Drag king calls Supreme Court ruling a milestone for LGBTQ workers

Performing as Vigor Mortis, this king of drag — who was named Drag King of the Year in 2017 at the Brooklyn Nightlife Awards — grew up all over Connecticut (family still lives in Danbury) but lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., now. In recognition of June being Pride month, we asked Mortis, a transgender activist about performing and activism.

Andrea Valluzzo: There is still a lot of work to be done but last week the Supreme Court ruling to protect LGBTQ workers was a major milestone. What’s your reaction to this news?

Vigor Mortis: It was a major milestone, but I am still frustrated and afraid. Why would it make ANY sense, to ANYONE, to be able to fire someone for who they are? It is frustrating and frightening to watch these proceedings take place because you are witnessing other people, people who may or may not have ever MET someone like you, debating whether or not you have the right to be protected at work. Whether you should have the same access to health care as everyone else. To be able to get housing without being denied on the basis of your identity. I have been told that these are inalienable rights, yet Queer people’s access, especially Black, Indigenous, and people of color’s access, is being treated like pawns in a chess game with no consideration for the human lives that are being manipulated. I am thrilled that the Supreme Court has decided to uphold these principles, but it still feels surreal that it was ever up for debate in the first place.

AV: This being Pride month, what does Pride mean to you and can you talk about its importance? I see you also are active in supporting Black Lives Matter.

VM: It is exceptionally important to remember now more than ever, that Pride was a riot. Stonewall was a riot. It wasn’t a bunch of people standing around hugging and waving rainbow flags with bank logos on them, it was a full out fight against police brutality. As my beautiful friend and fellow member of Switch n’ Play Nyx Nocturne said, ‘This year Pride reminds us where we came from, and what it is actually about.’ It is about our fight for liberation. And there can be no Queer liberation if it does not center and uplift all Black people, especially Black trans and nonbinary people. It is my and everyone else’s moral obligation to support the Black Lives Matter Movement, and it is vitally important for everyone to do a lot of reading, research and reflection around why.

AV: As a performer and involved in the arts community, what have you been doing these last few months with so many theaters and clubs closed?

VM: Mostly online shows! Platforms with livestream capabilities have been very fun, as well as social media. It’s tricky to get the hang of it at first, but once you do, there are so many options that open up to you! When you’re performing live, you only get one try to get it right! But when you’re prerecording, you can bring your audience to different locations, bring in props you may not have had access to, and do multiple takes until it feels great.

AV: You were named Drag King of the Year in 2017 at the Brooklyn Nightlife Awards. What did that mean to you?

VM: It was, and is, a huge privilege! To be voted for by your peers and your audience makes receiving this award so particularly special. It means that the work I was doing up until that point stood out to enough people that they thought of me when they saw the title “Drag King of the Year.” In a scene where there is so much flux and so much brilliance, people pushing the boundaries of performance and drag with every show, to have stood out as someone doing something special is such an honor to me and I will treasure my golden brick forever.

AV: For those not familiar with this term, what is a drag king and how does this differ from drag queen?

VM: A drag king typically is someone who plays with the more masculine side of the gender nebula, while a queen typically plays with the more feminine. But drag in and of itself is ever changing, because gender is a construct and drag is all about challenging what we think about presentation, identity, and desirability. So a drag king can truly be a many faceted thing, it is entirely up to the performer!

AV: How do you describe your drag style?

VM: I call myself a campy vampire who gets all their clothes from the dollar store. I love a bargain. It is very easy to spend hundreds of dollars on drag, but I try my best to put some flair onto things I’ve found at the thrift store. I love using drag to tell a complete story in three to five minutes, and usually choose songs that feel like they have a complete character arc.

AV: When did your life in drag begin?

VM: My very first time in drag was actually at the age of 15 at a Shakespeare camp. It stuck with me in the back of my mind for years! I played with it more in college, and then finally performed with Switch n’ Play once I had graduated and moved to Brooklyn. I did several of their open shows, and eventually they asked me to join their collective, and the rest is history. Drag has meant so much to me, and has helped me discover my identity in very real and tangible ways. It gave me the strength and the confidence to come out publicly as transgender. It has given me space to explore and create and has fuelled my life with such joy. I think everyone should try it! Why not, right?

AV: Tell us a bit about Switch n’ Play and your work there.

VM: Switch n’ Play is an award-winning Queer drag and burlesque collective that was established in 2006. While it was as a drag king collective initially, it has since grown to include burlesque and other forms of performance that spans the gender spectrum. I joined the collective in 2015, and am honored to work alongside such a powerhouse group of people. I am incredibly proud of the work that we do together. We are truly a family, and push and challenge each other in such productive ways. We have performed all over the world, and have had the great honor of having a documentary created about us called A Night at Switch n’ Play, directed by Cody Stickles and produced by Chelsea Moore.