Men have been dressing up as women for a very long time. Female impersonation dates back to ancient Roman literature and classical Chinese theater. It was not considered proper for women to perform on stage, so men had to play every part in theater productions, even the lady roles (You’ve seen “Shakespeare in Love.”). A “drag queen” is typically defined as a man impersonating a woman for the sake of performance. Some do it professionally in the entertainment industry, while others do it for fun and creative expression.
It’s easy to confuse drag with transgenderism, but they are two different beasts. Both involve cross-dressing as the opposite gender; but most transgender people feel innately that they belong in the body of another gender, and swap so as to feel comfortable, not to entertain. Sometimes drag queens are gay men, but not always. It’s additionally possible for a man to be both transgender AND a drag queen – identity is complex and varied. Drag “kings” exist, too; these are women who perform dressed as men.
Cross-dressing and drag performances occurred underground for much of the 20th century, as homosexual acts were criminalized. Then the notorious Stonewall riots broke out in 1969 at New York’s Stonewall Inn, one of the city’s only gay bars at the time; police raided the bar to arrest homosexual patrons and the crowd fought back. The battle lasted six days, signaling the start of the gay-rights movement in the United States. The visibility of LGBT communities – drag queens included – increased substantially in the late ’60s.
Ammon Swofford, aka Alice Glamoure (his drag name), will be hosting DRAGrango, the first ever drag competition in Durango. It’s a fundraising event for Durango Pride (the annual festival takes place in June), also featuring performances by the Haus of FishCandy from Denver, a drag group founded by Ammon. We spoke with Ammon about how he found his “drag” living in Durango, and common misconceptions about his lifestyle he hopes to correct.
What’s DRAGrango all about?
We’re trying to express diversity through drag. I live in Denver now, and there’s a huge drag scene here. But this is Durango’s first drag competition, which is a really cool phenomenon. I think all of these competitions have been inspired by RuPaul and his “Drag Race” TV Series. It’s like “America’s Next Top Model” for drag queens. Plus, it’s an inspirational message. Just another fun outlet to express yourself.
How did you begin performing in drag?
I danced in high school. But my drag was developed in college at Fort Lewis through Dance Commotion (a college dance club). In 2008, I did a Beyoncé dance routine as myself, but wearing a dress with heels. At the time, there was Salt Fire Circus, the Bare Bones Burlesque in Durango, and in 2009, I auditioned for them in drag. I did a really saunter-y circus routine to Britney Spears’ “Circus,” but I didn’t get accepted. So I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to do this for Dance Commotion.’ 2009 was when I first went on stage as Alice Glamoure, my drag name. That’s where it all began. I love glamour, and I’ve always been infatuated with “Alice in Wonderland,” how she goes into this new world and meets so many colorful characters and creatures. When I was growing up, people referred to me as Prince or RuPaul and I was offended, like – ‘Who are these people?’ But now I feel so honored to be compared to them.
What was the LGBT scene in Durango like when you lived here?
I was part of Prism at FLC, the GSA (gay-straight alliance) on campus. I was in Dance Commotion, and started my own student organization, Front Row Artistry. I felt very accepted and comfortable with who I was. College is when you find all that out.
I’m really excited to come back and start the conversation in Durango again. I’ve never hosted a show by myself. I sometimes get nervous; but there’s no right or wrong, as long as you keep the audience engaged, happy and included. Give ’em a show. I’ve been doing these performance tours since last year, when I founded the Haus of Fishcandy, and I’ve been back a bunch of times to do shows in town. Our first venture was Snowdown last year for Steampunk. This time, I’m bringing one of my signature choreographies and songs for DRAGrango; I always do “Mein Herr” from “Cabaret” the musical in new venues who haven’t seen me. “Cabaret” was the last show I did in Durango at the DAC.
What else are you working on?
I’m currently in a musical called “The Wild Party” by Andrew Lippa. And I just finished “Mary Poppins” in January; I played a statue who comes to life with a little solo and a dance scene. Every musical I’m in now, I try to add a drag aspect. That’s what I do – I’m a drag entrepreneur. I also have a drag company, and I’m trying to create a production empire. My nonprofit is AM.SWOProductions. Within my production company, I have little chapters and departments; for example, FishCandy Theater is a theater troupe, and last fall we did a dance workshop. Then Haus of Fishcandy is my drag; there’s eight of us in the house and two of my “sisters” are coming with me to Durango for our show at Moe’s (drag queen bingo) on Thursday and DRAGrango on Saturday. We debuted our house last year for Pride in Denver, and it’s been fun branding our drag performances.
What are some common misconceptions about the drag lifestyle?
If I’m downtown with my drag sisters, close-minded people will say, ‘Look at those trannies!’ But transgender people are completely different, in my opinion – they live as the other gender. Whereas I’m just putting on a performance. This is a character. It’s fun to explain to these individuals, like, ‘I am a man dressed as a woman. I have makeup on, I did a performance.’ I like having that illusion, and then being able to take it off at night. People have asked me, ‘Do you want to be a woman?’ But I like who I am! I like the opportunity to perform as a female illusionist, dress up and have fun. Usually after performances, my feet are a little sore. [Laughs] I’m not 18 anymore.
What do you love about drag?
With my theater and business background, I like to put the two together. I’m definitely an entrepreneur, and doing things in drag for me is a lot more easy and fun. I can be sassy and witty and the life of the party.