One of NYC’s reigning drag kings–and heralded as “The Drag Whisperer” among the queens–Gary Carmichael opens up about his origins and career, and his upcoming performance at the Metropolitan Bar in Brooklyn.
Thotyssey: So, where are you from, and what sort of work do you do during the day?
Gary Carmichael: NYC born and raised. I am a bookkeeper for a construction company in Chelsea.
You’ve been coming out to the bars and clubs for awhile now, and virtually every drag queen in the city knows you. What drew you to this world?
I used to come out in the late 90′s–early 2000′s. Henrietta Hudson was my home base at the time. I never really went to the men’s clubs because of the stories I would hear about the patrons not being very welcoming. If I only knew then what I know now.
Anyway I had always been a fan of drag: Lady Bunny, Coco Peru and Divine. I took a break from nightlife to focus on my job and my martial arts training. Several years later, along comes Rupaul’s Drag Race. My first time at Boots & Saddle was Yuhua Hamasaki’s birthday show when Venus Delite was there, and my love for drag was rekindled. Going to Lips for a friend’s birthday also helped. This was when Lips was downtown, by the way.
You have a great rapport with a lot of queens, and some of the younger ones seem to look towards you as a parent or big sibling. Fifi DuBois once coined you “The Drag Whisperer!” Where does this empathy and helpfulness come from?
You were there that night [I got that name] actually, lol. A queen from Drag Race was at [Boots] as a boy. He was brought there by another queen as part of a tour of the bars in the village. She was there to hang out and check out the show. Everyone else was starstruck. For me it was like, “ok, cool.” What wound up happening was, it was announced over the microphone that this queen from Drag Race was there. All of a sudden she was approached by people non-stop. I approached her and asked her for a photo, but I asked her in a mature manner. Also, I mentioned to her I was also a bodyguard for hire. She was annoyed that she got called out. I can understand that the Drag Race girls sometimes just want to go out and have a drink, enjoy a show , and be anonymous. Even though they should be able to handle the fact of being a familiar face on TV. This queen allowed me to escort her out of the bar. We said our goodbyes and that was that.
Fifi was there and told me the Drag Race girl wasn’t exactly nice with anyone except me. “You are like the drag whisperer.” And that’s where it comes from. But it actually comes from the fact that I take the time to know the man under the wig and behind the makeup. People have to remember that there is a person behind the character. I have a deep respect for the craft and for those who are a part of it. It’s not easy. And I hope my girls realize that I truly care about them.
You’re much kinder than I am. I thought that incognito queen was a stupid bitch!
Lol. Well.there have been some that are nice with others and then they come to me and act like an arrogant bitch.
So, at what point did you decide that you wanted to be a drag king?
I had always wanted to do male drag. The first time I saw a drag king was Dred at a women’s pride event at the pier, aptly named Pier Pressure. I always wondered why drag kings never got the mainstream recognition drag queens enjoy.
I would sit at shows and think to myself, “I can do that.” I had my character name picked out. I didn’t have the time, though, to commit to it. Then I got a chance to speak with the king who is the most well-known in mainstream: Murray Hill. At the time, he was hosting bingo at XL on Friday nights before Hot Mess. I got to talking to him a little bit and I told him of my interest in male drag. He said, “Go ahead, do it, because there aren’t that many of us.” Since I retired from martial arts due to back surgery, I had the time to do it.
Baby drag queens at least have YouTube makeup tutorials–and now there are these live feed “getting ready” videos that lots of queens are filming on Facebook–to help them refine their paint. What resources do new kings have to help with their looks?
The thing with all of these tutorials is, you have to careful with the ones you watch. Unfortunately, everyone thinks that they can do a tutorial. If one watches the wrong tutorial, she will look like garbage. I have seen some tutorials and documentaries on kings. Some of the tutorials have their helpful tips. Other videos I watch and think to myself, “You still look like a woman, wtf?” The trick is to watch a few videos and pick and choose which techniques work for you. Everyone’s face is different. Everyone’s style is different. Another way to learn is practice… good old-fashioned trial and error.
Where does Gary get his gear, and how long does it usually take him to get ready?
The outfits depend on what type of numbers I feel like doing. Men’s stores, vintage clothing stores for the shirts I wear to do Meatloaf. Leather and s&m stores for my leather man look which I will be debuting soon. My Fred Flintstone look I hand stitched myself.
