A Web Portal For Lesbians Of Color
"Just looking at yourself in the mirror and
seeing yourself actually transform is so, so beautiful. I think
everybody should try it." -- Mildred Gerestant
Dred Gerestant is a Haitian-American, multi-spirited, performance-artist, actor, activist and gender-illusioning woman. Inspired after seeing drag kings at an East Village party called “The Ball” in 1995, Mildred decided to do her thing. Her shows are visually stimulating, thought-provoking, funky, fly, supernatural-high musical performances on gender-fluidity. Offering drag king performances; her one woMan theater piece called "D.R.E.D. : Daring Reality Every Day - The Path of A Multi-Spirited, Haitian-American, Gender-Illusioning WoMan! - And Then Some!"©; lectures with Q and A's such as "Explore Your Female Masculinity"; drag king group acts/reviews; involvement in panel presentations with campus academics such as Judith Halberstam; drag king makeover workshops; and drag king and queen duet acts, with Queen Bee Luscious, such as P. Diddy and Lil' Kim, she has thrilled audiences across the U.S. and abroad. She brings to life soulful characters such as Shaft, Sly Stone, Isaac Hayes, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Busta Rhymes, Grace Jones, DMX, Sylvester, Superfly, and P. Diddy. It's amazing to see her "morph", for example, from P. Diddy to Shaft to Grace Jones right before your eyes!!!
Using theatre, dance, humor, and cultural history, Dred plays with gender roles and social/racial stereotypes to inspire all audiences to think about race, gender, identities. Her shows are not just about imitating the "opposite" sex, they are about freedom of self-expression and crossing/breaking boundaries. She inspires people to honor and accept the differences in their selves, and each other. Dred is one of the most sought after artists for LGBT, Black History, and Women's History Month events. She's received non-stop raves at numerous events, from schools including Yale, Penn State, Vassar, MIT; theaters such as P.S. 122 and Harlem Theater Company, and conferences such as Creating Change. She will be at Children From the Shadows conference in March 2002 - the largest LGBT Youth conference in the US. Dred's performance has also been written about in books such as The Drag King Book and Female Masculinity, and she also has some of her writings published in an upcoming anthology called Cast Out: Queer Lives in Theater.
Dred has been the winner of several contests, including: 1996 Drag King of Manhattan, 1997 Drag King of Brooklyn, The Glammy Awards’ 1998 Drag King of the Year, and Runner Up for Kiss FM/Black Filmmaker Foundation’s 1998 Superfly Look-Alike Contest. Dred has also performed and done drag king makeover workshops nationwide and abroad (England, Poland, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Holland). She also performs with other drag kings, recreating groups such as The Jackson Five, Run DMC, and The Village People. Dred also brings to life duet acts like Puff Daddy and Lil’ Kim with her partner in crime, Drag Queen Bee Luscious. Dred has appeared in numerous television programs: Featured on MTV's "Sex 2K," “Oddville” and “The Grind" HBO's "Sex In The City," “The Maury Povich Show,” “Sally Jesse Raphael,” “Ricki Lake,” Co-Host of Public Access Cable TV show -- “VDO Girls,” and international television and radio shows in Switzerland, Australia, Brazil, Germany, and Japan.
She also has been featured in several documentaries and short films, including recently premiered , currently touring, and award winning Venus Boyz: A FILM JOURNEY THROUGH A UNIVERSE OF FEMALE MASCULINITY, by Gabriel Baur of Onix Films. Other films include Lucia Davis’ “Kings” and “Club Casanova”, and upcoming feature length “Inherit The Kingdom"; plus Pratibha Parmar's "Long Live the Kings" which is being produced by Juidth Halberstam, author of Female Masculinity and The Drag King Book. She’s also appeared Off-Broadway in The WOW Theater productions of “Cafe Bimbo” and “Hot Tamales,” PS 122’s Fringe Festival’s "The Baby with No Name,” Pace University’s Schaeberle Studio reading of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” Mr Mistah's production of "The Family" at the Producer's Club, and a remake of the Charles Busch play "Theodora: She-Bitch of Byzantium." Dred has also appeared in The New York Daily News, Venus Magazine, New York Magazine, Vibe, HX, Paper Doll, Out, Colours, Composite (Japan), The Face (London), Marie Claire (London), Facts (Germany), Allure (Germany), Michael Musto of The Village Voice, etc. The Village Voice describes her as “...giving Isaac Hayes realness.”
