The Rebel Kings of Oakland enter their terrible teens
Never been to a drag king show? Grab your fanny packs and fill them with dollar bills! The Rebel Kings of Oaklandhave been taking over the stage at the White Horse Bar for over a decade. This group of drag kings, que-ings (performers with drag queen and drag king personas), things, and monsters have been incubating new drag performers since 2010.
Rebel King performers play with all things gender and beyond. As a drag king group, masculine of center performances and acts that play with masculine tropes are heavily featured. The familial structures within this drag community create a strong support network for gender exploration and play, both on and off the stage.
Below is a transcript of interviews with various Rebel King performers and Rebel King performances. Click the play button above to listen along.
JOTA MERCURY: Get your money ready, alright? Welcome to the Rebel Kings of Oakland! Where we risk our lives for live entertainment. I am Jota Mercury. And I am joined by my Aristophanes soulmate primary drag partner, VERA!
VERA!: My name is VERA! In drag, it's VERA!, all caps with an exclamation mark and outside of drag, it's still Vera, but no exclamation mark and not all capital letters. What is a drag king? And you know, this is a big widely interpreted question. There's a whole spectrum of different types of being a drag king, but a drag king is usually masc of center, like a drag queen is femme of center. But it's really a delicious gender exploration.
My drag persona is really an extension of of me but with more facial hair. I've always been kind of an Armenian dad, goth-lethic, plaid, hair metal dude. And I feel like that, you know, that persona just comes out in drag more.
JOTA MERCURY: We have the amazing Vegas Jake.
VEGAS JAKE: My name is Vegas Jake. So, the rebel Kings started like 12 years ago. It's been pretty awesome because the show started with, like, a small group of kings. And then it grew to what it is today. Which is actually what we've always wanted to be was like a place for people to perform who either wanted to learn how to be a drag king. Or a safe space if you were like, I need a place to kind of explore my gender. And it's open to anybody. It's not queer only or, you know, anybody can come and anyone can be a drag king, or drag performer.
JOTA MERCURY: Joey Gelato!
Joey Gelato: My name is Joey Gelato. I've been a Rebel King for about six years, I've been doing drag for seven. I'm doing a Dean Martin song. It's kind of like my homage to the gross Italian men that I grew up with. I come from a very Italian background. And it's kind of my way of dealing with the toxic masculinity that's been in my family for a long time is to become them and make fun of them on the stage. It wasn't really something that I wanted to do. It was just something that I needed to do for mental health. I'm a very introverted person and I have social anxiety. And I started doing drag to help with conversations that I have with people day to day. Just like oh, I could get through this conversation because my ass was literally out in front of 100 and something people yesterday.
JOTA MERCURY: Hi everybody! My name is Jota Mercury! So my motivation for tonight's performance is just, like, deeply touching and reaching out to my teenage self who just loved this music so much. So when I perform, I like to say that I put the cheese in machismo.
THE DRAGON KING: My name is The Dragon King. Drag has existed for so very long. And if you look back, there are so many queens and kings who are at the forefront of political marches and are the, you know, the joy and the comfort but also the resilience of their community. It's important that we are a minority, and some of our leaders just happen to wear six inch heels and have crazy makeup on.
HELIXIR JYNDER BYNTWELL: My name is Helixir Jynder Byntwell. I would say, truly crafting your chosen family is key. So my brother, the Dragon King, every time I see him, we go, "Brother!" it doesn't matter where we're at. I've met people at shows and they'll be like, "Oh, yeah, like, VERA!'s my drag dad." And I'm like, "VERA!'s my drag dad!" So it's like, Oh, my God, we're connected. You know, it's all about connection.
JOTA MERCURY: VERA!
VERA!: I'm a drag dad. So I'm a drag father. I have 15 children and four grandchildren now. I nurture my children by being a constant source of support and uplift. And I'm always encouraging them to follow their art and, you know, pursue self expression and be their most creative, most weird selves. I think it's crucial. Playing with gender for me, led me to realize that I'm non- binary. And I can't, I can't even imagine not having this. I'm getting all choked up. I can't, I can't even imagine not knowing that. And I might still be there. If drag hadn't been in my life. That’s what drag family is drag family is, it’s a really special, supportive environment. I want to be a dad of millions, yes, yes.
REBEL KING PRE-SHOW HUDDLE: What should we say on three? Family! Family on three! One, two, three…Family!
HELIXER JYNDER BYNTWELL: Vera is a single father. So he single-handedly is the father of the house of pack. And it's called that because Vera's signature is always wearing a fanny pack. It doesn't matter drag or out of drag, Vera is the fanny pack keeper. So we were all birthed right out of that fanny pack onto the stage. So we’re the House of Pack.
VERA!: My costumes always involve at least one fanny pack. That's also me outside except usually outside of drag, I wear one. in drag, one is the bare minimum. Form, function, fashion. It's all in a fanny pack.
VERA!: And because I had to, I’m wearing four fanny packs.
JOTA MERCURY: There’s a reason for each season.
VERA!: Yes, yes…