One of Asheville’s most unconventional drag kings challenges the heteronormative.

Kendall Anthony-Busbee

Contributor

kanthony@unca.edu

 

 

Photo by Schuylar Shayne Photography.                              Channing Taint performing at the Odditorium, Jan. 26, in Asheville, North Carolina.Sierra Kimberlin, otherwise known as Channing Taint, performs around Asheville and the Southeast as a drag king. Through her art, Kimberlin challenges the mainstream standards of drag, gender and sexuality.“I definitely play with the lines of masculinity. A lot of people classify me as a ‘drag-thing,’ which is a newer part of drag and kind of a genderless drag entity,” Kimberlin said. “Everybody says I’m just a weird, campy, nasty, dyke-goblin.”

A UNC Asheville alumna, Kimberlin graduated in 2017 with a major in anthropology, and now has a drag career spanning the past four years.

“Kinging is on a similar spectrum with drag queens. Drag kings are people who represent a form of masculinity. They are doing a performance of masculinity, but in an exaggerated and queer way. Or, it can be very realistic in some ways,” Kimberlin said. “Some people blur the lines of gender and do something in between. You’re essentially playing with gender.” 

While the art of drag is often associated with gay men and drag queens, a considerable variety of drag artists from all sexualities and gender identities exist within the LGBTQ+ community. 

“My thing is that men can walk around in heels, and some men have tits, and that’s completely fine. I think those people should be represented just as much, and that’s what I do with my drag style, as well as playing with the rolls of gender and avoiding something strictly binary,” Kimberlin said. “Drag is playing with gender to begin with.”

The art of drag also proves to be an ideal vehicle for satire, which becomes evident in many of Kimberlin’s performances. 

“I’ve done stuff where I’ve painted a vagina on my face, or I use really large inflatable penises, or wear pasties and do burlesque-type numbers. My performances are usually more on the campy-side, and I usually play with camp more than anything. It’s usually always like a nasty, filthy and campy type of theme,” Kimberlin said. “That’s just what my drag is, campy but also gross and weird and scary and nasty as well. I love playing with all of it.” 

Camp is an extreme aesthetic style that considers something appealing due to its intentionally perverse and amusing value. Kimberlin’s character of Channing Taint takes a studied approach to how society expects to see gender, and instead offers the antithesis of heteronormativity.

The femininity aspect has always been consistent for me, but what that looks like has changed over the years. It’s gotten more feminine, more clown-like, more like a goblin,” Kimberlin said. “I like to put the very provocative, sexual and vulgar things out there because everyone is always shying away from stuff like that. All of our bodies are beautiful.”

While filled with shock-value and occasionally sexually graphic content, Kimberlin’s work is quite poetic. As such, she often receives mixed reactions pertaining to her style of drag.

“When I first started drag, people hated it because they thought it was too feminine, and the whole blurring of gender wasn’t as prominent when I first started,” Kimberlin said. “I had one guy after one of my numbers be grossed out by it and he came up to me and told me I was disgusting.”

Kimberlin’s persona of Channing Taint is more than just putting on a mustache. For Kimberlin, it is an opportunity to make the audience question the conventional. 

“Some people hate on it and say it’s just for shock value, but we are here to push the boundaries and put stuff in your face. We want you to look at it, think about it and get your wheels turning even if it’s not the most monumental and inspirational number,” Kimberlin said. “We want you to think about why you find this nasty or why you think this is gross, or why you’re afraid of this or why this bothers you. It gets people to reflect on how they’ve been taught what things are nasty and gross, and why they have that reaction to it.”

Others praise Kimberlin’s performances, like Matt Evans, booking manager for The Odditorium in Asheville.

“Channing is a stellar performer. The first time I saw them, I remember being blown away,” Evans said. “I enjoy booking Channing because they are professional, organized and entertaining. You can tell when you watch them perform that they love every second, and it shows in the quality.”

Reflecting on gender fluidity’s history holds substantial importance, according to Amanda Wray, associate professor at UNCA and a member of the university’s women, gender, and sexuality studies department. 

“Long before the language of ‘trans’ identity existed, names exist in other languages to represent gender fluid individuals, and they were often considered a people recognized as having extra, other-world wisdom or double spirited consciousness,” Wray said. “I love that drag art shows exist and that our community continues to cultivate safe spaces for artists to articulate themselves.”

Showcasing the subculture of drag kings inspires self-expression and encourages others who are hesitant to explore the art, according to Tamy Kuper, owner of The Odditorium.

“Channing pushes boundaries and gets into dirty, gritty material that some might find uncomfortable or off limits,” Kuper said. “That to me is art.”

For Kimberlin, drag has been an experience which allows her to find her voice as both a performer and as a person.

“You have to have really tough skin to do this. You’re going to be sensitive to the fact that it’s your art, and your body, that you’re putting it up on a stage for people to look at, and some people are going to critique that and tell you to your face that they don’t like it,” Kimberlin said. “It’s up to you to decide if that opinion of your art matters to you. If you don’t respect that person enough to accept their judgement, then you don’t need to let it affect you negatively and how you feel about your art. You have to tell yourself that a lot of times, and it’s hard.”

Rather than appropriating masculinity, Kimberlin seeks to embrace it, and react creatively to misogyny. 

“I want to represent that part of masculinity, of falling in the middle and playing with the lines of gender. Rather than just being the most buff and masculine thing you’ve ever seen, . I want to show the other side of masculinity that’s not as prominent,” Kimberlin said.

According to Kimberlin, the drag king subculture often resides in the shadow of its drag queen counterparts due to mainstream media.

“There’s always been this stereotype that drag kings are boring, that they don’t dance or do anything, or that it’s not as interesting as watching a drag queen perform,” Kimberlin said. “I think it’s partially things like RuPaul’s Drag Race and mainstream media that don’t always showcase kings.”

While drag kings tend to be underrepresented, The Odditorium in Asheville welcomes all genders and styles of drag, according to Kuper.

“Drag helps build a family and a space to be free, open and safe, as well as feel like a part of something special in a world where they may not be accepted just for being themselves,” Kuper said.

Performing in drag generates a potent and transformative feeling for Kimberlin. 

“Sometimes when you perform so much, there is a blur between your drag persona and yourself,” Kimberlin said. “When I’m constantly in drag, sometimes I forget who Sierra is.” 

Kimberlin was assigned female at birth, and being a woman proves empowering for her, when she wants it to be.

“It is just a performance. While I do these things on stage and while it’s all part of me, it’s not every aspect of me,” Kimberlin said. “There are parts of me that intertwine with my drag persona, but there’s still a whole other side of me. Channing is just one piece.” 

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