Man Up's Paige "Ponyboy" Frewer liberates gender diversity through drag

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      Dressing up as Taylor Swift is more of a drag for Paige Frewer than dressing up masculine.

      You see, as a masculine-identifying trans genderqueer performer, Frewer felt misgendered for most of their life.

      “Drag was an avenue for me to discover that presenting masculinity is more who I am and the costume is the femme presentation,” Frewer tells the Straight by phone.

      Frewer, who also uses the stage name Ponyboy (and the pronouns they and them), is the event producer and host of Man Up. It’s a drag-king and gender variety show, for and by queer people but welcoming everyone, held once a month at the Cobalt.

      As a bartender at the now-defunct lesbian nightclub Lick, Frewer discovered drag when they wanted to hold a fundraising birthday party at the venue in 2008 and met entertainer Sammy Tomato (now Toronto’s Sammy Samosa). The event (in which Frewer was dared to perform in drag) was such a bona fide hit that the two of them, along with performers Majik and Edward Malaprop, launched Man Up about a month later.

      What began as a drag-king showcase has expanded to encompass around 20 performers, including some who don’t identify with the gender-binary, burlesque clown Ruby Slickeur, contortionist Vixen Von Flex, and both drag kings and queens.

      That includes bio queens and faux queens, who are female-identifying performers performing as drag queens. Although Frewer began as a drag king, they say they began to recognize their own internalized misogynistic issues in their 20s and now incorporate feminine costume in their repertoire.

      Likewise, the shows, Frewer says, have “evolved quite a bit and that has been reflective of my own growth and education about queer issues and more, but it’s also been reflective of the community’s growth”.

      At times, audience feedback has moved Frewer to tears.

      “Somebody’ll write me a message after a show and just say, ‘I’ve never felt more comfortable in my body and celebrated for who I am until I came to your event.’ ”

      Meanwhile, the show has also significantly influenced Frewer.

      “As I witnessed firsthand the positive impact that you can have on a space and on people by lifting up femme voices and lifting up voices of colour and saturating them at your event, that has taught me so much and had an impact in the rest of my life for sure, and my politics.”

      Beyond LGBT communities, Frewer believes that everyone can benefit from being able to see beyond simply the male-female division.

      “If you can…realize that there’s more than male and female, gender is not a binary, gender is a set of behaviours that we as a society have come to agree socially define a certain sex and gender, then you can start to see how everyone of us is performing our gender and all kinds of people, cisgender and straight, are also performing their gender and fall somewhere on the gender spectrum.”

      Man Up will be at numerous events during Pride Week, including Man Up Pride: Shout Out Proud on Friday (July 29) and El Hangover on Saturday (July 30).