Arson has recently exploded onto Seattle’s burgeoning alt-drag scene, hot on the heels of predecessors like Jackie Hell and Cucci Binaca. She’s there to wow you, sure, but not with her pageant queen realness. No, she’s gonna prance on stage in the middle of the day with oversized, black-painted lips and a jockstrap and pour soda all over herself to VYZEE by SOPHIE.
The hostess and curator of Rapture, a newer monthly drag/variety/performance night at Kremwerk’s Timbre Room, thinks its just fine that people are challenged by her. You could even say it’s her goal.
“What’s funny,” she tells me, “is that people think Arson is a character. Arson is actually an extension of myself, an externalization of the parts of me that don’t necessarily get to come out. When people tell me that I’m so different in drag or that I really committed to the character I’m not usually performing.”
Drag, even the fishy kind, has a long history of subversion. In some respects it can be said to be misogynistic and transphobic itself. In other ways, though, it can be a life-changing, or even life-saving experience, for those who are looking for a safer outlet to explore themselves outside of a gender binary. For Arson, subverting societal gender-norms is what it’s all about.
“I am expressing a non-binary gender myself,” she admits, “but I don’t use Arson to accomplish that because I feel comfortable doing that in my day to day life. I use Arson as a way to poke at other people’s perception of gender.”
“For me,” she adds, “it’s not necessarily for my own gain. It’s to turn the mirror on other people and get them to sort of see how they think about gender.
At its heart, drag is performance art. And the best kinds of art are the one’s that challenge your thinking.
“When I go onstage without tights or without pads or without a bra,” she explains “and people think ‘Oh, she’s not a real drag queen,’ or ‘She’s not giving me that illusion, that “real girl” thing’, that’s a reflection on other people and that’s to expose that sort of thinking. When I hear people give those kinds of comments to me it validates that there are people who think this way. I’m happy that I got to bring that out into the open because people would not be expressing misogynist or transphobic beliefs out in the open.
“Because it’s societally thrust on us, sometimes it comes out in those little ways. I love ripping the curtain over those and exposing that because that’s the only way we’re going to get over our weird gender bullshit.”
Although you’re likely to see Arson Nicki performing on drag stages all around town, the best place to catch her for now is at Rapture.
“Rapture is a place for people to try new things,” she tells me. “Before Rapture I was doing Cucci’s Critter Barn a lot, and that’s probably the most out there show in the city. There were times when I would do that show when I would want to do a number and then think, oh is this too much?”
Too much for Critter Barn?
“There was one time I did whole, entire, six-minute long Radiohead song in slow motion,” she explains, “and I think that was too much for people. So I wanted to make a space for performers to try something new, for people who want to dress up to try something new, for people to listen to music that they’ve never heard before, all of that sort of thing.”
And that’s the beauty of drag, or any performance art. It’s constantly pushing the envelope, constantly subverting the norm, in order to discover new and beautiful things. And then pouring soda all over them.