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King of Drag Loke. Photo: ThatGuyGil

With so many queens on the scene, it’s invigorating when a strong drag king stakes a piece of the stage. Tori Loke is a bi-structured creature who flawlessly represents both ends of the gender spectrum of drag. She’s beautiful—long and strong, boasting a smile and a gentle aura. I’m instantly intrigued by how captivating her look is. Tori is sporting a Rooney T-shirt featuring drag queen Kim Chi’s quirky catchphrase, “Donut Come For Me.” I can see the similarities between the look of the bubbly tank and the energies Tori herself was giving me. It almost perfectly reflects the blend of femininity and masculinity that exudes from her as she opens up about herself and her art.

Loke. Photo: ThatGuyGil
Loke. Photo: ThatGuyGil

As soon as she sits down, she extends a warm handshake to me. It’s confident and firm. I immediately feel at ease around this creature, especially when I ask her straight up what pronoun she identifies with so I wouldn’t make an ass out of myself unnecessarily. Her answer is simple—that she prefers to be non-binary. “I’m a little more free-flowing with that stuff than other people. I honestly … don’t think I identify with either, but sometimes people need to put a label on it. My pronoun as Tori is just whatever you want. With my family and friends, it’s ‘she,’ and with 6-year old kids, it’s ‘he.’” It makes for a much more organic and authentic conversation when you are allowed to interact with an individual who carries such strong aspects of both genders.

I ask her if it ever makes her uncomfortable if people get it wrong. She explains that she doesn’t really mind if people refer to her as “she” or “he,” but what really yanks her dick is when people try to edit others on the correct pronoun. She muses about a recent encounter with such an instance when she “was at this family party and a little boy pointed at me and said, ‘Him?’ and his mom said, ‘No, her.’ And that makes me uncomfortable—the correction.” She brings up a valid point that I can get behind: What is the purpose of trying to adjust the way others identify with one another? But she does clarify that although Tori retains a distinct amount of femininity, there is a distinct masculinity to her drag character, Loke. 

Loke is a powerful character who commands the stage with his sharp jawline, a hawk of hair atop his head and a strong staff in his hand. His look is reminiscent of a warrior—both dominating and savage. “I always want people to see a powerful me onstage,” Tori says. “My last few performances have contained messages of hope and strength and individuality and power—hope and love and light. I want to be a powerful character.” And power seems to be a resonating descriptor for the sparkling creature in front of me.

Although he’s quite new to the scene (Loke’s first performance was in the 2015 Bad Kids’ Pageant), Loke is a remarkably realized character that represents aged and complex ideas of gender and strength. “When I started doing drag, I was coming out of a really dark place in my life with a lot of struggles,” says Tori. “And when I started developing the character of Loke, there were parts of my life that I needed to kill—memories I didn’t want. So to help me deal with my own demons, I created my own demon or spirit to kill those things in my past that I needed to get over.” Onstage, Loke acts as a spiritual charging dock in drag for show-goers. “In developing that character, I felt that I was giving my audience a lot of that power that was helping me get through,” Tori says. She tells me it didn’t always start that way, but as time has progressed, Loke has matured to a performer who is aware of the needs of an audience, particularly in these dark times for our nation.

“Nigger,” “wetback” and “chink” are not usually words used to promote anti-racist ideas, but Miles Gregley, Rafael Agustin and Allan Axibal have taken these racial slurs and turned them into a foundation for an extremely successful, anti-racist play. Nigger Wetback Chink: The Race Play, written by three men who were tired of being typecast and discriminated against because of the color of their skin, has been on the road for the past two and a half years. It is finally coming to Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake, but not without controversy.

Nigger Wetback Chink was originally invited to attend Kingsbury Hall about nine months ago after Greg Geilmann, the director of Kingsbury Hall, saw it in Los Angeles. “One of the things we really liked about the company was that they are not only performers,” explained Sheri Jardine, an affiliate of Kingsbury Hall, “but they are also dedicated to education and outreach in the areas where they perform, to talk about the [racism and stereotype] issues the play raises.” Not only has the company been booked for two performance dates, but also for a week of outreach and educational activities. Following the scheduled performance dates in Salt Lake, the trio has booked at three other Utah venues in Park City, Utah State University and Weber State University.

Last May, the group performed at the National Conference of Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education, a conference that was attended by a number of students, faculty and staff from the University of Utah. “We encouraged them to go see the show, knowing we were bringing it here, and several did,” said Jardine. “Some of those who saw the show really hated it, and some liked it.” Once the cogs for the event started rolling, Kingsbury Hall invited those who had already attended the show, along with other U of U influences to discuss any issues they may have with the play, and to further plan specific activities that would take place during the last week of October.

“Many concerns were voiced, including concern about the title, and concerns that this play, by using humor to address serious issues, was not the best vehicle to steer this debate,” Jardine explained. While it may seem ridiculous that there is controversy surrounding a play that is fundamentally anti-racist, the points raised by students were not irrational. “There is a concern that the majority students will not understand the historical context of racism or these particular racial slurs, they will not understand how hurtful they are, and therefore the show will create a sort of environment where the students of color will feel that they are being laughed at.”

What the cast has to say about their show is reassuring to those who voiced concern about the use of nigger, wetback and chink in the title. “These are words that we’ve dealt with, we talk about these words and how they take place in our [culture],” said Rafael Agustin, one of the writers/performers of the play. “We’ve been called these words and we have the right to confront these words. We’re not going to have a show called ‘Ethnic Friends’ and expect people to understand what kind of material we’re working with.”

