Monday, October 18, 2010

Final Letter to IDKE

To Whom It Concerns,

A note was released on Facebook some time ago, mentioning the
prospective end of IDKE due to lack of support/interested host cities.
I wanted to write this one last piece of correspondence regarding IDKE
since feedback was requested in the above mentioned note. I cannot, in
good conscience, spend a dime of my troupe’s money on attending IDKE
this year, so hopefully this letter will find its way into the right

In my view, IDKE is failing for a few reasons.

1.) High cost of attending/hosting IDKE. Host cities have gone into
tremendous debt trying to make the conference accessible, affordable
and enjoyable for the attendees. While scholarships exist, not
everyone can get them, and the cost is quite out of reach for a lot of
performers. Even though my troupe paid the cost of transportation,
lodging and tickets to IDKE events, I still had performers who
couldn’t afford the trip the last 3 times the Carnival Kings attended.
IDKE has become insolvent, but doesn’t appear so because it spreads
the debt around from city to city.

Solution: Corporate Sponsorship. Companies that benefit from our queer
community have proven that they will put their money where their
market is. Several gay-friendly, wealthy businesses sponsor Prides and
parades throughout the country. This would drive down the costs
assumed by the host city, so would also drive down the cost of IDKE
tickets and lodging.

2.) Lack of leadership. There is no discernable leadership at the helm
of IDKE. The Board insists that its sole function is to select the
next host city. One person owns the rights to IDKE, but holds no other
real leadership role, leaving the Board without any real authority.
So when issues pop up (like whether performers can do rap/hip hop at
IDKE or not), no one is the “law”. There are no clear rules as to the
administration of the actual conference, because someone in leadership
would have to make them. Having hundreds of people gathering, even just
once a year, without solid, stable leadership is begging for disorganization,
mixed messages and an untimely demise of that traditional gathering. IDKE’s
desire to offend no one has apparently offended everyone, and since no one is in
charge, no one can fix it.

Solution: Create leadership, either by empowering the Board or
selecting a diverse panel of performers to lead. Have this leadership
group make and enforce rules…not just abstract respect clauses that
are so open to interpretation that no one is accountable. (And even if
they were accountable, who would they be accountable to without

3.) Bias against types of drag performances/performers. IDKE welcomes
certain types of drag, but not others. Jukebox Drag (pure performance
of a song), performers doing rap/hip hop and performers not wishing to
engage in academic discussions about drag are all openly frowned upon.
Preferential treatment appears given to those troupes and performers
that construct pieces high on the obscure, intellectual art scale.
(Acro-yoga…great. Straight up performance of any given top 40

Solution: Make IDKE’s mission and target attendees clear. If IDKE is
only for theatrical drag performers, be honest about that. If mid-act
protests are allowed for a piece people disagree with, be clear about
why. If rap/hip hop is not welcome, be open about it. Lastly, if IDKE
only wants academics to attend, be plain about that.

Without change, IDKE will most certainly die. It needs to remedy its
insolvency, create leadership and be clear about its target attendees.
IDKE is an unattractive package to any host city right now…it offers
debt, obscure leadership and drama. That is my honest opinion. New
Orleans was ready to host IDKE XIII…so ready that we already had
venues committing to it. But after the treatment we received (both the
Carnival Kings AND the Crescent City Kings) at IDKE XI, being
attacked on Facebook and being blackballed from events like FaGG, it
was clear that New Orleans wouldn’t be hosting anything for the
greater drag community in the foreseeable future.

IDKE appears, on its surface, to be an opportunity for the entire drag
community to meet one another, perform and discuss drag-related
topics. At least, that’s what the Carnival Kings thought when we first
heard of it back in 2006. But beneath it all, it appears to embrace
elitism over individualism, academia over entertainment and
homogenization over cultural diversity. It rejects its own ideal of
accountability; when confronted with controversy and asked to be
accountable, the Carnival Kings were just that. We agreed to a pre-Town
Hall Meeting and listened to what everyone had to say, but it was not enough. It seemed the protesting parties did not just want accountability…they
wanted blood. The IDKE that allows such behavior should die; I hope it does.
In its wake, though, I hope something better is created; something we can all endorse. It will be an event that will have a sensible business plan, stable leadership and a sense of fair play.

It will be an event where protests during an act aren’t allowed.

It will be an event that doesn’t attempt to solve in-depth problems
via Town Hall Meeting.

It will be an event that doesn’t allow amateur mediation among large
groups to take place.

It will be an event that allows for cultural differences without
immediately labeling it “racism” or “cultural appropriation.”

It will be an event that will frown upon using academia as a weapon
against those who aren’t academics.

It will be an event that welcomes all types of performances, with
different stages for each and with the cream of the crop submitted to
a Showcase-like event.

It will be an event for the whole drag king community, not just those
with college degrees and an academic bone to pick.

That’s an event I would gladly spend money on attending. And hosting.


The New Orleans Carnival Kings