A woman of many talents, Dred holds a Bachelor’s degree from Pace University and works for a research institute creating computerized questionnaires and databases that study/examine statistical research of urban social problems. She also volunteers for The House of Moshood, a group which educates women about safer sex. Dred says: “I love doing drag. I have fun playing with my gender and I like to make people think about, and have fun with, their own gender/sexuality. Its’ a powerful statement and feeling for me, especially as a woman, and as a woman of color, doing this. It’s important for women to not be afraid, and to feel free, to do what they want or need to do.”
success of Gerestant's performances are a testament to the
amount of time and energy that she puts into them, and other
kings are quick to recognize that she is one of the hardest
workers among them. Her act is all lip-synched, she says, just
for now, until she is ready to begin singing. But while the
lip-synch is nearly always dead-on accurate, it is the way Dréd
moves that makes him so convincingly male. His hands and arms,
aggressively outstretched, claim the space around him, pulling
it closer, owning it completely. He may rely for emphasis upon
stock moves and expressions found in hip-hop music videos, but
the core of his masculinity runs up his spine and through his
face. His body posture is heavy and thick, one foot forward,
aggressively leaning; his facial expression -- eyebrows
furrowed, the self-assured glare, the snarling lips; these are
the qualities that buy him currency as a man.
Utilizing the songs of his medley to set different moods, Dréd moves through a series of costume changes within any one performance. Entering perhaps in army fatigues as a "gangsta" rapper, a change in music allows him a moment to turn his back to the audience and strip down to his next layer, be it a polyester-clad, afro-sporting Shaft or a leather-coated, braided, beaded Rick James. Sometimes just the sight of him putting on a signature hat or wig, his back to the audience, will elicit cheers. If his act stopped there it would be entertaining enough, but more impressive is the transition he then undergoes from male to female, made all the more powerful because Gerestant is so convincing as a man. Dréd strips down, layer by layer, through various male personae to reveal at last the woman beneath them all. She pulls open her shirt to expose her bikini top and breasts -- no need to bind them -- and then unzips her pants to show a jockstrap noticeably bulging. The moment, complete with breasts, facial hair, and, "phallus" all visible is, in itself, definitively genderfuck. Reaching into his jock, he pulls out an apple and, Garden of Eden symbolism and all, takes a bite. He then turns his back to the audience once more, composes himself, and returns, despite the facial hair, as a woman. Her body language shifts, her posture and her face change, and Gerestant becomes once again a beautiful, sexy woman in make-up.
I interviewed Gerestant well near the end of my fieldwork, having finally pinned her down after months of trying. Like many of the other drag kings I worked with, she keeps a 9-to-5 job in addition to performing what sometimes amounts to several nights per week. Each night I saw her at Crazy Nanny's, I asked her how she was, and every time her answer was the same: "Tired." She's making some money doing drag, she says, but not nearly enough to give up her day job. I'd seen her perform many times by the date of our discussion, but was nonetheless unsure of what to expect when I arrived. While I knew her to be a feminine woman whose gender was to me, unmistakable, I was less certain of her actual self-image. The bald head, she told me later, confuses people sometimes, and I must count myself among them. I may not have mistaken her for a man, but I did expect her to be somewhat more masculine than she actually was. Lithe and lean, she sat cross-legged on her futon and, in a voice so soft I had to strain to hear, told me about her talk show appearances.
"I was on Maury Povich and recently, on Sally Jesse Raphael. Both of them did the same subject. It was a pageant with eight contestants, and the crowd had to figure out by the end of the show which were really women, and which were men in drag. We all were dressed as women; we had the wigs, the gowns, the make-up on." Spaced about two and one-half years apart, both shows ended up in pretty much the same way." At the end they started reviewing each one; they would show you baby pictures. But when they got to me, for example, on Sally Jesse Raphael, I came up and Sally said, 'What are you, a man or a woman?' And I said, 'Well Sally, let me show you.' The crowd was yelling 'man! Man,' and I couldn't believe it, because I was all prettied up and everything -- I had a long wig on. Maybe because they knew the wig was fake, or they could tell. But they were yelling, 'man! Man!' And I love tripping them up! I was just laughing inside. So I said, 'Well, Sally, let me show you,' and I pulled off the wig, and I was bald. And then when they saw the bald head, they started yelling, 'Woman!' So who knows?"