Hannah Montgomery’s involvement with the Bad Kids began as a fan, but her performances as Arousalind and Lubia have challenged male-centric drag. Photo: thatguygil
Salt Lake’s Bad Kids Collective, born from Club Kid fever dreams, Internet-embellished lifestyles and queer performance attitudes, has galvanized Utah drag culture in recent years. The Bad Kids, part autonomous happenings of human bodies, part multi-media selfie installations, are cultivating a community of gender performance in Salt Lake where diverse expression reigns, where talent refers not to exclusive abilities, but rather to the courage to perform one’s artistic vision to completion. For them, every day is drag, every body a context to apply with costume, cosmetics and ontological anarchism.
Hannah Montgomery, who grew up in Salt Lake City, was introduced to the Bad Kids through her friend and Chalk Garden Co-op coworker Willard Cron. In the spring of 2013, Willard invited Montgomery to a performance by New York–based cabaret singer Joey Arias at Urban Lounge. In addition to Joey Arias’ gender-defying vocal performance, Willard performed as well, as part of a growing collective of genderqueer performance artists calling themselves the Bad Kids.
“I was blown away,” Montgomery says about seeing Bad Kids such as Willard and Klaus perform. “It was so fun.” Wanting to participate, but thinking that drag was a boys-only club, Montgomery took some good advice from Willard. “I was at work with Willard after [the show],” she says, “and I was like, ‘I wish I could do that—I’m so jealous.’ Guys get to dress up in drag as girls, and it just sounds so fun.” Montgomery’s fascination with gender wasn’t sparked by a single show, though. “I’ve always liked androgyny, so I was kind of fascinated with this idea of being a girl dressing up as a boy dressing up as a girl,” she says. Willard suggested that she buck gender stereotypes and just do it.
Montgomery says, “When I discovered drag, I just thought that was such a cool thing to do, to dress up as someone else.” Willard compared Montgomery to Rosalind, the gender-bending heroine from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Then their coworker suggested a name—Arousalind. Thus, a name was born, and the character was soon to follow. A few months later, Arousalind took the stage for the first time, at the first annual Bad Kids pageant.
For her pageant performance, Montgomery debuted Arousalind as a fleshed-out character with a distinct visual look. “I did the all-white, classic Arousalind,” Montgomery says. “Her thing is all white—the long white wig, white makeup, very monochromatic and gender neutral, color neutral—very non-specific.” As a female, Montgomery doesn’t mask her identity through character—she embraces it. “It’s still kind of feminine, but toned down,” she says.
As a contrast to the ethereal, androgynous nature of Arousalind, Montgomery also embodies a persona called Lubia from time to time. “[Lubia’s] very classic drag-y queen-y—overdone, overly feminine, boobs sticking out, lots of makeup,” she says. “Arousalind is so neutral, and so Lubia is like the devil on the shoulder just wanting to pop out and be very obnoxious.” Functioning as a send-up of the traditional male-dominated drag queen culture, Lubia, as well as Arousalind, elicit confusion and provoke all kinds of responses, onstage and off. As far as being an AFAB woman and performing is concerned, Montgomery says this: “It really doesn’t matter what my day-to-day gender is because, as Arousalind, I am what I’ve created. I could be a man doing that; I could be a 6-year-old child doing that; I could be whomever.”
Arousalind’s stage performances are typically born from a particular song, one “that I have a feeling for,” Montgomery says. While the Bad Kids are associated with a variety of social and political causes, Arousalind doesn’t always have an agenda when she performs. “The more I practice it, the more undone it becomes, somehow. A lot of my peers have a story or they’re political, and I think that’s really cool,” she says, “but I just feel like I’m a lot more abstract by default. I just appreciate a lot—having a way to be creative and to have somewhere to do it.”
In addition to solo performances, Arousalind has taken the stage with other Bad Kids in collaboration. “My favorite performances have been when I’ve collaborated with people,” Montgomery says. “There’s something really fun about interacting with someone else as a character, instead of as yourself—there’s this different dynamic.” Among the Bad Kids with whom Arousalind has shared a stage are ODGE and fellow “faux” queen Chartreuse. “Most people probably like to have their own thing played out, but I really enjoy being a part of someone else’s idea,” she says. “There’s something romantic about getting to be someone else, even if it’s just for a night.”
For Montgomery, performing can sometimes feel like nothing at all. “Once I get onstage, it happens so fast,” she says. “It’s almost like I wasn’t there for it. I’ll see a video for it and be like, ‘Oh, that’s what I did?’” Sometimes, performances are seemingly over in the blink of an eye for Montgomery. “It’s almost like I’m not in my body when I’m doing it,” she says.
Performing for people without inhibition also arouses memories of Montgomery’s childhood for her. She recalls how she would make her mother take her to big, open spaces, such as in Trolley Square, or have her move all the furniture in their living room, and she would just dance in the space. “That’s kind of how it felt the first time I performed, and now every time I perform,” she says. “I feel like I’m going back to that space when I was a kid and I would leap around and be taken over by a song.”
The key to keeping performances fun for performers and audiences alike is the Bad Kids’ all-inclusive, performance art approach to traditionally male-centric drag. “That’ll set an example: It has very little to do with your gender, and more so with a character that you’re portraying—you can have any type of chromosome or sexual characteristics,” Montgomery says.
“I was really lucky to always feel like I could be who I was,” Montgomery says, “regardless of what or who or how that was. I got to explore without any judgment. I would just wish that everybody, especially younger generations could feel that, that they can figure out how to be comfortable with themselves and how to explore that very openly. I hope younger kids can create who they are more freely and without fear.”
Arousalind will perform with ODGE on Friday, March 13 at Metro Bar for “Mystic.”