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The Kings Are Running It: Himbo & The Twisted Transitioner Interviews

By Benvolio Nichols


All other four interviews from Ben's main article are linked below!



Himbo. Photo by Abel N. Willing. The Twisted Transitioner. Photo courtesy of The Twisted Transitioner.


The following interviews contain explicit language, including reclaimed homophobic slurs. They have been edited for length, clarity and content.


HIMBO 

He/him in and out of drag


Drag king Himbo has made a name for himself as a performer and host across the Cleveland and Kent drag scenes. Earlier this fall, he became one of the first kings to compete in Mx. Zephyr, the drag competition hosted by Jade Uzumaki. He performed for the first time at Casting Call, the open stage hosted by Pineapple Honeydew-Delight and Ryder Slowly, in May 2022.


So I had been thinking about doing drag since I was like 17, and I had watched “Drag Race” for like a year and I was like, “okay, drag is cool, drag is fun, it’s whatever.” I was still in high school at the time and went to an on-campus show [at Kent State University]. Then I went to the first-ever Casting Call, and I met my drag mom, Them. I decided to try drag from there. 

I did “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars. It was honestly one of the most fun experiences, but I don’t remember a single bit of that one performance at all. I remember I took my best friend, she helped me with all my choreography. I nailed the choreography. I was still figuring out my makeup, figuring out who Himbo was.


Although Himbo did not have a performance or costuming background prior to drag, he found that high school sports helped him cultivate a stage presence. From there, he learned to sew his own costumes.


I started sewing because I was like, “I wanna make my own shit.” So I kind of just picked stuff up as I went, with drag. I actually did nothing [in performing arts] before. I did sports before. 

In high school, I did basketball, baseball, swim and dive. And I honestly think that diving and baseball helped me out a ton. That pressure and nervousness to do good [onstage] is the same feeling I would get before I would do one of my hardest dives. Or baseball, that feeling of like, pitchers throwing 80 miles per hour and you’re like, “oh shit, I gotta hit this somehow.” Mostly I would say confidence is what came from sports. Just going like, “you know what? Fuck it. Don’t think. Just do whatever, just have fun.”


In his makeup and mix concepts, Himbo draws from pop culture, including manga, music and film.


So I would say the most obvious [influence] is my love for my favorite anime and manga, “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.” My makeup is very inspired by the art style of the author, Hirohiko Araki, so it’s very painted, drawn-on type stuff. Even my runway walk for Zephyr was very JoJo-inspired. Nicki Minaj is really a big inspiration for me because I love her, I grew up with her. And I would say ’90s, early 2000s hip-hop,just really inspires me. I’m mixed, so where I originally grew up in Akron is very Black, and I grew up in very biracial communities. And I love to throw in horror too, just because like, who doesn’t love a good horror movie?

My favorite performance based on like, everything, I would say was my “Scream” mix. It takes place at the beginning of “Scream” One, and I’m dressed as Drew Barrymore. It’s a mix of heavy choreography, being silly, face comedy — just having a great time with the audience. People at shows are like, “oh my god, Himbo’s doing his Scream mix, I can’t wait!”

Recently, a really fun number I did was at Manor of the Macabre. I did “FE!N” by Travis Scott. I wanted to do, like, radiation, so I did a little makeup [pictured]. So I just thought the number was so fun and so goofy, because I’m climbing out from under the stage, eating uncooked cinnamon rolls, covered in fake blood, and I’m just doing backbends. I just do stupid shit on stage for a dollar.


Alongside The Twisted Transitioner, Himbo was one of the first two kings to compete on Mx. Zephyr — which presented the challenge of, not only competing, but also balancing drag with the demands of being a college student.


I was simply just like, “you know, we’re gonna see how it goes.” I did Zephyr at possibly the worst time to do Zephyr for me, because I had just gotten home from [spending the summer in] Japan, and then school started week one for Zephyr. So it was like, “how am I gonna get stuff done?” Who knows. 

