It was at the ACPA 17 Cabaret my friend and I made the deal, you enter, I enter. I watched and attended the ACPA Cabaret my second year at that point. I learned how the event supported local organizations focused on the LGBTQA community as well as scholarships for this same population. Watching the performers, I thought it was something I could never do.
When the application for the 2018 show came along my same friend reminded me of our deal, we entered, and were accepted. I entered my stage name as Kinky Blessing. Kinky representing Kinky Boots which I wanted to wear. I always admired thigh high boots and thought about how fun it would be to rock a pair. The Blessing is an ode to my personal college group of friends. We collectively regard ourselves by many group names but we are currently owning The Blessing because this is the title given to a collection of Unicorns. Why unicorns? Well…why not, right?
I grew up in a lower socioeconomic home with my mother and sister on the perimeter of Atlanta or as natives call it OTP. Shania Twain was played…a lot! Who’s Bed Have Your Boots Been Under, Any Man of Mine, & yes….Man I Feel Like a Woman were played throughout the house on repeat. I remember helping with chores and singing to all of Shania’s songs and dancing throughout the house. My love of the songs and the femininity never struck me as something wrong then and I was never challenged until later in life. All I knew was that I loved Shania’s look in the Man I Feel Like a Woman video. When the chance came to select a 90’s song to perform, I instantly jumped to this selection and excitedly pulled together the Shania look.
The search for my clothes was an experience within itself. I specifically recall sitting on a bench in Goodwill trying on a pair of high heeled boots when I looked up and saw a young kid observing me. I perceived how they were trying to comprehend a guy with a beard jerking a pair of kinky boots on his legs. While I was in DSW trying to find THE right pair of boots, multiple stares and giggles were had. My thoughts during this experience were, “This is my lone, one-time experience. What of those individuals that face this everyday? What of those individuals that need a size 11, cause they’re impossible to find! How privileged and blind am I to have never considered this before.” As I pulled one pair of thigh high boots off I felt a muscle fade in my hip and worried a might’ve actually caused real damage in the process of getting my Shania on. I longingly looked at boots I wanted but couldn’t afford. I imagined how fabulous I could be if I just had that one pair of $150 gold studded thigh highs. I found my hat, wig, gloves, and bedazzlement at Party City. I vocally gasped when I found my top hat because it was velvet and beautiful! I hope it becomes a signature piece for me : )
All in all I pulled my outfit together. Then the contemplation came into play. What would my Uncle think? Seeing his nephew wearing studs and make-up? How might my mother explain it to her friends, “this was just a charity experience he was doing.” How do we explain any Facebook pictures to my nephew and niece? How rattled will my college friends be to see their friend dressed as a woman? Owning my identity as a gay man has come with its difficulties, and thus far I have handled it well enough so far; but, was I really ready to explain the world of drag to others? Above my concerns of judgement from family and friends I was even more concerned about the drag community itself. I felt and am, in a sense, an imposter to the scene. Although I received multiple nods as, “a new drag baby,” I was concerned how I may represent this community and if in doing so could I potentially cause harm. As I continued to share the news of my upcoming performance, I continually received phenomenal support. In the end, I resolved to remember the purpose of the Cabaret and appreciate the opportunity I had to contribute. As with other things, I was also prepared to entertain questions and challenges that could arise as a result of my participation. I was proud I had the courage to participate and grateful for the new knowledge and friendships it brought.
Performing in the show was a liberation of my own desire to let it all go and own those things that were deemed “feminine.” My hair I could flip, my lips were luscious, and I damn well fit in a corset. I had prepared a few choreographed moves in my hotel room that all but left me during the performance. My beautiful top hat refused to stay on my head and I may have had a few nipple slips. Overall, though, I felt amazing. I suspended judgement and just imagined myself dancing in my home with my dust rag in hand. It felt good to let go of my own insecurities and own my Queen. I received great feedback from the experience and one colleague even expressed how I slayed my performance which was all the validation I ever needed.
Beyond all of this, what made the experience was the people. While my time on stage was LIBERATING, the moments I enjoyed most were standing in the box cheering on our fellow Queens and Kings. There’s something to be said about the strong sense of community that exists within ACPA and within every single performer that poured their heart out that night. We pressed our faces to the glass, screamed, “Yaaaasss,” and offered hugs to each member that returned to our space after their performance. THAT was the Cabaret experience. Knowing we were all there for reasons beyond ourselves and owning that bravery was the galvanizing experience of it all.
To conclude the show, we all gathered on stage to sing, This is Me, from The Greatest Showman, which, if you know the song, is pretty representative of this experience. At one moment on stage, I stopped and thought how fortunate I was to be a part of something so impactful and fun. It truly ignited even more desire within me to continue understanding and advocating for this community. I’m excited to see the Cabaret continue to grow at future ACPA’s and hope to see many more new faces join in the fun. Collectively, I believe, it is an experience like no other to explore the Drag community and truly immerse yourself.
Until next year,
Kinky ; )
Ryan Keeseee (He/Him/His) Currently works as the Assistant Director of Volunteerism and Service-Learning at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter as @keesee22.