At the turn of the year 2019/2020 we debuted on the stage in Wrocław and then we settled down with a second, larger performance a new drag king group named “Drag King Heroes”. “Heroes” are three independent characters, each with different energies and slightly different show ideas. The performance of Drag King Jack Strong is accompanied by strong punk and heavy metal rhythms which show strength and healthy anger. Drag Queer Transformers is subtle and artistic, but with determined contestation, transformation and gender-to-gender journey in each performance. Drag King Pantofel seems to be a charming home body, who is fulfilled by cleaning the windows, but it’s better not to break his rules, when you’re near his heavy metal leather boots. They have a lot in common, not only their age (all members of the group are 40 years old). This is drag between theatre and cabaret, on the stage each character tells a story while dancing and moving. All the performances are politically and socially engaged. All the heroes are also the fulfilment of a positive Polish manhood.
(Teo) Drag King Pantofel – do I do drag or does the drag make me?
I’m 40 years old now, a year ago I stepped onto the stage for the first time as a drag king. My dream came true, it was a very opening experience, which has influenced each of my life roles. All of my life I’ve been having problems identifying with the gender role which I was socialied to. I also realized that biological gender doesn’t matter to me in love or sex. From my childhood I felt perfect in a male disguise or being a man on the stage, from carnival parties and preschool performances to a specific teenage, unisex-punk style. Then, when for a long time I ran away in the role of a cis female, a wife and a Polish mother, crossdressing became the first signal of a revolution in my life and was „a return to myself.”
Clothes are a fetish for me, an armor, an exoskeleton and a source of joy. Only when I had cut myself off from all typically female clothes, I felt a bit safer in my body and in the world. I can talk for hours with trans men about clothes, even though on a daily basis I don’t care about passing (I don’t pass as a male) I don’t care if I can be considered as a man in my everyday appearance (I can’t). I’m non-binary to the core. I distill the man on stage. For me drag is an obvious art. I simply put on a binder and a bit of makeup and I start to think of the way I move, exaggerating those movements, gestures and expressions.
According to my plans and ideas I was meant to be Drag King Pantofel – well-bred and nice, softly masculine, charming house husband. The fan of household chores, who relaxes while cleaning the windows, emotional and supportive. The role model for Polish men and a dream of every woman. It’s an easy topic, because there is a lot to do at home.
I did it during our debut performance, I added a bit of kink and a touch of a little rainbow broom. Then I speeded up and unexpected events started to happen. In my second drag king performance I threw a T-shirt with Polish cursed soldiers on it, I parodied right-wing woman politicians to the sounds of Behemoth’s music and I furiously jumped on the torn nasty homophobic banners. I think that drag knew better what other role model Polish men need and what other dreams do women in Poland have.
When I started to be interested in activism and politics, I thought that I would be a positive dyplomat. In order to improve the situation of non-heteronormative people in Poland, you have to smile widely at everyone, calm the mood and tone down radical activist people.
Drag has influenced every role in my life. The character on the stage simply knows where to go and where not to be. And then I find myself in braver activism, in more radical politics, in more meaningful work, in more self-confidence relationships, in a long-dreamed and finally done the change of my name – into Teo. I’m a psychologist, and I wonder if Drag King Pantofel is my animus. For sure it’s not a some kind of „alien inside of me”. This is also me.
(Evelyn) Jack Strong – the healthy Polish anger straight from Detroit
I have always wanted to dress up and appear as a masculine person, ever since I was a teenager. By society’s standards, I’m not traditionally masculine at all: short, high-pitched voice, curvy. Despite that, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be able to „try on” a more masculine look.
I wouldn’t say I’m trans. I like the label genderfluid. While I have thought about transitioning a few times in my life, I ultimately decided against it. I don’t see my gender as something stone-cut, as something fixed. Rather, it changes, depending on my mood. This is why I like drag: I can explore what it means to be seen as masculine or feminine.
For me, drag is about exploring gender, what it means to be „feminine” or „masculine” and how much is appearance connected with that. A big part of gender, to me, is performative. With a few very small adjustments – how I walk, how I carry myself, how I project my voice – the way people perceive me changes dramatically.
