Bold & Beautiful: Ben D Dickson
In this edition of Bold & Beautiful, we speak with Mia Allen, a young drag performer with a love for over-the-top visuals, photography, and all things campy. Allen, also known by their drag persona Ben D Dickson, has only stepped onto the main stage a few months ago but is already making an impression with their unique performance style and forward-thinking views on queer identity. Allen makes regular appearances at Why Kiki, playing all kinds of characters from a western outlaw to a campy nutcracker. Here, Allen delves into their discovery of drag, sources of inspiration and thoughts on the drag king community.
SLUG: Where did you grow up, are there any special talents or traits you’d like to share?
Ben D Dickson: I grew up in Provo, Utah, with a great family. Life has changed a lot since those days, though! It’s interesting to look at how some of my choices and beliefs have changed so drastically over time while I’m still fundamentally and literally the same person. I love big, creative visions, campy, over-the-top visuals, puppies, crafting, DIY and all kinds of people.
SLUG: First performance in or out of drag?
Ben D Dickson: When I was about 12 or 13 years old I had a piano recital, and that’s about the only time I can remember performing in front of a live audience before drag. I had the most crippling stage fright, and I had refused to practice my piano piece, so I did a terrible job. I felt so upset, embarrassed, and jealous because my younger brother did so much better than me. In a fit of stubbornness and frustration, I insisted on quitting piano shortly afterwards! I didn’t realize at the time how those behavioral patterns were shaped by executive dysfunction including chemical imbalances related to ADHD.
My first performance in drag as Ben D Dickson was just a couple of months ago, and I’ve only performed a few times since. It’s been a whirlwind journey so far, and I’m honestly just gobsmacked and honored to be able to take part in this beauty-filled community and experience. I’m excited to see what it will bring in the future, and first and foremost I am grateful for the chance to support and appreciate my fellow artists, performers and everyone else who makes this magical world possible. If it wasn’t for every producer, venue owner, audience member, social media friend and more this would not be able to exist.
SLUG: How would you describe Ben D Dickson’s personality and aesthetic?
Ben D Dickson: Ben D is a fun-loving, campy guy who believes in taking care of the people around him. He performs as all different characters from a teenage boy growing up in the 1990s and 2000s, to an old west outlaw and to a clownish holiday nutcracker—and many more facets yet to come.
SLUG: Where, what, and who do you draw inspiration from?
Ben D Dickson: I draw a lot of inspiration from fellow creators and performers online, especially on Instagram and Youtube. I find a lot of inspiration in wardrobe, materials and music.
SLUG: Your makeup seems to have changed over the years, what are your go-to looks or details?
Ben D Dickson: As a photographer I’ve been working with femme clients to create boudoir and pinup memories at Pinup Jane for years, but masculine and DRAG makeup has been a whole new world to me the past couple of months. I love experimenting with different products and techniques like airbrush makeup application and water based paints, and then combining those with a variety of makeup brands you would see in a department store.
SLUG: What does your typical BDD drag performance entail? What can an audience member expect to experience?
Ben D Dickson: Many of my routines as Ben D involve transitions along different points of the gender spectrum during each song, and I strive to show how gender and sexual orientation don’t have to define or confine you. These are ways of expressing yourself and relating to the world, but just like any other attribute, they are unique to every different person, and really just a matter of personal preference. We should never judge or ostracize anyone for those preferences any more than we would for someone’s favorite food or their taste in music. It’s ok to be unique! It’s also perfectly ok to express a preference that may seem unusual to the people around you.
As I was completing this interview and struggling to put some specific thoughts into words, I heard that the powerful (queer, Black, feminist writer) bell hooks just passed away. They put it better than I have ever been able to do, saying, “Queer—not as being about who you’re having sex with (that can be a dimension of it); but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.”
I’ve heard recently from many fellow drag kings and people attending drag shows recently of a type of imposter syndrome, that they want to be a part of this world, but worry that maybe they aren’t queer “enough.” I just wanted to take a moment to ask that we all put that aside and consider the idea that we are all exactly enough. If you come from a place of love and celebration, if you take the time to fall silent and listen intently to the people around you, and you feel a desire to be a part of a community, then you belong. If you find that not all rooms are accommodating, keep trying different rooms. I myself attended hundreds of drag shows across the country and around the world before finding a moment that felt right to join in and the people that felt right to surround myself with. The journey is different for each and every person, and you are perfect just as you are.
In a community (drag) that fights for inclusion, acceptance and visibility there is still a lot of room for growth and embracing intersectionality, and we can all take part in that journey, too. Whether your sense of queerness comes from gender, sexual orientation, religion, personality, autism, ADHD, neurodivergence, physical ability or disability, race, ethnicity, philosophy or anything else, it is valid, and you fully deserve to exist.
