By Liz-Emily Moen | September 22, 2017
Photos and chat with the brilliant Kit Griffiths and Katy Bulmer, from the drag king collective Pecs. They were game enough to humour me and interview as both “themselves”, and also their alter egos Cesar Jentley and Loose Willis(!) and as you can probably tell from their witty stage names, it was quite the giggle. Their men are a delightfully unpredictable mix of satire and straight talking, never letting you take the game of gender, or yourself, too seriously.
‘Bloom’ ties in with traditional ideas of femininity: a kind of non-negotiable delicacy. Do you find that performing masculinity has lead you to ‘perform the female’ less?
Kit: I definitely perform the female more now!
Katy: Yeh definitely! Since I’ve started performing as a man I take a lot more pleasure in putting on make-up and those kinds of female performances.
Kit: Growing up I believed I was a boy (and still do, I’m many things) and was really worried trying to work out how to dress as me. I thought femininity was this big performance and masculinity was just the truth – because that’s what society tells us right? But since exploring how much of a performance masculinity is, it’s made me realise that my butchness is also a performance. It makes me more comfortable performing the female on some days, without it having to mean anything permanent, or indeed mean I’m being inauthentic.
Katy: Yep it totally blurs the lines – I feel much more male and much more female since doing drag.
Kit: Absolutely, but rather than reinforcing the binary it just feels like you occupy a wider spectrum.
Have you ever been tempted to just spend the day as your male alter ego outside of stage performance?
Katy: Haha we’re very different on this one! My character is all my most vulnerable parts of me… but automatically people assume performing masculinity is about being tough and no nonsense. As a woman I don’t feel very emotional but my man is extremely emotional, so performing as him feels very cathartic, but I wouldn’t want to do it all the time, he’s too precious!
Kit: Where as with me, Cesar existed before I met Katy. I didn’t do drag to perform I just wanted to put on a beard and as soon as I did I felt much more attractive. I know I’ve always been seen as predatory as a woman, and as a man I embraced that forwardness without all the shame that’s put on women for that same confidence and sexual transparency. Anyway, people liked it, and I liked it – I enjoy the extreme confidence and attention, whilst also being completely hidden – literally hidden inside my beard, which covers a lot of my face. So I have done drag off stage, but never a whole day though, that would be exhausting! He’s much more oppressed than I am I think. Katy: We should try one day and see what happens – it would be exhausting but fun…
Under patriarchal structures a woman’s bodily expression is heavily regulated. Do you find that performing as a man gives you a break from your own body, or that it reconnects you with it? Can it do both?
Katy: I think definitely both.
Kit: Yes definitely both.
Katy: Getting away from the performance side of it for a second… generally being in a group of drag kings and around a group of such cool queer women who are really comfortable in their own bodies and spaces is wonderful, wonderful solidarity. The audience too… are all only people who are there to be happy and support you. Also – we all get naked all the time!
Kit: That’s one of the joys of theatre work. Even more so with this kind because we have to alter our bodies-
Katy: A lot of agro and pain goes into it! Breast binding, sock penises… various kinds of penises-
Kit: Haha ah the experiments that have had to go on with penises! But yeh in terms of having a break from my body… I remember the first time in uni I went out of my room in halls as a boy, I bumped into a guy I lived with in halls in the corridor, and he looked at me furiously and then suddenly went, ‘Oh! It’s you! Sorry I thought it was another guy in my space.’ That was a fascinating break from my own body, interesting to see a man threatened by my body, which you just don’t see as a woman. Well, except with my body hair, but it’s a different kind of threatening with a different kind of response.
Katy: For me it’s not so much a gendered thing, but more a break from a ‘normal’ day job, my alter ego is so wild. Having a dick does really change the way you walk though! I love my dick.
Kit: God I love my dick. Whenever I’m getting ready to go on stage and I don’t feel up for it, it’s not putting on the beard or clothes that changes that, it’s my dick. Also I use a strap on which is arousing you know, because that’s what it’s actually for. If I tighten it up I get and internal erection from the strapped-on external erection and just become one super horny self-loving male/female, and then go on stage! So yep, that simultaneously connects me with my body and sort of extends me beyond it, into something else.
Katy: I could gibber on about my cock forever…
This edition has also focussed on fragmented identity, and the feelings of confusion or discomfort this can bring. Having an alter ego rejects ideas of singular identity – have found that this helps you to strive for perfection less, what have the positives been?
Katy: The more you do an alter ego (we’ve been performing for three years) and when you perform again and again you get so many layers to your character. The character started as a pretty crass and misogynistic parody on hacky male comics who only talk about their dicks, but over time he’s become much more open and vulnerable and thoughtful. I love my man now but I wouldn’t have given him the time of day before.
Kit: I’ve definitely had problems with perfectionism! Which is fine when you’re going solo but not in a group. Fragmentation of self is interesting… I’ve always felt like hundreds of people since childhood. Which is ridiculous and very chaotic! Having an alter ego is about choosing one, and allowing them to be as much of yourself as you want but there being a line and simplicity. I find the limitation of alter egos really freeing and very safe.
Lastly, tell us about your performance at Brainchild festival! What can we expect?
Katy: Cesar (Kit) isn’t going to be there! But I will be, and I’ll be doing some comparing, which is something I feel nervous about because Cesar normally does it. Everyone has three or four acts each now, and there are ten of us! So we’ve really and to cut it down to the best of it. It’s the new writing of my comparing mixed with our most slick, well-oiled performances. Burlesque, dancing, singing…acrobatics, ballet, and we’ve gotten into spoken word as well recently. The show has become more political because, along with everyone else!
Kit: When we started off we just wanted to be entertaining because it’s innately political being a woman dressed as a man, but now the public are a lot more politically engaged, so as a collective we’re responding to/going with that and making work that is more intricately political. A lot of silliness still though. Sexiness and silliness.