Les Halles de Schaerbeek — Brussels —

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“Take back your own power” / A conversation with King Baxter on masculinity, cultural appropriation and drag power

By Martin Zicari

 

In preparation for the premiere of Desiderata by Cie Cabas, I wanted to explore what aspects of the piece’s performative proposal resonate with contemporary culture in Brussels. The circus based show, that’s going to premiere 18-19 March of 2022, deals with masculine identity and the performativity of masculine bodies in acrobatic technique by putting it in tension with the vulnerability of male bodies on stage. As one of the elders of the drag scene in Brussels, King Baxter seemed like the perfect interlocutor to dive into what it means to perform as a masculine roi, even when emotionally shattered by gender standards.

 

Hi…Can you please introduce your multiple selves or personas?

King Baxter : My name is Baxter, I go by “they” pronouns, I am a performer, but I also work with video. King Baxter is the name of my persona on stage, and this persona began to exist around 2015, when I was at the end of high school. I come initially from the glam punk scene, and in the glam punk scene we are really interested in challenging gender rules, so King Baxter emerged from this initial punk impulse. King Baxter is a kind of demon/fairy, with several superpowers, including the ability to travel through space and time, and to fly in the sky. But as they have superpowers, they also fall and collapse, they die and have the power of rebirth.

What is King Baxter’s story? Where do they come from?

King Baxter : The story of King Baxter is grounded in a sci-fi meta narrative. Baxter is the King of a desolated land, a land that was stripped of everything. In this alternative apocalyptic world, King Baxter and I can decide on how to rebuild everything from zero as we really want to. I believe the story is really a metaphor of how to care for and rebuild life after trauma. It’s a way to manage the constant feeling of being marginalized and a motor to ultimately deconstruct society’s gender standards. But King Baxter is also one of the ways I found to keep on going through the harshness of life and bring more shine into my own personal story.

To dive into the role of drag in your own personal story, what does it mean for you to be in drag, to be a drag king, and why it is important for you?

King Baxter : Sometimes for me it’s really funny to be called a drag king, because at the very beginning I really worked hard on to how to be gender neutral, to develop an agender persona. So in all of the early performances of King Baxter, I had a really flat body, with no sexual representation marks whatsoever. Later I decided to take the statement of being Drag King as a way of stealing the popular image of masculinity, an image I was too used to seeing and suffering from. In this way, I was trying to appropriate insults that society has used against me and against my own masculinity. I used to play with that as a way to feel freer. For example, wearing a strap on, making myself a moustache and allowing myself to feel really comfortable and good with it. I guess drag is really about playing with gender, and through play I also reflect on who I am personally, because I am an intersex person. Sometimes I am really lost, so playing with the performativity of masculinity is good for me, it helps me to work on the dysphoria that I sometimes have. Playing with my own image, flattening my boobs, hiding them, seeing my body shape in a different way before going on stage, all of that helps me to feel really euphoric about being transgender. On the streets it can be really hard sometimes, but on stage I can be at the full maximum of how I perceive myself, and there lies the power of drag.

The drag scene in Brussels is thriving and growing, new bars are opening and drag shows have become ubiquitous in the city’s nightlife. How do you see this growth?

King Baxter : I am really glad to see all of that. I really feel lucky, for me and for all of us, all of the drags, the elders and also the babies, it’s a really empowering moment for us. Some of the youngest are creating their own spaces, and are being helped by the elders, so that’s really beautiful, and I am really a fan of it. I really love and have a lot of support for people and collectives that appear, like the “Not Allowed/Glitter’s Time” that’s a drag transgender people collective, but also the They Collective, formed by they/them people who are making drag, who are organizing cabarets also. When I started doing drag there was nothing more than basement cabarets, everything was really different. Then I used to work for Cabaret Mademoiselle, when it just opened. I worked there as a stage manager, managing light and sound and wigs (which sometimes will magically disappear from the basement to reappear again days later) and I still have tons of love for this place. If I take Cabaret Mademoiselle as an example, it’s the perfect image of what a cabaret is, what a drag place is, what a show place is, how we feel as a weird family, how we care for our personal wounds by being on stage and by being surrounded by people who are like us, fuelled by the same fire: express themselves on stage.

It’s not only the case for bars and nightlife. More and more theatre and dance pieces are dealing with drag performativity, and it’s also appearing more in music and arts in general. How do you see this?

King Baxter : I think that drag can be a powerful creative tool for everyone, but I just wish that we all do the work of remembering where drag comes from, because I unfortunately see a lot of cultural appropriation or tokenism around drag. Because its fancy, because it’s on RuPaul, because it’s hashtag or whatever. Coming from the punk world, for me it’s really important to understand the community aspect of drag, as well as its history. I was raised by old fags, sex workers, fairies, goth and BDSM people, so I’ve also learned what wearing black cloths means, what AIDS was, what it means to be isolated and addicted to drugs, what it’s like to always fight to make life shine, as well as the link between drag and the fight against capitalism and the way the society oppress minorities. I’ve learned so many things in my drag experience, and I would like to see that transmitted to the new generation so drag doesn’t become only RuPaul, make up, wigs and slay.

Appropriation is a fact. It exists. But that doesn’t mean that non-LGTBIQ+ people shouldn’t see drag shows or explore drag performativity. Drag has become more mainstream thanks to the TV, so many more people are interested in watching drag shows and that’s not a bad idea for me. Visibility is really important because it will ideally lead to having more places for our community. Sure, the basement scene was important as the start of the punk scene. But at some point I am really proud of fighting to have a room in new places and bars, institutions, theatres, museums, etc.

Why do you think is important to occupy non-LGTBIQ+ spaces or “high art” or cultural institutions?

King Baxter : I think it’s important to show what drag is, to show that we are not “real” monsters, that drag can be a way to be free too. Everybody needs to see it, in a really chill way, there is no mandatory rule for everyone to be on drag, except to have respect for it, and to know that there is an underlying story in drag, and understand that we are marginalized, or not welcome in most spaces. Everyone can learn from drag and our experiences. This is the message that we have to spread: drag teaches you to take back your own power, that’s the more important message that we can give to anybody, in drag or not, part of the LGTBIQ+ community or not, “Take Back Your Own Power”.

 

Coming soon by King Baxter:

1. Check King Baxter’s music in their Spotify account

2. King Baxter is writing their first book called “Traverser le nocturne” (“Going through darkness”), to be published in the Spring of 2022 by Edition de la Trémie. In it, they speak of transgender, drag, activism, sex work, BDSM, and music, for sure.

3. King Baxter is going to perform at the first Brussels Porn Film Festival, 21-24 April in Cinema Nova and Cinema Adventure. Don’t miss it!

4. King Baxter is also going to perform at SNAP Festival 2022 (Sex Workers narratives, art and politics festival) at Beursschouwburg, Brussels in May 27-28. Get your tickets!

Martin Zicari's website : https://martinzicari.com/