A drag king’s journey of riding the fine line between laughing and crying
It’s about time I had the platform to talk about myself, the incomparably handsome drag king of Victoria: Nikolai Hardbasskovitch. I’m an infamous seducer of women, and I became famous for chugging an entire litre of vodka on stage to Russian Hardbass music. Alright, it might have just been water in there but it’s impressive nonetheless, and I would rather my Adidas tracksuit didn’t reek of alcohol the entire night. That was only the start to who would become one of the largest drag king legends in the city — an easily debated title but I’m going to say it nonetheless.
I have a secret though. My original drag name wasn’t Nikolai Hardbasskovitch. I am ashamed to even bring this up because I only used it once ever in my drag career and I hate it. That’s not to deny I am indeed an incredibly “charming man” but it doesn’t live up to the glorious mouthful “Nikolai Hardbasskovitch.” “A Charming Man” first appeared performing a medley of three songs at a university event: “Tainted Love,” “You Spin Me Right Round,” and “This Charming Man.” It was lackluster in my opinion, with its only redeeming qualities being that I had a confetti popper and that I performed it in front of an entire crowd which had known me for four years as “The Mormon Kid.” Even that night, I remember being teased for being a Mormon by an individual unaware of my departure from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I stood there gobsmacked in a chest binder and moustache as I realized that regardless of how hard I signalled that I had grown beyond their perception of me, they refused to take off the lenses that blinded them to who I really am.
The moment I realized I loved drag was also the same moment I answered my gender question. I was sitting on a stool in my bathroom, drawing on a moustache in the middle of the night wearing a folded tiny toque. I was the cool and charming indie boy that had just rejected me at a party. I figured that if I couldn’t get the guy I subconsciously envied being, I could transform into him. In hindsight, dressing as people I knew was possibly questionable or strange. However, in an extremely conservative environment, I had to justify it by being “play” before I could admit to myself that I was cosplaying a potential me. It had nothing to do with romance. Only my perception of myself and loving myself.
A few months later I saw a Haus of Occult show at Logan’s Pub. This show would be my first ever drag show and first ever exposure to drag beyond RuPaul’s Drag Race. I left my house feeling fiercely feminine in the flounciest hot pink blouse, arriving to scurry into the washroom with printer-paper gender-neutral signs to draw on the hottest moustache I could muster with my stubby old eyebrow pencil. After an exhilarating night watching Queens, Kings, and Things perform all night, I begged organizer Ada Rawl to let me perform in their next community show. I made my debut at the Copper Owl as Nikolai. I made a whopping amount of tips to “Adam and Steve” by Dorian Electra, a piece about how my past religion and my queerness comically intersected. “Molly Mormon” had begun their transition.
I’ve managed to be lucky here in Victoria. I’ve succeeded, failed, and grown on stage. It’s surreal to fanboy one night over local drag performers like Vivian Vanderpuss and Henrietta Dubet, only to be a few months later choreographing moves with them in their living rooms. I felt like I was gaining fast traction in the city and well on the way to being a successful drag artist one day. That is, until March 2020 came along.
March 2020 was a nightmare. I was working a retail job that was eating me alive after graduating with a theatre degree. I had just barely begun to find work in my field outside of being a drag performer, until one day I suddenly had no work at all. I was stuck at home with my family, feeling like I was being shoved back into the closet on government orders. A performer not allowed to perform was the ultimate failure to me. I only knew how to perform my gender on a stage in costume, which was precisely holding me back artistically in the first place. Now there was no one to perceive me whatsoever. Being recast as Molly Mormon was devastating. I had no idea that the coming months would teach me that I could find gender euphoria again in the very same bathroom where I did drag for the first time and that it would be just as validating as any performance in the hallowed halls of gay bars.
I could say that through COVID-19, my drag has persevered. This virus can’t kill Nikolai! But I’d be lying for the sake of happy endings. My artistic process isn’t a linear one and neither is gender fluidity. I’ve been disappointed that I am not getting “manlier” over time. But no longer is there an audience there wanting to be seduced by a masculine fantasy. Drag is complicated because what makes me successful might not be who I want to be. I continue to paint my face in a new bathroom in my new home and it’s harder for me to be Nikolai the King. I’ve always said that Nikolai is synonymous with Annie; he is me and I am him. He is a part of me and it’s impossible for me to make him some sort of character that I can manipulate. He influences me just as much as I create him because his birth was when I discovered myself. He just didn’t have a name for a while.
So who is he? While I’m painting my face he tells me a lot of things. His skin has to be a rainbow. He doesn’t need his shoulders to be so broad anymore. Most importantly, he needs a new big red nose. Something that sets Victoria drag apart from a lot of other places is how it embraces clownery. But clownery of course that resides under the umbrella of drag. In front of an audience that mostly wants something on par with RuPaul’s Drag Race or Male Impersonation, I think I’m going to start to disappoint. What’s been revealed to me is that perhaps it isn’t Molly Mormon and Nikolai inhabiting the same awkward body. It’s Annie, a performance artist waiting to throw away cosplaying. A clown riding the fine line between laughing and crying.