photo by Yvon Bauman
"Iím a woman with
facial hair, imitating a man, and I canít get you pregnant.††
And I have breasts! Youíve got everything!† What more could you
ask for?Ē -- Shane
"Wow. Shane is so sexy!"
Maureen Fischer was standing right behind me, and I couldn't
help but agree with her assessment. Smooth and intense, Shane's
sex appeal is all the more alluring for a certain kind of
confidence he displays. While all of the kings are sexy in some
way, performers like Mo B. Dick and Murray Hill do not set out
specifically to be so. A king like Drťd, by contrast, is sexy up
front, and primarily so. But while Drťd's tight-faced strut
conveys the practiced fullness of a character well-crafted,
Shaneís stroll through the crowd is underplayed and loose, and
one feels certain his aplomb comes not from character, but from
within. The things that make him attractive seem intrinsic.
This might be because
Shane is, simply, Shane. I had a great deal of difficulty
eliciting another name from her, and when I explained that I
needed a way to distinguish, for my readers, between the persona
and the person, she replied, "They're really one and the same."
It was a telltale remark, because she is in fact so genuine. She
may play a man on stage, but his essence is the same as hers. "I
don't do characters," Shane told me, or at least, she hasn't
done them seriously since Club Casanova. "I may do something
that might be close to a character. I'm gonna† deal with Usher
or something like that; I may wear certain clothing. Sometimes
I'll do the 70's thing. With certain things, you have to kinda
give people that afro thing, those sideburns, with the cut.
Sometimes you gottaí do those things to get people into the
feeling. But I donít really like doing characters. What I do is
I take a song that I like, and I make it me, and I just give off
what I feel from the song."
The man Shane plays is
pretty much herself, then, in a male guise. He can take the
stage in classic hip-hop, b-boy style -- baggy jeans and Kangol
cap -- or in a fresh-pressed suit and tie; either way, his aura
is the same, and one gets the feeling heís a fellow one might
actually respect. "If I were a man," the woman said, "Iíd be a
perfect gentleman." Instead, he is perhaps the most gentlemanly
of the drag kings; when asked once what it meant to be a drag
king, he responded: "It means showing men and women how women
should be treated" (Halberstam, 1997). His brand of maleness and
masculinity is far more tribute than parody, and it lacks a lot
of the anger, aggression, and perversity one sees in other acts.
He is really Shane, and she is really him; the reason he is so
sexy, I suggest, is because his sensuality is in fact her own.
respectable, Shaneís solo act is powerful nonetheless, equally
exciting, erotic, and accurate. Sometimes heíll enter with his
back to the audience and work an imaginary mirror before him,
arranging the hat on his head to his satisfaction before turning
to face the crowd. He likes to work the hat a lot, tracing the
brim with his fingertips, re-settling it at a more jaunty angle.
His hands are very prominent, with fingers held together
straight like a salute except the thumb is sticking out. His
mannerisms and hand movements may help to put the number over,
but itís more the way he carries himself -- the extremely
upright posture, the open-legged, long-armed stance -- that
conveys the message, "male." It reads like a physical expression
of assertiveness, a bodily way of saying, "I own this space Iím
Before long, Shane steps
down off of the stage that separates him from the crowd and
enters into their ranks. Approaching one of the women, heíll
"sing" to her, kiss her hand, maybe dance closely with her a bit
before moving on. The women adore him and, pushing past their
friends to get their hands on him, keep him from returning to
the stage by stuffing dollar bills into his shirt and elsewhere.
"Sometimes I have to remember," Shane laughed, "get your ass
back on the stage. Get back on stage! Everybody canít see you;
you canít be everywhere at once. You gotta give everybody a view
at the same time." She does prefer the "one-on-one thing,"
though, because it "involves people more." "And," she added
wryly, "sometimes people are afraid to come up on stage to give
tips. Sometimes you gottaí go out there and get it. Youíd be
surprised how many tips you get if you go out in the audience."
