The newly formed/reformed/rebranded (however you wanna look at it) New Mexico Drag Kings are kicking off LGBTQ+ Pride Month with an all-new (monthly) Drag KINGdom Brunch at Kosmos Astro Pub on June 5. The Paper. took the opportunity to chat with longtime local drag king legends Rusty Nutz and Rocco Steele. Rusty was named “Best Drag King” in the Weekly Alibi‘s final Best of Burque poll, and Rocco is a recent national pageant drag king winner celebrating his 20th year in drag!
When did you first get involved in drag, and what motivated/inspired you?
Rusty: As a young child, I was entertaining pretend audiences because I was often
grounded! My outlets were music, dance and art in my bedroom.
As a young, queer teen I had left an abusive partnership and my friend, Rocco, was
performing with the Albuquerque Kings. He asked me to be the spotlight boi for an AKC
show. I agreed, and the next show I was on the ticket as an official Albuquerque King
Club troupe member.
I use the stage as a platform to tell a story to music. I’ve been able to use the stage also as
a political outlet. We are in some trying times! Humor is also an important aspect in my
Rocco: I have been performing in some aspect since a young age. I ran into an old friend
(who became my drag-dad, Seymour Johnson) in 2002 who told me they were creating
a show with all Drag King performers. I had met drag queens, and was intrigued to come
watch. After that first conversation 20 years ago, I asked to be a part of that first show in
June 2002 at the Pulse Nightclub and have been performing ever since. I was motivated
to join this new group of king performers, the Albuquerque Kings Club, to connect to
other people with similar interests in performing and giving back to the community. I was
and still am inspired by the versatility of drag as an art form and by each performer who
has taken the stage before me.
Drag kings are somewhat less known than drag queens. How long has the community been active in Albuquerque? Has it always been performative and public or was it more “underground” in years past?
Rusty: Albuquerque Kings Club has been active in our local community and city/state for
over 20 years. It’s exciting to bring back a collective of kings to our city, now in the form
of the N.M. Drag Kings, to encompass a wider range of talent. We strive to provide a
platform for kings to raise money in the community and give back. We also hope to
provide a space that is comfortable and safe for a king to explore their art and identity,
while inviting the community’s interest in drag kings and what we do!
Rocco: Although queens are considered by some as more “mainstream,” drag kings have
been around just as long. I think the more people open their minds to enjoying a good
performance, the expression and presentation of the performer is not as relevant. The
original drag kings in Albuquerque started as the “Albuquerque Gentlemen’s Club” in
June 2002 at the Pulse Nightclub. After the first show, the troupe grew in numbers and
changed the name to Albuquerque Kings Club. This group has always been focused on
giving back to the community, teaching new kings and supporting each other. I believe
we have always been very public, and performances have been how we established
ourselves, raised money for the community and built a group that has supported each
other over the years. We held monthly benefit shows at the Pulse for many years, and
eventually moved to other venues as the LGBTQ bar scene began to fade. Rusty and I
have been friends since high school, and we are using our great friendship to bring
attention back to the drag king community here in N.M. through new events focused on
kings. We want to make sure our reach is bigger than just one city, which is why we are
expanding to the name N.M. Drag Kings.
Is drag for you solely performative, or does it bleed over into other aspects of your life?
Rusty: A lot of what I do on stage/promoting is what I do for my day job—coordinating
events. So it’s always bled. It’s even affected my attire! I try to buy suits/shoes/accessories
that I can wear to the office and on stage! Drag ain’t cheap!
Rocco: In the beginning, drag helped me learn to find my identity, and my stage identity
was intertwined into so much of my life. As one of the many trans-identified drag kings,
the ability to explore my identity on stage through performance helped me through many
tough moments and taught me to be comfortable in who I am. I’ve always helped others,
and through drag I have been able to reach out to so many other people and help bring
them to the stage for the first time. Now in my life I do my best to keep the stage me and
the everyday me separate. Its always good to have healthy boundaries!
