We check out the producer and director of The Icelandic Drag Competition
Since 1997, The Icelandic Drag Competition (Draggkeppni Íslands) has grown from a small, low-key nightclub into a full-fledged production that suits Eldborg, Harpa’s main division. This year’s competition, August 6, will feature four of Iceland’s draw choirs against each other (queens against queens, kings against kings) in a battle against parody and elegance. And who said that Iceland should never have a king? I spoke to Georg Erlingsson Merritt (drag name, Keiko), producer and director of the contest, to learn more about this gay throne game.
You were a drag queen, right? When was that?
I competed in 1998. I won that year and after that I was asked to take over the competition and I have done so ever since. So I have not been able to compete because I do not think it is fair, although I would like to. I have often appeared in the show. I have sometimes hosted. Well, at least I didn’t go down without explaining myself first.
So, what’s your role in the competition?
I produce it and I direct too. I do not take control of competitors; I’m just trying to get the best out of them. In most cases, these are not professional actors, so you have to help them along the creative process. I talk to them like a judge would, although I do not judge the competition. But I try to reach them as far as they can.
REST IS A DRAW
Who is involved? Who competes?
Everyone is allowed to participate. I’m not worried about whether you’re gay, straight, bisexual, transgender or anything. Of course, it is mostly gay people who take part, but everyone is welcome to do what they want to do.
What are the shows?
Everyone creates their own character – the character needs to be very believable. Someone could come on stage and just talk, or dance, or sing on their own. We have had all kinds of activities in previous shows: circus games, acrobatics, tap dancing, everything goes. I’m just waiting for someone to take a toilet with them on stage and sit on it. But no one has done that yet.
What is the drag scene outside of the race? Is it a normal scene?
It used to be better. Places are always changing, always opening and closing. We used to have a gay theater called Vanity. One summer we had a cabaret there, every Saturday, with new material every time. So it was a big drag scene that summer. Sometimes a lot is going on, sometimes not. I’m not going out that much anymore. There are maybe three or four that go out regularly, but there are not so many shows at the moment which is sad.
Why do you think that is?
How things develop politically in a gay society here – I get the feeling that they are trying to take away our heritage, as if they are trying to make our history disappear. I’m quite willing to accept my rights and I’ve been a big supporter of Pride, but when you get the rights you start to focus on the outside, which is also good, but they sweep under the rug what we used to do. We are all becoming so neutral; we are all becoming very direct. We do not want to be recognized as gay people. That’s why I’m continuing with this competition. I do not want our history to disappear. Do not forget, drag was one of the most powerful weapons used in the early battles for our rights. This is simply too valuable to terminate.
DISCONTINUED FOR KING
The competition offers drag queens and drag kings. Are these different types?
Yes, there are two titles. They are different. Drag king is a much younger concept, so I think women have not dived into too many stereotypes as men have traditionally. But the typical stereotypes that are emerging are these really gorgeous, romantic guys in suits, the big asshole on the street and the rock type. The rock type seems to be really hot at the moment and the girls pull it off really well. In the locker room on show day, I sometimes walk past the drag kings because I do not realize that they are. They can really do a good job.
Are there as many men and women competing?
We try to have it the same every year. This year it is.
As you say, dragons are a novelty. I sometimes wonder if a male boy could border on misogyny in his parody of femininity. Thoughts?
I think a drag queen can say whatever she wants to say. It can be political, but it does not have to be politically correct. You’re supposed to be insulting people. You’re in tow. You are 200% of what you are imitating. It’s all done at the push of a button. If people are getting shocked, well, then it’s working. If gay people are in shock, well, that’s better. Someone has to kick our ass sometimes.
Do you think that increased awareness of trans issues has influenced the way in which action is taken or carried out?
People have been asking me about this lately. I don’t think that really affected it. Some people say, “If you’re going to pull, you’re making fun of trans people.” That’s not it; which has nothing to do with it. The two are not connected at all. One is an art form, the other is about feeling good in another body or gender. Drag player wants to go on stage, wants to be noticed. A transgendered individual does not (necessarily) worry about performance. I mean we have had trans people in the competition and I love how open the discussion is for trans people today. It’s about wasting time.