to Trace Adkins’ “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.” The DJ spins pop music for 10 to 15 minutes between each performance. Which means that by midnight, we’ve already heard Katy Perry’s summer smash “I Kissed a Girl” two times. You’ll hear the same song if you visit Time Out’s MySpace page. “I guess if you have a jam, you have a jam,” Lara says. It’s late when special guest Conchita, a drag queen, sashays into the smoke-filled room for her turn with the Desperados. By now they’ve got their lids tilted back, and their sleeves rolled up to their shoulders. Conchita makes the rounds, stroking their biceps as “I Want Muscles” bleats in the background. Just before the performance, Calhoun told me how nervous she was — how nervous all of them were — performing in front of an audience. But these kings are the picture of confidence, a picture no one, no matter how thirsty, will interrupt.
To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at firstname.lastname@example.org.