In a dark, smoky room echoing with the Euro-pop stylings of girl group T.A.T.U., I look up from my beer to see two hot girls making out. Buxom, blond women really sucking face like they mean it. And in schoolgirl uniforms! But these aren't the half-assed snogs of girls hoping that some frat boy across the room is gonna dig the whole girl-on-girl thing, constantly peeking out of the corners of their eyes looking for somebody who'll put their pictures on LastNightsParty.com. This is not girls gone wild. It's girls gone gay.
Welcome to Friday night at Buddies II, one of the oldest gay bars in DFW. I am totally a VIP and loving it. I could probably offer the bouncers over at the Candle Room a lump sum (or to hump some), and I'd still be waiting outside all night. But Buddies is the kind of place where everybody knows your name, even if you've never been there before, which I hadn't. But I've got a prime spot at a reserved table right in front of the performance space, a cold brew in hand and an all-access view of the Dukes of Dallas, the only drag king show in town and one of the few in the country. They're kicking off the show with a lip-sync number involving some short plaid skirts.
That's right, "drag king." They're like drag queens, but not so much with the towering wigs, false eyelashes and plentiful sparkles. More so with the duct-tape-flattened breasts, glued-on facial hair and baggy jeans. The Dukes of Dallas are the girl-to-guy cross-dressers Nate Jones, Ian Patrik and Mo Money, along with their feminine accomplices Christina Love and Alex Monroe of schoolgirl-uniform kissing fame. The first Friday of every month finds them at Buddies, performing a new, fully choreographed, costumed, gender-bending drag extravaganza.
Peering over my glass before the show, I should have known that the cute punk-rock boy standing by the bar was a Duke, but his facial hair looked so real and his mannerisms so distinctly male that I figured he had to be a guy. But when we get to chatting, I find that it's Ian, rocking a faux-hawk and tight, black sleeveless T-shirt. The other Dukes have their own distinct styles. Mo's in oversized tees and baggy pants for a little R&B goodness, and Nate Jones can be spotted yards away by his black-tipped, vampire-red Mohawk.
Talking to Ian, I am immediately confused. Boys are for flirting with, and girls are for buying shoes with. Boys buy me dinner; girls buy me nice-smelling bath products for Christmas and birthdays. But here we have a girl who looks and acts like a boy but who likes girls, and I am a girl who looks and acts like a girl but likes boys. My immediate inclination is to play with my hair and giggle. Instead, I engage in a long lip-lock with my real favorite boyfriend, Jack Daniel, and decide to think about the long-term implications of my own gender identification issues later when there's not so much dance music playing. Turns out, in addition to a swimming pool, two bars and a sand volleyball court, Buddies has an excellent DJ.
The last time I saw anyone cut a real rug in North Texas, Toby Keith was on the jukebox and a whole lot of starched Wranglers were on the dance floor. Whither the booty-shaking? But I'll wager Justin Timberlake sounds just as good here as anywhere else, especially since the Buddies sound system is the best I've heard in any club in town. So when the first beats of "SexyBack" jumped out of the speakers, this little straight girl found herself shaking her little white arse alongside gay guys who looked like girls, gay guys who looked like guys, gay girls who looked like guys, gay girls who looked like girls and a whole plethora of other folks who didn't seem to mind that I like to do the Cabbage Patch dance every 40 seconds. If this were Club Purgatory, I'd probably have been asked to leave.
As J.Timb's voice fades away, we take our seats for the show. The bleach-blond beauties Christina and Alex perform their schoolgirl lip-sync, ending in a crescendo make-out that comes just after my friend announced over the table that "this better end with them kissing." Obviously the Dukes aim to please.
Over the next hour, we're treated to everything from love ballads to punk-rock anthems to heavy metal-fueled explorations of self-loathing, all carefully staged with elaborate costumes (angel wings and fedoras!) and choreography. Really, the dancing is the only "these are girls" giveaway—there are about two straight guys on the planet who can really dance, right? One of them is gifting his, um, junk "in a box" and the other one has a fake nose, lives in Bahrain and likes to cuddle with little boys. But Nate, Ian and Mo definitely have the moves.
The highlight of the show was a Mo Money number acted out to the Bill Withers classic "Ain't No Sunshine." R. Kelly may have been "Trapped in the Closet," but while he was in there, he should have been taking notes from the Dukes. With just a glass, a photo of his lost lover and an empty chair, Mo managed to milk more melodrama than Kelly's entire 12-part sex-infidelity-preacher-gay-guns thing.
After a raucous closing bit involving fake blood, military outfits and lots of simulated shooting, I join the Dukes on the Buddies back porch. Exhausted and elated, they hug each other and take long swigs of light beer.
But there's no time for carousing and celebratory Jaeger bombs (well, maybe one) right now; I've got just one burning question on my mind: How do they make the facial hair happen?
"It's our own hair," Nate explains. When they shave their heads or trim their hair, they cut tiny pieces and attach them to their faces with hair spray. Nate sticks out his jaw so I can feel for myself. It's like real stubble. I'm mesmerized. Next time I get my bangs trimmed, beware the bearded woman.
Less enticing are the duct-taped chests of the Dukes, who paste down their breasts for a manly silhouette. When I ask to see how it's done, Ian and Nate bare their chests and put their black and silver duct tape on display. The skin is taut, and I cringe to think at how painful it must be. Christina Love, one of the two distinctly femme Dukes, pats Ian and says, "And these aren't small-chested girls, either." Strapping down one's C-cups is just another part of being a drag king, and the suffering is worth it.
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"We love being women," says Ian, "but we love dressing up as boys." None of the Dukes live as men, they just like to get their guy on every once in a while. Sure, some drag kings identify as male or are transgendered, but for the Dukes, it's about being a lesbian most of the time and a drag king some of the time. When they're Dukes, they're men, and they use pronouns such as "he" and "him." Otherwise, it's "she" and "her," or, if they're feeling frisky, maybe "shim."
That's probably the best thing about the Dukes and, by extension, Buddies. Anything goes. But as out-there as "shim" may seem to the mainstream folk, one thing remains constant: It's freezing outside, and I know one thing that warms everybody up.
"Let's go back inside where the booze is!"
Everyone cheers, and we file in the back door: ponytail, faux hawk, buzz cut, crop, Mohawk and pixie-bob. Ah, alcohol, the great uniter of the sexes, no matter which pronoun you're using today.