The audience response was exceptionally ironic because it is Gerestant's bald head that, under ordinary circumstances, sometimes convinces others that she is a man. Even when she's wearing make-up, "people just see the head. And they'll say 'sir' without even really looking at you. Which is really, like damn, where are you living? What time are you living in?" When she is in drag the situation only grows more complex. "Some people still think I'm a man -- it's happened a lot of times -- even after they see the cleavage, a bikini bra. The hair on my face is what's confusing them. And one guy, I was at this club once and he was like, 'Are you pre-op?' He thought I was a man who was in the middle of a sex change. You know, like maybe I just still had the breasts, or maybe I just got some breasts and I just didn't, you know, 'ka-ching' or whatever." As a butch (or relatively masculine) lesbian, these statements confound me; to me, Gerestant is so obviously female. If she is passing as a man when she is not in character, then surely she must be a fairly effeminate one.
"My being bald now," she explains, by the way, "has nothing to do with the drag, just for the record. I shaved my head because I got tired of perming it and putting in extensions and gelling it up and all that." Fed up with the time it took to maintain it, she says, "I cut it short and then I shaved it a month later, after some encouragement." Being on the street, she says, can be difficult, "because, you know men -- the ones that are old fashioned or whatever -- can't deal with it and have to say some stupid comment. But then there are also a lot of compliments, like, 'Oh, you have a beautiful head,' and, 'It's a beautiful shape,' or, 'It brings out your features.' My mother is still not quite used to it after three or four years, now. But it's okay. It's my mom, what do you expect?" She smiles, shrugging." But she still loves me, and she wants to come see my show."
"The first time I got interested in doing drag," Gerestant related, "was probably when I first started seeing drag kings at a party in the East Village called, 'The Ball,' at the Pyramid Club. Some of the first drag kings I saw were Buster Hymen and Justin Case. I was just, probably attracted by the women disguised as men. And also, I thought it was very empowering. I was like, wow! I'd like to come up and do that, and be a stud just like them, in drag. It took me a while. I kept running into Buster, and I kept telling her how I wanted to try drag. We made plans and she came over to my place one day and we put on the mustache, which was really cool. She showed me how to apply the facial hair and stuff, and then I experimented with it, how I wanted it."
She was doing shows monthly called, 'The Drag King Dating Game,' and somebody had dropped out, so she asked me if I would replace her. It was my first appearance as Dréd, and this was December 1995." It was there that Dréd discovered his "superfly, mack-daddy" look, modeled on the music -- like the theme from "Shaft" -- that Gerestant had loved as a child. "Afterwards," she recalled, "I got a lot of positive feedback, and it felt really good. I think that's when I also met Mo B. Dick but she wasn't in drag -- Maureen. She had this contest coming up, a drag king contest, and she encouraged me to enter it." Gerestant, however, was still too frightened to commit to the appearance; it was Fischer who pushed her to do it. Dréd won that competition and thereafter began his longtime association with Club Casanova. Gerestant credits the other kings with bringing her into drag and making her feel welcome there. "Mo B. Dick helped me," she said, "she pushed me to really do drag. And Buster Hymen helped me. It's always good when people, your peers, are helping you get started. And there was real companionship there, and we did a lot of shows together."
From Gender Pretenders -- (For Full Interview With Dred)
For colleges/universities please contact Shelly Weiss of OUTmedia at 1-718-789-1776 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For all other bookings contact Dred at 1-212-946-4475 or email@example.com
or you can e-mail DRÉD at
Dréd Gerestant, off stage
also called Mildred Gerestant, is Haitin-American and born in
Brooklyn. She started out in the trendy New York Drag King
scene that has grown up in the milieu of Club Casanova. During
the day Mildred works as a data processor. At night she
changes into Dréd, the sexy guy who charms the crowd with funk
songs. Dréd loves to perform with Queens and the crowd loves
Dréd, who has become famous in the scene. Dréd is asked
internationally for Drag King events.
More On the Film At:
When you think of drag,
you probably think of a guy in an outrageous gown. Maybe you
even think of a woman in a suit. But chances are you've never
seen drag the way our guest does it. Join us for a fascinating
conversation with performance artist Dréd Gerestant,
who brings a new dimension of drag to life.
[Interview Appears at Timestamp 30:42]