By Samantha Anderson
Why does gender matter? And what is gender anyway? Are our desires and identities based on it? What if on some days I feel masculine even though I am biologically female? What if I could just be and that was all that mattered?
These are the questions Haitian-American milDRED Dred Gerestant’s one woman show bring to mind.
We’ve all heard the expression “Drag Queen,” but milDRED is transformative. milDRED is a Drag King and she is proud of it.
The show, part of the annual women’s theatre festival, Hysteria, is called “When She Was King,” and showcases milDRED, the artist formally known as DRED.
She stands, an average height, in a spotlight on the stage at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, three stools set up around her, each one piled with a different garment, material things that remind and inform us of gender; trousers, a jacket, a skirt, and eventually a gold tooth. milDRED tells the crowd that they are in for a different experience: the milDRED love experience. She tells the crowd she began Drag King shows in 1995.
Her first character?
MilDRED tells the audience this from behind a painted black goatee and at first, gender neutral clothes. She said there was something about cross-dressing that was pulling her in. Something drew her to drag. And “thank goddess,” she said, “[because] I make a damn good looking man.”
After a while, DRED was born. Luckily the audience had the fortune of meeting him. A sensual song came on and milDRED, now dressed in a man’s jacket, pants and hat after changing onstage began to dance and lip-sync, rivalling P. Diddy, or as milDRED put it, whatever he calls himself these days.
By the end of the song she applies red lipstick lovingly as the audience watches, aware of the bulge in her pants and sweet, soulful moves.
As a smooth player from the 70’s, equipped with an afro, and then, an even larger afro, milDRED tells the audience about a time she competed in a men’s pimp contest, even though, “you know a pimp can’t have breasts,” she said.
She won second place that year and knew that everyone in the place was thinking she was some fine man, which milDRED explained, her ‘fro in full gear, “at the time, I am.”
milDRED transcended from character to character, going from female to male and back to female, visiting the 70’s but also reaching diva-status, Diana Ross-esque in a red sparkly bikini.
Transitioning through each character, whether female or male was effortless for milDRED, and she was unafraid of the vulnerability of that in-between stage, revealing a perfect pedicure while suiting up or quiet satisfaction while removing her painted-on
facial hair and slipping into a long white skirt, the red glitz of her bikini reminding the audience of “Dreditia,” one of the first characters, who stressed that diva was in fact spelled with an “ahh” at the end.
Regardless of what part of herself milDRED chose to explore at any given moment, it was confidence and self-love that reigned through-out. She stood still after her performance of dance, spoken word, and monologue, removing her wig, barefoot in her bikini top and skirt, content, voice neither shrill nor deep.
“If you saw me on the street what would you assume,” she asked, reaching down her skirt, pulling out the bulge to reveal an apple, holding it up and taking a bite.
“What is a natural woman,” she continued, “what is a natural man?”
Convincing in her representations of gender, milDRED cultivated a sense of belonging in the audience. Audience members declared their love for themselves; their self-love.
“I feel confident,” a woman said on the way out, citing neither masculinity nor femininity, maleness nor femaleness.
Ultimately, milDRED explained, we all have both in us.
And that, she said, was a blessing.