Mo B. Dick wants history books to remember drag kings

Graphic by Sara Schleede. Photo from mrmobdick.com.

The first time Mo Fischer got into drag, she first went to the barbershop to cut her hair. She saved the trimmings, and used the pieces to make facial hair she attached with eyelash glue. She stuffed a sock in her pants — an old baggy pair from a thrift store to hide her womanly figure. She put on an old bowling shirt, “Dick” stitched on the front.

In her new disguise, Fischer walked through the streets of New York City to meet some friends at the now-closed lesbian bar Meow Mix. Then a group of men started walking by. It was time to see who her disguise could fool.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Fischer said. “So I ended up walking by them, and they just said, ‘Hey.’ And I said, ‘Hey.’ I went, ‘Oh my God, I passed. I can’t believe it.’ Which was so funny to me and really a lot of fun.”

That was in 1995. Now Mo Fischer — better known by her performance persona Mo B. Dick — is considered one of the founding fathers of drag king culture.

“I was so angry at how women are treated and being verbally and accosted in the street,” Fischer said. “I was physically accosted once, and just the fear that sets in for women was really infuriating to me. And when I was walking around seemingly as a man, I would not get accosted, but I would get greeted.”

After that first night, Fischer quickly dove further into New York’s drag scene. She experimented with different looks, from a drunken sailor to an East Village rockabilly, before settling on Mo B. Dick’s signature gold tooth, thick Brooklyn accent and meticulous pompadour hairstyle.

“I always loved theater, and I loved dressing up,” Fischer said. “It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to do something theatrical, but I wasn’t sure what. And then this kind of fell in my lap.”

In 1996, Fischer worked alongside other drag kings in the city to start a weekly drag king party called Club Casanova. It lasted two years until then mayor Rudy Giuliani systematically shut down clubs in New York according to an antiquated Cabaret Law.

“You were saturated in drag kings, and it was really fun,” Fischer said. “Every week we just would always have a different show and different guest stars.”

With no place to perform in New York, Fischer and her fellow drag kings took their show on the road. In spring 1998, they visited 16 cities across the United States and Canada.

“It was the first time people had ever seen drag kings live in many of the cities and places,” Fischer said.

Also that year, Fischer was featured in the film “Pecker” by cult classic director John Waters. In 1999, she was prominently featured in “The Drag King Book” by Del LaGrace Volcano and Jack Halberstam. She went on tour two more times in 2001 and 2002.

Fischer moved to Los Angeles in 2004, then took a break from drag until appearing as a guest judge at the annual San Francisco Drag King Contest in 2012. In 2018, Fischer in her bathtub at home, figuring out what her next big project should be.

“I was seeing all these isolated individuals in communities all around the country complaining about the only drag king,” Fischer said. “Of course the kids today are going to think, ‘I’m the first one, I’m the only one,’ because there’s no documentation of that. So I thought, ‘We need to document drag king history.’”

To document that history, Fischer has been working with drag kings Ken Vegas and Flare to create dragkinghistory.com. Fischer was recently told the website will be archived by the Library of Congress, so even if the website disappears, its legacy will continue.

The general public is just now getting used to drag queens, but drag kings, or male impersonators, existed as far back as the Tang dynasty. They existed in Commedia dell’arte in Italy, Mozart’s operas, vaudeville performances and cabaret bars. They exist now in the virtual shows streaming on Twitch.tv during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Documenting this history is important to Fischer because of how often women are left out of the historical narrative.

“Women are largely invisible, rendered invisible and marginalized,” Fischer said. “As a result, women don’t garner as much attention as men. We’re used to subjugating ourselves, we’re used to silencing ourselves. And so speaking out and giving our do is something that takes effort.”

Fischer said drag kings’ lack of visibility is partially due to the television show Rupaul’s Drag Race. The reality competition has introduced the general public used to the idea of drag, but the contestants are almost always gay men with feminine drag personas.

“Rupaul’s Drag Race only focuses on drag queens and does a great job of doing that,” Fischer said. “But unfortunately, there’s not a show for drag kings, so people don’t think about drag kings.”

Fischer wants to help ensure more people know drag kings exist, and watching a woman dressed in a suit onstage can be just as entertaining as a man in six-inch heels and a gown.

“I’m really excited to share drag king history and how women have smashed the patriarchy — have triumphed over patriarchy — by donning men’s attire and getting political privilege and economic opportunities.”

Audio journalist. Cat mother. Amateur gardener.

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