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Hubble appreciates the new world that queer theory opens up to her students. "It gives people names and labels to give to themselves beyond the male/female, straight/gay," she says. "Queer theory, to me, opens up the door for people to talk about themselves in more liberating terms, but also in ways that are truer to who we are."
Queer theory complements drag. Both theory and performance strip away the social structures shaping gender. Deconstructing them exposes a bare slate that invites a world of possibilities.
"Drag allows people to explore gender in new and different ways," Hubble says. "It also shows the rest of us how we are performing our genders every day without even thinking about it."
Barber keeps Johnny's tricks in a small blue bag with a Chicago Cubs insignia. She uses an eye pencil to draw her sideburns, applying saved haircut trimmings between the lines. The end result is Elvis-like big black chops. Then there's the bulge in his crotch.
"I pack," Spritzer says. "This one's a sock, because it's comfy."
Barber studied the lyrics to "Blame it on the Boom Boom" for a few days before the Fox Club show, listening to the song over and over in her Northside home. Even with the preparation, she still gets stage fright, but, she says, "Once you get out there, the words disappear."
She has two Facebook pages, one for Spritzer and one for Barber, but says she rarely visits her "girl profile" anymore; it's mostly for family friends who "don't really know Johnny." Over the past five years, Spritzer has cut her hair progressively shorter and her street clothes have become more masculine. She doesn't want people to call her Breanna anymore. Johnny is better. "I get kind of weirded out when people call me by my girl name."
Even without the chops and swagger, Spritzer is androgynous. It can sometimes be tough for people to discern her gender, she says. "I actually see that in Wal-Mart all the time. First, [mothers] count all of their children, make sure, do a head count. Then they gather them up and put them behind them, like, 'I am a mother bear. Stay away from my children.' It makes people very uncomfortable."
That discomfort can engender violence. According to a 2003 survey by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, 55 percent of transgender youth—queers like Spritzer, intersex individuals, transsexuals and the gender ambiguous—reported being physically attacked. "People like Johnny are taking a risk in our society," Elizabeth Hubble says.
All my children
Johnny Spritzer is a member of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the State of Montana, which is part of a nonprofit organization that hosts drag shows all over the country and donates the proceeds to gay-friendly organizations. Its membership elected Spritzer as royalty in 2010 (new royals are voted in every year). He served as a prince and toured the Northwest with other members of Montana's court. During the coronation ceremony welcoming this year's new royals at the Holiday Inn Missoula in early September, Spritzer wore black armor that Barber fashioned from football pads spray-painted with wall texture and affixed with silver rhinestones. A silver poster-board dragon on his chest completed the look, which was something like a more martial Lady Gaga. It was a very gender queer ensemble.
When Barber came out as queer, she says, she felt alienated from her family. The court filled that void by providing Spritzer with a new drag family. It's customary for court members to create their own. "A lot of them had broken families, or couldn't really talk to their families, or didn't really understand," Spritzer says. "And so, we just form this family unit."
Drag queen Kiara Drake LaRose is Spritzer's wife. The young king has also "adopted" multiple "children," fledgling drag performers that Spritzer is helping to "bring up," he says. "I do that for a ton of new performers, just to show them that somebody's there."
Barber reconciled with her family this year, which means she now has two families. When she returns to Miles City these days to visit her parents, they love it when she shows them pictures of herself in drag, she says. They've even become de facto parents for some of Spritzer's court family, and her mother bought a new dress for one of Spritzer's drag queen daughters, marking a transformation that reinforces Spritzer's belief that society will one day accept and even welcome others like him.
"They've come past that organized religion into what Christianity was actually meant to be," Barber says, "the actual teaching philosophy behind it: 'Love thy neighbor.'"