The crowd at Elysium screams, squeals and swoons for the same performers every month with the same vigor as preteens do at an Ed Sheeran concert. Austin’s only drag king troupe, The Boiz of Austin, bucks against the conventional boy band mold and redefines what it means to be a heartthrob.
On the second Tuesday of each month, the Boiz produce a new routine at Elysium on Red River and will celebrate their second anniversary this December. Troupers dress in costumes, dance and lip sync popular songs often to convey a message of self-acceptance and provide visibility to members of the LGBTQ community.
For many, such visibility is life-changing. Malakai Beausoleil, a performer in the Boiz, said the troupe actually saved his life.
“When I joined the Boiz I was in a horrible mental spot. I had plans to drive off of 183 and kill myself,” Beausoleil said. “The only thing that prevented me from doing that was I thought, ‘I have a show next week, I have to perform.’”
Beausoleil, who performs as Jonah Archs, is known for his choreography. He said the troupe itself is important because it empowers members of the audience who might not feel accepted elsewhere.
“We’ve actually had people come up to us after shows and say, ‘Thank you so much, that number that you did on stage really helped me feel more comfortable with myself,’” Beausoleil said.
Drag kings are often thought of as female performance artists who dress in drag to exemplify male stereotypes. However, for many performers, that definition is inaccurate if not flat-out wrong.
“Drag is not pink and blue — it’s a full rainbow,” said Alex Andersen, a producer and performer for Boiz. “Anyone of any identity can do any type of drag. That’s the fun of it. There’s no right or wrong way to do it as long as you’re just being yourself on stage.”
Andersen said performances from the Boiz and similar groups are necessary because they give members of the LGBTQ community the confidence to express themselves and prove there is a place for them as artists.
Although some Boiz members, including Andersen, are professional dancers, expertise is not a requirement.
Ashley Clark joined the Boiz after moving to Austin and expressing an interest in musical theatre and drag to friends. Clark had experience with musical theater and drag from high school and college and found the group to be welcoming.
“In general, they’re very open to people who are invested in the art of drag in some way or want to learn,” Clark said. “I do it because it’s important to be radically and enthusiastically queer in public. It’s really liberating and empowering.”
Clark said she knew she had found her niche after her first meeting with the Boiz, and that the friendly atmosphere is what made her stick with the troupe.
“It was a very supportive environment to wander into,” Clark said. “Any one of these people, after you meet them for the first time, would do anything for you.”
For Andersen, drag is not just a genre, it’s about validating his identity as a transgender performer and giving representation to members of the community.
“We show them by being on stage, your existence is valid,” Andersen said. “You are represented on stage. You can have a career as a performer looking like this, identifying like this. I think it’s very important to have that kind of representation for all kinds of people and not just drag queens or gay men.”