Hail the Kings: TB Sparrow

Drag is clearly something supported and enjoyed regularly by Louisvillians across the city; from drag brunches at local restaurants to pageants and performances at local nightclubs. However, when we think about drag, or when we promote drag, we tend to focus on just one side — drag queens. We’ve even been guilty of it here at LEO, by putting together a slide show of drag performers of note, and having it pointed out to us that we hadn’t highlighted a single drag king in the slideshow. Working from the notion of when you know better, you do better, we decided that it was high time to talk to some of Louisville’s notable drag kings and to honor them with a slideshow of their own. I was honored to speak with TB Sparrow about being a drag king and their thoughts about the life, this city, and the state of drag in greater society. 

LEO: Do you have any thoughts as to why when we talk about drag we tend to center drag queens and overlook kings?

TB Sparrow: Well, I mean, that’s the way it is, people hear drag and they think it’s just queens and we never get mentioned. I think RuPaul has a little bit to do with that. She doesn’t have anything to do with kings, and it’s all about the queens. There are a lot of venues that just only hire queens. There’s a lot of Pride events where they only hire queens and sometimes it’s usually just like men that own the clubs, and they don’t “do” kings.

It’s all performance and there’s not really any difference between the two beyond the personification, right?

Right, and we put as much effort into it. I mean, not everybody, but a lot of us put just as much effort into getting ready for a show as a queen does. Just even as of recently, I had a queen I did a show with — she looked at me — she goes “You took as long as we did to get ready”, and I was all “Well, yeah”. I’m not your jean-wearing king. I like to elaborate. I’ve got costumes and I work on them, and I’ve got wigs and whatever. I try to put effort into it anyway.

So how did you get started as a drag king?

I’ve been dressing up to Alice Cooper since 1972. Because he’s been like my go-to, my escape, the way I could just dress up and be goofy, and I’d do it around my friends. I’m still performing as Alice Cooper at my age of 64. But I’ve just always dressed up, I’ve always like working on costumes. I had a singing telegram business in the ‘80s. I did Madonna and Marilyn [Monroe] and Charlie Chaplin and then Alice Cooper, and I just keep adding characters to it.

I saw that you were crowned the inaugural Mr. Bowling Green Pride last year. Do you ever travel outside Kentucky to perform?

I perform in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee — just wherever they need me. And I’m very honored to be very first king of Bowling Green Pride because they’ve never had a king before. And I’m like why not? Let’s change that. So we’ve been promoting and we had a little Pride prom a couple of weekends ago for kids: they could come and dress up and just be themselves and you know, see that there’s something besides just drag queens. We have kings and in-betweens.

Do you see yourself as the torchbearer for drag king representation in Louisville?

I’m the hell raiser and the trailblazer. No, there’s other kings out there, and we feel the same that we don’t get near enough… that people don’t see us like they should. I’ve done brunches, and people go “Oh, I’ve never heard of a drag king.” Because we’re not publicized that much. We’re not. We’re not given the opportunities to be seen in public, like we should. And there’s also other categories like divas, which are a femme girls that perform as females, and they put as much effort into their stuff too, but they’re not seen either.

How would you like to see the Louisville scene change or how could Louisville best support drag kings?

They’re getting there slowly. They just need to realize there’s a bigger spectrum than drag queens. I mean, drag queens are my friends. I love them. I was at Play for seven years. I was given a Thursday night. I was never given the opportunity to do a weekend because they catered mostly to young people and straight people, and they’re all engrossed in RuPaul. And I’m not trying to like name-drop Play or anything but they’re one of them, and there’s a couple other places that absolutely refuse to hire a king. There is a local brunch that I have tried to get in, and the guy — the owner — he told me “I only hire the most popular queens,” and it was a year that I was voted most popular king and he just says “No.” I think that’s just so narrow-minded. I mean, he wouldn’t even hear about it and the queens that perform there are friends of mine. I’ve performed with them for years. The club owners, the restaurant owners are just closed-minded. I’ve just seen a breakthrough within the last handful of years where we’re starting to be more inclusive, and like I said, I’m old, I don’t care who I piss off. As long as we get our names out there and people up-and-coming can maybe have an opportunity to show off their stuff. That’s what matters to me.