MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We continue strutting across the stage now by turning to another kind of king altogether. You'll see a lot of fedora's, suits and facial hair at a D.C. Kings show but underneath those costumes, these kings are all women. This month marks the group's 11th anniversary and Lauren Hodges checked out a show to find out what it takes to come out in more ways than one.
MS. LAUREN HODGES
Down in the basement of Capitol Hill Club, Phase One performers are opening makeup boxes and hanging suits from ceiling pipes. Soon, they will climb the stairs where a crowd gathers for the show. A tall figure in a dashing fedora stands among the hurried group in the dressing room. Kendra, who prefers to be called Ken Vegas while in drag, founded the D.C. Kings in 2000 and is now the group's executive producer.
We have people from age 18 to 60. We have all different kinds of people in the group, I mean, we are literally the most diverse group of community members I think of any performance troupe in the world.
Ken says the group is based on ideals of free identity, which is somewhat of a change from her past experiences.
This whole idea of being so opened with our gender expression is because of my art school experience.
Ken studied theater and says the atmosphere of her school required a lot of discretion about her sexuality.
There was like this big tableau about being out. You think in art school they would just create more a space in community for it but I had teachers wouldn't come out because they'd be afraid of being fired.
So for years she kept the inner alter ego of Ken Vegas behind closed doors.
I used to dance around in my bedroom, like, videotaping myself performing, like, Morenci and the Curer and, like, Prince and I just never thought people would accept that. It was just like my own thing that I did.
Yet the identity of Ken Vegas got a big break in 1996 when Kendra entered a drag show on a dare at the Dyke March Fundraiser in D.C.
I won. I got 10's across the board. The feeling was amazing because I got to finally be out with something that I felt kind of ashamed of, which was like male impersonation.
And stage life came calling soon after.
In 1999 I performed at Capitol Pride and Carlos Agular who was the owner of Chaos saw me perform and (unintelligible) he came up to me. He was just like, Would you like to talk to me about maybe doing a drag king show at Chaos? He did a test run where we had a drag king contest. The winner was determined by the crowd's participation.
Ken couldn’t help but feel encouraged by the response.
The crowd came. I mean, we were packed to the, I mean, to capacity and there was a line out the door. It was, like, phenomenal.
Chaos has since closed its doors, but D.C. Kings have had a steady string of monthly performances in clubs around the city. Members have come and gone, but one of the newer performers, who goes by the name Private Tails, sees the group as her personal salvation.
I feel like they've helped shape me as a human being, not just a performer, not just a girl and not just a gay girl.
Private Tails is a burlesque dancer in charge of the Kings sister act, The D.C. Girlie Show, a troupe of both male and female performers in sexy dresses and outfits. She has gone through several changes beginning with her own coming out a few years ago. Tonight, she's putting on a corset and a white dress reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe.
Tails and her fiancé, whom she met through the Kings, put last minute touches on her outfit, which includes lots of glitter, makeup and two sparklers. Private Tails has gone through two different names and her current moniker is a tribute to another hidden identity. Since she serves in the military for now she needs to keep her sexuality under wraps.
I mean, as long as we stick with the performance name, fine, I don't care. I can be in the military as Private Tails but my real biological, they know that name, it can't be in there.
As the lights go down, the Kings and the Girlies strut onto the stage, thanking their fans for coming out.
Welcome to The D.C. Kings 11-year anniversary show.
The response from the crowd seems to say likewise. I'm Lauren Hodges.
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