Packing a surprisingly convincing prosthetic penis and binding her breasts in the name of her art, Kristen Adriaan is an actor, dancer, personal trainer and teacher who hopes to make history at the grand final of the third annual Dragnet competition at St Kilda’s GH Hotel in Melbourne on Saturday night.
Assuming the identity of hip-hop act Justin Teliqure, she’ll be the only drag king competing for the $2,000 prize and a six-week show at the venue, in stark contrast to the glittering sequin dresses and impossibly high heels of fellow contestants, drag queens Lazy Susan and XYZ.
Perched on a sofa in the three-cat apartment Adriaan shares with her wife-slash-manager-slash-makeup artist Kristina Benton, I’m amazed by the intricate level of detail involved in the transformation. With eyebrows thickened and the trace of both a beard and moustache pencilled in with dark makeup, clippings of Adriaan’s own thick, dark hair are retrieved from a sandwich ziplock bag and added liberally to the outline with spirit gum, an adhesive often used to attach drag queen’s wigs. Apparently one haircut, with Adriaan’s buzzed back and sides, lasts a month or five-to-six performances.
“It’s gross when it gets in my mouth,” she laughs as the 'stache takes shape. Benton chips in, “It’s weird to kiss her with it on too.”
Even partially made up, Adriaan says the resemblance with her father Aldo at 17 is uncanny, a fact corroborated when she later sends through photographic evidence.
Born in Brisbane, Adriaan’s mother Joy had itchy feet and the family moved to San Jose in California when she was two years old. At eight, they upped sticks again and headed for South Africa, where her parents originally hail from, before relocating once more to Switzerland. Always asking her mum for boxer shorts, it was in the various backyards along the way that Justin, whose name riffs off of Adriaan’s favourite tipple - tequila, as well as a certain sexual act, had his origins.
“When I was a kid, my sisters were really girly and I was more of a tomboy, so I would go outside and play by myself,” she says. “I’d run around and pass a football to this imaginary person I called Justin. He’s kind of been with me my whole life.”
Moving to Melbourne and studying a Bachelor of Performing Arts at Monash University, Adriaan fell in with the drag king scene in 2008, starting out as a backup dancer before Justin came to the fore. Adriaan abandoned plans to break into musical theatre.
“I don’t fit into that realm of really girly roles and that kind of limited my options,” she says. “Drag has always been something I can easily tap into. I spent the last year trying to find my feminine dance and now I’m getting my masculine back on. It’s quite funny.”
Identifying as a lesbian woman, Adriaan sees Justin as a character to be stepped into, one who begins to surface when she pops a chunky cubic earring into her right earlobe, along with grunting verbal exercises accompanied by downward-thrusting hand manoeuvres.
Relatively new to the drag game and self-taught for the most part, Adriaan says that despite the on-stage theatrics of territorial bitchiness, she’s received nothing but encouraging support from fellow contestants.
“I kind of feel like I’ve cheated a little bit,” Adriaan admits. “I just kind of jumped in and have been accepted straight away. I don’t know if it’s just this group or whether the events in Orlando had something to do with it, but everyone’s so open.”
Channelling the Channing Tatum-led stripper movie Magic Mike during the first heat, performing to Ginuwine’s "Pony" and Blackstreet’s "No Diggity," Adriaan says Justin’s masculinity is alluring, rather than aggressive, though sometimes she does get carried away while wearing the prosthetic penis dubbed "Mr Floppy".
It's the first time I’ve been asked to cop a feel of a man’s package during an interview.
“I try not to be too into myself, although once you’re wearing a packer it’s kinda hard not to be,” she laughs. “I’m starting to understand why men do it all the time. It’s just there.”
Back-up dancers Katharine Innes and Tristan Sinclair, aka the Lickettes, joined Justin at last week’s semi-final, where they smashed out Usher’s "Yeah!". One judge, the inaugural Dragnet champion Isis, offered only one official comment, “Can I suck your dick?”
“I feel like a winner already,” Adriaan says. “As the only drag king, I’ve made a bit of history here in Melbourne.”
Benton couldn’t be prouder. “As a bisexual cis woman, being married to a drag king is fantastic because I get the best of both worlds,” she grins.
“To be completely honest," she continues, "when we first started dating, she showed me her drag videos and it weirded me out a bit. I can’t even tell you why, I think it was because I liked her being a woman, but as Justin the character has evolved and we’ve got the look down and who he is as a person, I honestly get a bit turned on when I see him perform. I have the biggest crush on this man.”
“It’s made everything better and brighter, doing this together,” Adriaan adds. “It’s really fun and I’m very lucky to have all this support around me. I feel like Justin Bieber - without the fricking attitude.”
All photos (excluding the one of Kristen's father) supplied by Kara Castro of Firemark photography. The Dragnet grand final takes place at The GH Hotel this Saturday night from 10.30pm