With this group, I want to create an identity of the male-ness I feel inside. I really like the name „heros” we’ve chosen, because to me, it represents the best parts of masculinity. With my drag persona, I wanted to create a persona that reflects my struggle with being a foreigner in Poland.
More importantly, I wanted a positive image of Polish masculinity. I wanted a persona that was strong, brave and not afraid to challenge authority. I wanted to harness the rebellious side of me, and to give voice to a person I had thought about becoming. Like loud, angry punk and metal music – and in particular, Polish punk and metal – someone loud, confident, who didn’t care about rules or what others thought.
That’s why I chose songs by the bands Dezerter and Behemoth. Dezerter’s “Musisz być kimś”[You have to be somebody] was chosen to make fun of the norms that society imposes on us. For a very direct challenge to society, I made a mashup of Pet Shop Boy’s “It’s a Sin” and Behemoth’s “O Father O Satan O Sun!” to question religion’s involvement in our lives and government.
I saw the film “Jack Strong” at my Polish school. When I saw it, I was a little nervous – there weren’t any English subtitles for the Polish, and I wasn’t sure how much I could understand. However, between my limited Polish and the English parts, I could follow the story – and I loved the code name of Jack Strong for Ryszard Kukliński during the Cold War.
One scene from the movie I remember specifically was when Kukliński was contacting the US government, and trying to write a letter in English. He wrote “I am” before muttering “obcokrajowcem” (foreigner) and reaching for a dictionary. I loved this, as it humorously captured the issues of language.
Which is the kind of man I try to be with my persona. Not just a man who is angry, but a man who directs his anger towards a cause he believes in.
I also like our trope: we all bring something different to this playing with gender.
(Marta) Drag Queer Transformers – what am I doing here?
In life I am heterosexual cis-femal. On the stage I transform into a drag queer. I work at a small language school and in the kindergarten. During my performance I transform into male characters known from pop culture. I’m “Miss Marta” and drag queer in one body. Two years ago I wouldn’t have thought that these two roles could go together and that I would find a space inside me to contain them both.
Whether I teach or perform – I always tell stories. I like them to be surprising, provoke questions, and not give ready-made answers. I have fun combining the characteristics of different genders. My first performance, prepared at the workshops with inspiring duo: the director Agnieszka Małgowska and the actress Monika Rak (members of Damski Duet Twórczy), combined two characters. It was about being a demon woman and turning from her to Charlie Chaplin, who was scared by what he saw around him.
I creatively use the registry of behaviors that are culturally assigned to women and men. I don’t like being trapped in rigid standards fulfilling expectations. I am interested in the margin, what is at first glance invisible.
What I do on the stage, could be summed up with words that the character I play once heard: “You are nearly 40 years old, you look like 30, you imagine that you’re just over 20, and you act like you are under 10” – said Dijkstar to Jaskier in the book “The blood of elves” by Andrzej Sapkowski. The same thing happens on stage and during my classes with kids.
I’m about to turn 40 years old and I allow my students to play with their gender roles. Boys, if they want to, can put on pink wings and dress up as fairies. Girls can play male characters in theatrical productions that I direct. Boys cry as long as they need. I won’t tell them to stop because “big boys don’t cry”. I don’t stop girls’ aggression, saying that it is not appropriate for them, that they should be nice and polite. In such crisis situations, I choose other methods. When a 2-year-old reaches for a pink ribbon, I don’t say to him “pink is for girls only”. If my 11-year-old student asks me not to call her “Emilia” nor “Emilka” but “Emi”, I have no problem with it.
The stage and my profession intertwine very smoothly in my life. My work got me used to performing in front of a small, very young and demanding audience. To have a plan, the right pace, not to be bored and to stop at the best moment – this is what my classes look like and this is how you could briefly summarize the tips of Damski Duet Twórczy. Thanks to the stage, I started to pay more attention to the needs of children, their expression, and gender searches. Mine too.