It was awesome just to see the community support for Twisted and I, because Twisted had just come into the scene, and I had been in the scene, and nobody really took me seriously. Then I won the second challenge, and that’s the first time a king has won a challenge on Zephyr — and so far, the only time.

And Twisted? Oh my God — that dude? What can’t he fucking do? He’s just so amazing and so talented, and we became really good friends. We just became besties. He killed it the entire time. He was just consistent, he was killing it. He brought an energy to drag that I just love so much, where he’s just so excited, “let’s do it.” Honestly, he’s phenomenal, so I think we really did an amazing job of introducing kings to the competition scene.

Since Twist and I were the first two kings to ever be on Zephyr, we were unfairly judged by people who had not been at the show. We had been compared, and I actually hated how some people would talk about “oh, Himbo this, Himbo that, why Twisted?” when Twisted was fucking killing it. I think as a community we really need to do a better job of just treating each other how we want to be treated. Especially towards kings and like — comparisons. If you want kindness, give kindness. You can’t simply be mean and nasty and expect people to be nice back to you. 

And a lot of bigger queens, and performers — because it’s not just [the] drag [community] that is being rude — some of these bigger show producers and drag entertainers are just not being the nicest, and talking a lot of mess about other people, mostly smaller performers compared to them. Which, I think that’s something that needs to be taken out of the community, especially because we already have enough problems with society, with certain groups of people not liking drag. There’s no point to infighting with our community.


Himbo pushes back against drama and unfair comparisons within the drag scene, especially rhetoric that puts drag kings down.


Honestly, the kings are running it. We’re gonna continue to run it. Every king’s makeup is so different. You have Twisted, with his black-and-white face, and Neil Downe — his face looks like it’s stapled onto his skull, which I live for. We have Bigtop, who’s just, the clown, the silliness! You have so much variety! Some kings will wear a heel, some kings will wear a boot, and they’re gonna give two crazy performances. We’re all doing so amazing, we’re all doing great things, so I’m just so happy to share this community with people.

The kings we have are just so amazing and I’m just so entertained, so happy with all these new kings coming. I’m just simply a man who dresses up as a man and does a split for a dollar, and I’m not breaking any boundaries. I’m not doing anything crazy, I’m just doing my own thing. We all bring something new to the table, and do it our own way. 

I don’t know if it’s different for me since I am assigned male at birth, but there seems to be an idea like — “oh, they’re impersonating a man. Why have them?” Or maybe they’re not as interesting as queens, because some of them may not be doing splits and traditional drag queen songs that have been so rooted in the drag community as a whole. Or maybe kings can’t give that pageant level, or what’s the word for it, “elevation” of drag, which I think is very silly because kings can do that. There’s nothing stopping a king from doing that. It’s all about expression, so I simply don’t understand it. I have my own show, and I’m booking kings, so I’m gonna try to change that.


Starting this October, Himbo now hosts his own show, Himbo’s Brunch & Crunch (name subject to change) — a monthly Saturday brunch at Scribbles Coffee Co. in Kent. In two iterations so far, the show has already featured multiple drag kings, including Twisted and Kingpin competitor Abel N. Willing.


I want my brunch to really just be a spot where you can go to a show. I don’t want to have any social commentary on anything. I want you to go to a brunch, have some coffee, have some pastries, and then go back outside to the horrors of the world. You leave your shit at the door. I want it to just be a good time. You’re gonna have a blast from start to finish and then we’re done.


Himbo hopes that aspiring kings, and all new performers, can bring a spirit of fun and individuality into their drag.


Honestly, if you are not being authentically you, what’s the point? No one’s paying you to be someone else. They’re paying you to be you, so if you’re two separate people in and out of drag? I personally am not the biggest fan of that, because I think — if you are who you are in drag, people are gonna love you for you. Do what you wanna do, and adjust it over time. Do people like you as a person, yes or no, and can you entertain? 

So many people are like, “drag is a competition the whole time,” and I’m like — “so, are you gonna have fun or not?” Because we can see from your performance that you’re not. If you’re not having fun, the audience isn’t gonna have fun, so where’s the entertainment from? Lead with kindness, lead with happiness, and have a good time.