Is your drag persona based on aspects of yourself or on broader cultural
Rusty: Definitely on myself. Rusty is timeless. Rusty is that sweet but nice bad boy. I
have parts of me that are all those things outside of drag. But I use the platform to
Rocco: My drag persona was based on everything I wasn’t 20 years ago. On stage Rocco
started as an overly confident, wild and outgoing character, while in real life I was
usually reserved and quiet. In the beginning it was important to portray hyper-masculine
presentation. And now I think as Rocco has aged, he is more comfortable being different,
embracing all the ways to present gender and a wide variety of characters as a
performance on stage.
What do you see as the differences between drag king and drag queen communities?
Rusty: Drag queens have more exposure in general than drag kings. There is a natural
outspokenness to queens that attract attention. Kings tend to be a little more subtle,
downplayed, and that might be why you see less of us. Both kinds are meant to be
entertaining, well-constructed and show the artists’ devotion to their art.
Rocco: I think the main difference is the exposure in mainstream media. I am very
thankful the drag community in Albuquerque is very receptive and inclusive of all types of performers. This unfortunately isn’t common. Many of the kings I have connected to throughout the U.S. over the years share that they are excluded from performing in their communities and have had bad experiences trying to get into “queen only drag shows.” I know many kings that can sparkle and wow an audience just as much as a queen!
What does a typical stage performance of yours consist of?
Rusty: I like to play to my audience! If it’s an all-ages show I tend to bring more of the
playful side of drag to the stage, later nights we can bring on more of the heat. Expect
great outfits, high energy, well-rehearsed choreography and amazing tunes!
Rocco: I absolutely agree with Rusty, I focus on interacting with the audience. I am
usually looking for how I can engage through the music, make sure the costuming gets
their attention and making sure I’m always putting on a great show.
What has being a drag king taught you about gender and identity?
Rusty: It’s taught me to be comfortable expressing my male energy, femininity, and
everything in between. As a child I never knew that I could be so fluid and focus on any
of those rainbow aspects that feel the need to come out! It’s extremely liberating! And
being able to be on stage and to let my Rusty fly and be celebrated, well, my little,
grounded childhood self would have rejoiced!
Rocco: Being a drag king has taught me to love myself, be proud of who I am, and to
celebrate all the spectrum of gender and identities that exist and could exist. Life is too
short to spend any time on questioning these aspects of who people are. Acknowledge
them, celebrate them and move forward. Life is a Big Drag Show!
So what can audiences look forward to at the KINGdom Drag King Brunch?
Rusty: Fun! Great food! Entertainment! Surprises! Music! Drag kings!
N.M. Kings KINGdom Drag King Brunch at Kosmos Astro Pub is the only all drag king
monthly brunch in our state. We are grateful, lucky and honored to have July and August show dates lined up with Kosmos!
The environment and comfort setting Kosmos provides is a great platform for our N.M. Drag King Brunch Shows. Featuring rotating N.M. Drag Kings and a special guest (drag king from a different state or burlesque, for example). We will have games for fun prizes, rotating local DJs and food—Kosmos Brunch Menu is off the hook and they plan on having a Special Drag King Brunch Menu Item. Nom nom nom.
Fifteen percent of our door is donated to a local person or nonprofit organization. For our first show, it’s local artist Caitie The Painter (caitlinpadilla.com/). Caitie is an AMAZING artist and is a recent widow raising their only child Sophie. She will be selling some of her art at our show! Currently her work is on display at Boxing Bear in ABQ.
The KINGdom Brunch Drag King show hits Kosmos Astro Pub (1715 Fifth St. NW) on June 5. Doors open at 11am. Show starts at 11:30am. Brunch returns Sunday, July 10 and Sunday, Aug. 28. Look for more drag king action on Saturday July 2 (9pm) with “Hot Dogs N’ Buns” NM Drag King Show at the Albuquerque Social Club.
Follow King Rocco Steele on FB facebook.com/DragKingRoccoSteele/ IG
king_rocco_steele and King Rusty Nutz ant RustyNutz.org for future N.M. Drag King shows.