If the world of drag is a place you want to exist in, please know that this world is not reserved only for gay white men performing as female impersonators. They are important too, but there is space for everyone else as well, and we can ALL grow together.
As for the tangible question of what to expect at a performance: With most drag shows, you can expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $50 for a ticket, and you should always plan on bringing extra dollar bills to tip the performers. If you can’t afford extra tip money, please bring loud cheers and enthusiasm instead!
Most artists spend hundreds of dollars on each look and hours and hours preparing, so a few dollars thrown onstage during a performance can really add up to go a long way in helping to support this art. The ticket sales usually fund a small guaranteed base rate for each performer, as well as helping to pay for the venue/space, the tech and lights, the production and the many other people that help make each show possible.
Drag and other shows held in 21+ venues often involve bawdy humor and racy language and jokes, but “all-ages” drag shows exist too (even here in Utah!), and can be a great place to bring the kids or coworkers without worrying about content that could offend or be inappropriate for those audiences. You never know whose life may be touched or even saved by seeing something out of the norm be embraced and celebrated.
SLUG: I know you perform a lot at Why Kiki with fellow drag kings—can you talk about that experience and the creatives you perform with?
Ben D Dickson: There are several people to whom I owe immense thanks to for their support and involvement in my drag journey so far.
First, Madazon Can-Can. They hosted a Drag Kings’ Camp workshop series this summer, which covered drag history, makeup, costuming, movement and more. They brought together a phenomenal band of brothers and taught us valuable fundamentals about drag, along with the values of mutual support and community. They are planning to make this an annual occurrence, and more information about it can be found on their Instagram account @madazon_can_can. They are an incredibly talented artist, educator and performer in their own right, so make sure you keep an eye out for their upcoming performances and other kinds of classes, too!
Secondly, Liam Manchesthair is a fellow drag king who frequently performs at Why Kiki and at Try-Angles with the group known as “Those Bitches.” Together with Randy, the owner of Why Kiki, they have created a dedicated monthly show for drag kings. Why Kiki has a ton of different events every week including drag shows, a silent disco, standup comedy and more, but this ALL KINGS drag show is rare and unique! Liam has done a lot of work to bring together a group of kings and “things” and keep an open dialogue between as many performers here in Utah as possible. Check out @whykikibar, @Liam_Manchesthair and @those.bitches on IG for upcoming show details.
Third, Ursula Major is a well-known drag queen who performs at a variety of local events such as Kiki Cabaret, events for the Utah Arts Alliance and also hosts a fabulous brunch every Sunday at Why Kiki called “Brunchbox”. She has gone above and beyond to connect and share knowledge and opportunities with myself and many other performers. I’ll never forget one week at brunch this fall when the audience was full of fellow performers excited to support the cast. There were at least five tables full of us, and nobody was dressed in drag. (It can be hard to recognize everyone when they are constantly wearing so many different faces, names, pronouns and lewks!) Not only did she notice, but she went out of her way to take a moment on the microphone and thank each and every performer in the audience by name. To me, that really showed a level of thoughtfulness and grace that the world could always use more of. Ursula also recently did me the huge honor of booking a photoshoot with me—you can see those images and more on her Instagram @ifvckedursulamajor.
There are LOTS of other venues and groups hosting drag shows in Utah, so don’t forget to search Google and social media for things like “Utah drag show”, “Salt Lake drag brunch”, related hashtags and so forth.
SLUG: How can our readers connect with and support you during this time?
Ben D Dickson: Instagram is the best place to connect with me, and every like and comment means a lot. Online engagements on artists’ posts do SO MUCH to encourage the algorithm to show our content to you again and to help us reach other people, so even though it only takes a few seconds it can make a huge difference to just drop a couple of emojis in a comment whenever you see a post. If you send the post to a friend in a direct message on the social media app where the post is coming from, that makes a huge difference as well!
My drag king content can be found on Instagram @Ben.D.Dickson or on Facebook by my non-drag name Mia Allen.
My photography business helps me make ends meet financially, so anyone with photography related inquiries can reach me via @SaltLake.Photographer or @PinupJane on IG, or Pinup Jane Photography on Facebook. I shoot all kinds of portraits including events, boudoir, pinups, weddings, families, newborns, and more.
SLUG: Where can supporters go to tip you?
Ben D Dickson: If anyone would like my Venmo, ApplePay, Amazon gift list, or Paypal to send a gift, tribute, or tip, please send me a direct message on any platform and I will send you whichever link(s) you’d like.