You can catch Himbo at Scribbles Coffee Co. every month for his brunch, and often as a pre-show performer for Kent’s “Rocky Horror Picture Show” shadowcast, The School of Rocky. He will also be a featured performer at the Kingpin finale on December 9.


Photo of Himbo as a king.

THE TWISTED TRANSITIONER 

He/they in and out of drag


Bringing a background in dance, theater, cosplay and burlesque to his drag, The Twisted Transitioner is one of eight competitors in Ryder Slowly’s Kingpin, winning weeks two and five of the all-drag king competition. His name puns on a song by Korn, which points toward his nu-metal influences.


I kind of like to say the character of Twisted came out of my dreams as a kid to be a star. For some performers there’s a very strict line and a very big difference between themselves and their drag persona. For me, it’s not quite as dramatic. I feel like myself when I’m in drag, just a little bit elevated and dramatized. A lot of my inspiration for my characters comes from nu metal and rock ’n’ roll and things like hair metal. Music styles that play with masculinity a lot. I’m not even a huge KISS fan, but people look at my face and think that’s what it looks like. It was more looking at other performers around here and wanting to do something really crazy with my face.

I am a big fan of bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, shit like that. The funny thing is that those bands and their songs have a lot of jokes and comments about queerness, being gay, being a fag, and I think my idea is, “what if all of those things were completely serious?” Completely embracing it? What if a transgender person looked at Fred Durst and said, “I wanna be that”?


Twisted made his drag debut in a student show at Oberlin College (where he has also helped to revive OBurlesque, the college’s burlesque club). From there, a faculty member recommended him to perform at this year’s Lorain County Pride.


I performed in a park with Riley Poppyseed [a well-known Columbus entertainer]. And backstage he pulled me aside and said, “I’m really glad that you did this. It sucks being the only king, and this is one of the first events like this where I haven’t been the only king.”


In July, Twisted entered Pineapple Honeydew-Delight and Ryder Slowly’s open stage, Casting Call. Alongside future Kingpin competitor R.J. Tha King, he won the night with a rock number that emphasized themes of masculinity and transness.


I always start with a song — a song that I really like usually. And I got really into — oh, where did I hear the song? So, I’m a radio DJ for my school. Over the summer, I was doing a rock show. I wanted to do a special episode for pride, about rock songs that are gay, either explicitly or implicitly — like, songs that have lyrics that make you go “hm.” So I was doing some research on different songs, and I stumbled across this song: “Be Aggressive” by Faith No More. Pretty sure all the guys in that band are straight, but the song is all about grappling with traditional masculinity and the idea of being aggressive. But then you get to the chorus and the vocalist’s voice has, like, girl cheerleaders yelling under it. It gets so masculine it becomes gay, and that’s the track of the song, which is really funny.

And I couldn’t play it on the radio, but then I thought, “what if I did a cheerleader number for Casting Call? What if I got a water bottle and sprayed water over my face in a really gay way?” I rehearsed every day for a month, like, “I don’t know if they’re gonna like it, I don’t know if they’re gonna get it.” And then I did it, and it was so much fun, and it won. I love the pom-poms, I love the costume [pictured]. I love getting to scream-lipsync lyrics, and everyone’s reaction when I whip out the water bottle. Pineapple Honeydew-Delight said that it was her favorite number that she had ever seen at Casting Call, and it still is. 

Which is such an honor, and I still feel so normal about it. It’s something that just makes me so happy. When I do weird stuff that’s obviously a trans allegory to other trans people, it makes me so happy. My finale number for Zephyr went a similar way. “The girls who got it, got it.”


Twisted was the first king to make the final four in Mx. Zephyr.


The finale for Zephyr was originally supposed to be a design challenge, but week-of based on a vote (that did not go in my favor), it was changed to a talent show. For a while, I joked on the idea of giving a 5-minute reading of my undergraduate Honors thesis. But Jade once made a joke about how being a student is being unemployed, so I didn’t think that would go over well. So I was thinking about my talents, and I went, “what if I do burlesque?”