Shane does not always work
alone. Accompanied by drag kings Nico and Sugah and known
collectively as "DK," the trio lip-synchs numbers by vocal
groups like Boys to Men and the Jacksons; heís also worked quite
a bit with Drťd. These well-choreographed bits point out that
while all the kings are specialists in movement, lip-synching
kings like Shane and Drťd are really dancers. They rely on their
bodies to communicate maleness, over and above any words. Shane,
nonetheless, is tired of lip-synching. "I donít like the whole
lip-synching thing," she admitted, "but you gotta start
somewhere." She plans to start singing soon, and perhaps to do
it as a woman. "Iíve learned that I donít want to lip-synch.
Iíve learned that I possibly do not want to do drag. I really
just want to be myself on stage a lot of the time, since I am
doing that already, but itís just that I have this facial hair
Shane and I met for a
discussion in the West Village one evening after sheíd finished
working; I probably wouldnít have recognized her were she not
standing on the corner and looking around rather obviously for
me. When I asked her what she did, she told me that she was a
security manager, which neatly explained the black slacks, white
shirt, and blue jacket. It occurred to me then that it is the
sort of job that might be popular with women who are
uncomfortable in feminine dress; the requisite uniform affords
both an escape from the confines of womenís clothing and a
reasonable excuse for the adoption of traditionally masculine
garments. Itís also a distinctly non-traditional job for a woman
to hold. But despite the butch trappings and her incredibly
short hair, Shane is in fact a beautiful and feminine woman with
great, deep, soulful eyes.
"I donít think Iím butch,"
she affirmed, choosing instead to call herself an "aggressive
femme." I asked her if she thought that being a lesbian had
anything to do with being a drag king. "I donít think that it
has to. I think someone can be straight and do drag,
definitely." Considering the matter further, she added, "I think
itís unlikely, probably, or maybe there are few and far between,
but I donít think there has to necessarily be a connection.
Youíd have to be a really, really good actress, though,
performing for women. Because to do it, you have to have some
type of -- I would think -- have some type of knowledge, or be
involved in sex with women, somewhat. I kinda get that feeling.
Hmmm." So it isnít necessary, she believes, but it helps.
"For me," she continued,
"dragging is a feeling, a kind of feeling. I always have this
idea that I always want to be every womanís fantasy. I like to
create that with the hair and the clothing, and the way I act."
To be complete, she believes, the fantasy does not necessarily
require a "packy." "Sometimes itís uncomfortable," she
explained. "I donít really wear the dildo thing,ícause itís just
too much. Too in the way. I donít really know how some people
use it. I like to dance a lot, and I canít really dance with
that on. I use a sock. A sock, sometimes you get a little better
effect. For me anyway. And a really tight pair of briefs
sometimes, to keep it in place."
A large part of the
fantasy is the fact that she is indeed a woman, and so it makes
sense that she usually does not "pack." "I feel like itís a
great thing to be a woman," she told me. "I think you have a lot
of power being a woman. I believe that. I have that confidence."
And so she strips sometimes, just to "let you know Iím still a
woman, and to just put the cherry on top of that whole fantasy.
Iím a woman with facial hair, imitating a man, and I canít get
you pregnant. And I have breasts! Youíve got everything! What
more could you ask for?" Of course, a woman with so much to
offer other women may sometimes find herself competing with men.
Itís something sheís sometimes wary of when performing at
straight venues. "I think itís tougher with a straight audience.
I really worry about the men. I donít worry about the women; I
just worry about the men. Because men get angry at certain
things. They have issues. Sometimes they canít cope."
"Are you afraid youíre
gonna piss them off?"
"Just by being sexy?" I
inquired. "By not having a dick and being sexy? Is that not
allowed?" We both laughed.
"By their girlfriends
going crazy and figuring, ĎOh, what the fuckí,"she grinned,
suggesting that a woman might decide to leave her boyfriend and
go home with her. †She was only half joking, though, and her
comment belies the reality that a heterosexual man can feel that
his relationship with a particular woman may be threatened by
the presence of a lesbian. On the one hand, such ambiguously
gendered eroticism does indeed have the potential to open up
minds; on the other, it suggests a revival of the Victorian
notion that a normal (read: "feminine") straight woman can be
vulnerable to the lures of a "mannish" lesbian. Either way is
fine with Shane; as she would have it, all women are vulnerable
to the attractions of a charming drag king.