I would go to western stores for my cowboy and American outlaw look.
To get ready: Around an hour for body transformation, and around an hour for my face and hair.
Drag queens get some flack by people who think that they’re making fun of women, but most queens will say that that they are in fact praising women, and the traits of strong women in particular. Do you think drag kings are meant to praise certain masculine qualities, or are there different dynamics involved?
I can understand why some people would think that [drag queens are mocking women]. When I first saw drag queens I was thinking to myself, they think a biological woman would wear that. But, as I learned more about the craft, they give their interpretation of women. Some of their characters are influenced by the the women in their lives, like their mothers and sisters. Also, the styles of female entertainers like Barbara Streisand, Mae West and Liza Minnelli, amongst others.
For me as a king, this is my interpretation of what a man is. As there are different types of women for queens to get their inspiration from, there are different types of men for me to play off of. A few can’t deal with my interpretation of a man. In the end that’s on them, not me.
For your lip synch, do you find that the male vocals you can pull from to be very limited? There aren’t a lot of really good macho frontmen anymore with the decline of rock. I mean, I see queens in full lady drag do Bieber and it comes off as perfectly natural!
Part of the reason why most of my set consists of songs from years ago is for that very reason. There are a few songs from today that I can, and have had, to pull off during drag suicide. But I really don’t feel any of the music of today. I have been criticized by some for not doing songs of today.
I don’t do Justin Beiber music because I am not into his music. I have done boy bands a few times, but it has gone over like a lead balloon. I have been told to give people what they want, but I have found that not everyone likes Beiber or boy bands or Broadway. I do the songs that no one else does. I grew up listening to rock like the Eagles, Boston, Foreigner, etc. Country like Glen Campbell, Hank Williams, Charlie Daniels. Pop music like Tom Jones, Bobby Darin, Tony Bennett. R&B and soul, like Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass and Al Green.
I can also do heavy metal like Judas Priest, Motorhead and Metallica. My two biggest influences are the big men: Barry White, Meatloaf, and Luciano Pavoratti. I bring to the clubs songs you wouldn’t normally hear. If I can bring back memories for someone, or if a younger person’s curiosity is piqued to Google a song title or artist, I have done my job.
No matter what song I do, I perform it with power and passion. That’s what most songs today lack, in my opinion. I wish my girls can do songs from great ladies like Natalie Cole, Aretha Franklin, the Pointer Sisters, Diana Ross, Donna Summer, Barbara Streisand, Sade. There’s so much great music that isn’t performed. I wish it was. There’s much more than boy bands, Beyonce , Brittney, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, etc. Also great duets that can be performed if my girls tap me at some point.
You need to do “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” with some queen, ASAP! I think Fifi would kill it!
Please drop Fifi some hints! Tell her you want to see it, LOL!
You’re going to perform at Hot Fruit at the Metropolitan Bar in Brooklyn on the 28th.
[Yes.] Hot Fruit has all types of performers. guitarists, singers, drag. A nice mix. I’ll be debuting a new mix made by Dotty Spartans. I want to thank Will Sheridan and David Sokolowski for giving me the opportunity the first time out, and for having me back.
By the way, tonight at Metropolitan there’s a RPDR viewing party and Q&A with Thorgy. Do you know her? How about the other two New York Drag Racers, Bob the Drag Queen and Acid Betty?
Acid Betty I have never met in person but I know of her work . She is very creative and should go far on the show. Bob and Thorgy are another story. Thorgy I met at the Ritz when she was hosting Saliva with Azraea. The regret I have is that I didn’t start drag when Saliva was still going on because I would have been welcomed and encouraged to compete. Thorgy is a top notch performer and she should do well on the show also.
And finally, going back to Hot Fruit… what’s your take on the whole Brooklyn scene?
There is a sense of “anything goes” as far as drag. But that can happen anywhere. I know about this Manhattan vs Brooklyn scene and it’s all a bunch of baloney. This isn’t West Side Story. This is all about drag in the end. Bottom line is no matter what borough you are from you represent NYC. NYC consists of five borough,s not two. at the end of the day it’s drag. its entertainment. I represent all of NYC proudly. Whether the queens shave or not, whether they wear gowns or not, it doesn’t matter. In the end it’s all drag.
Spoken like a True King!