What I do with OBurlesque is more nerdy, neo-burlesque. I don’t take off a lot of my clothes, and when I do, the reveal is very fast. It’s way more choreography and dance-heavy. For this, I was like, I want it to be burlesque. I got advice from Sappho Le Fae about the fans and the bedazzling and the stage presence. You need to keep people’s attention, the whole time. 

It was “Throw Me Away” by Korn, so, a slower song. I wanted this performance to be very raw, because I was being very vulnerable. In my reveals, I got down to a bra and my underwear, and that was it, in front of over 100 people, and that was the most I’d ever stripped down in front of the most people. I had the bedazzled pasties and everything, but still, I was like, “I need something at the end of this number, to tie it together and push it over the edge.” 

Before I started, I preset onstage this container of black paint. At the end of the number, I just dunked my hands in it and went ham, just smearing it all over myself. And it was very symbolic, for a song that is about feeling like nothing. I wanted to make it multivalent in the way that, like, people could understand it in different ways. For me and for Jade, it was a number about being trans and the complicated relationships we have with our bodies. For other people, it can be about relationships with other people, which is kind of more of what the song is about, it kind of alludes to toxic or abusive relationships, and when other people throw you away and make you feel like nothing. I wanted this to be something that people remember and that sticks with people, for any reason. It was a good way to go out of the competition, showing people who I was as a performer.


Being one of the first two kings in the competition, Twisted initially felt pressure to compete against Himbo.


I went into it before Himbo and I were friends. I didn’t know anyone else in the competition, or anyone else in the drag scene really, yet. At first I was like: “oh, there’s another king. I want to make sure I do better than him.” And then I was like, “oh, I think he should win, actually.” We became such good friends by the end of it. He’s one of my drag besties now, and it probably would’ve been a lot harder to do it as the only king. 

Sometimes I feel like, “ooh, maybe I’m not the best representation of kings, because I don’t do a lot of high-masc, traditional king drag. I feel like a lot of my drag is very purposefully genderfucky. But I hope that me doing it is a call to other kings to do it. Sign up for season 4, please!


Just weeks after the Mx. Zephyr finale, Twisted was announced as a Kingpin competitor.


With an all-king lineup, it means the competition’s gonna be a little bit — this is gonna sound bad, but I’m gonna explain it. It’s gonna be more of a challenge. Zephyr busted my ass for completely different reasons. Most of the difficulty in Zephyr, at least for me, came from the challenges and the runways themselves. All of my competitors were very, very good, but I knew I stuck out in my own unique way. For Kingpin, now I’m like, the hard part isn’t so much the challenges, it’s making my drag stand out among all these people who are very, very good. I didn’t see myself so much as like, head-to-head with a lot of people in Zephyr, I feel like a lot of our styles are very distinct, whereas in Kingpin, we’re all kings! We’re all doing, not the same or even similar stuff — but there’s already people’s conceptions going in that all kings are the same, which hopefully this competition helps to dismantle that. 

The goal is to give kings a platform, so nobody’s gonna get eliminated, which is why the boy band challenge is like, week five. Everybody’s gonna be in it the whole time, which makes it more of, like, a showcase, where you keep having to do really good, the best you possibly can. You can’t drop the ball. Everyone’s gonna be there the whole time, so we can all become besties. So I wanna step it up, I wanna take my drag to a new level. I really wanna find who Twisted is.


Twisted encourages aspiring performers to find themselves and try something new.


Do drag. If you think that you shouldn’t do drag, that is all the more reason to do drag. Everybody can do drag, but if you have the feelings of, like, “oh, I don’t think I’m good enough to do drag, or I don’t think I’m talented enough to do drag” — you should be doing drag. You should be doing drag yesterday.


In the coming months, you can see Twisted at Cleveland venues like No Class and Oberlin shows like the Manic Mondays Market. He’s competing for the Kingpin crown every Saturday at 9 p.m. at Muze Gastropub, through the finale on December 9.


Photo of The Twisted Transitioner as a king.

The Twisted Transitioner. Photo courtesy of The Twisted Transitioner.

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