Sure, Norah Vincent already did it for her book Self-Made Man, but that didn't stop Slate's Emily Yoffe (left) from trying her hand at living as a dude. Today, the writer relates the story of her time as a drag king. (While drag queens are men who dress flamboyantly as women, drag kings are women who dress as men.) After meeting up with a lip-synching troupe called the D.C. Kings for advice, Yoffe chose the name "Johnson Manly" and ordered DVDs of Tom Jones to prepare for her performance accompanying the singer's "It's Not Unusual." Then came the shopping: Yoffe hit up in the boys' department of Lord & Taylor (the pants didn't fit so well); she also purchased a too-small sports bra (to flatten her breasts) and jock strap (which she stuffed with a rolled-up washcloth). But the real "manly" stuff was in the body language.
Herbie, a 23-year-old "non-op female-body transgender person" (a lesbian who identifies as a male but has not had surgery), helped Yoffe out, explaining that men walk with square shoulders, in a relaxed state — leading with their, um, packages. "Men don't care, they just move. Women are much more intentional," Herbie told Yoffe.
When it came to dance moves, Herbie advised Yoffe to use your shoulders, big arm movement. Women dance with their hips, men dance with their arms. Bring your chest up. You think you should hide your chest, but men have big chests and they show them." Yoffe notes that many of the drag kings exude "masculine energy." As for her how her debut as a man actually went, Yoffe says:
The music started, and I was onstage. I was trying to keep so many thoughts in my head: "Be a man," "You're the cock of the walk," "Johnson, you're Tom Jones, the ladies love you." But mostly I couldn't remember my choreography, and as I flailed my arms I felt less like a sex symbol than a flapping chicken (not even a rooster) with facial hair. The audience, as promised, was supportive, and they handed me dollar bills (seven of them!) during the show and cheered when I finished.
I came off the stage, and the other kings, like the girls they were, patted my back, gave me thumbs up, and said I was "awesome" and "fantastic." For a reality check, I went over to Andy Bouvé, Slate V's cameraman, who was there to capture the show. "So how was I?" I asked. In his blunt male way he looked at me quizzically and shrugged.
What's interesting is that even as they are playing men, the drag king women exhibited traditionally "female" traits: Nurturing encouragement, support, guidance. But are the other attributes given to women — walking "intentionally," dancing with the hips — inherently "female"? Is having a "cocky" walk only for men? And is there such a thing as a woman with "masculine energy" (and a man with "feminine energy") or are humans just capable of a wide range of characteristics and vibes, some which get pigeon-holed by gender?