At age 17, Damian Matrix-Gritte became a king. But when he first began performing at drag shows in Oklahoma City, Matrix-Gritte, now 34, had very few people to pattern his monarchy after.
“It was interesting,” Matrix-Gritte said. “There weren’t really drag kings, so I didn’t really have anything to go off of. I’m sure there were some people who came through Oklahoma City previous to me, but when I started, there weren’t really drag kings. So I started going out to The Wreck Room and met some people. I’ve always been interested in performance art and fashion and stuff like that.”
Matrix-Gritte, who hosts the monthly Rebels & Royals show at Frankie’s and will reign over The King Hour 2:30 p.m. Sunday during Pride festivities, has previously been Mr. Wreck Room and Mr. Arkansas. He began competing in the Mister USofA MI drag king pageant in 2009 and won the crown 2012. In his years as a king, Matrix-Gritte has watched the drag scene change significantly. During the Barack Obama presidency, for example, Matrix-Gritte saw drag’s upending of sexual roles become more mainstream and less politically charged, but the culture has begun to shift again since 2016.
“I think people got complacent because things were so easy,” Matrix-Gritte said. “All of the things that we gained from Obama, we’re losing because of Trump. I think it kind of changed the idea about being complacent about fighting for your rights or fighting for what is right or doing something to make a difference. Our unfortunate political situation has helped re-spark people’s desire to do something to make a difference.”
Complacency can be dangerous, especially for minority groups, and nothing should be taken for granted.
“You can have rights, but that doesn’t mean equality, you know what I mean?” Matrix-Gritte said. “Things are not equal. You can say they’re equal, but they’re not equal. … Just ’cause something’s legal now doesn’t mean it will be legal tomorrow.”
Pride is not only about taking a stand as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but about finding the joy in your identity as an individual.
“The point of gay pride is to be proud of who you are,” Matrix-Gritte said, “because you are part of a subgroup, and to celebrate that.”
His monthly show predominately features drag kings in order to provide them with a “place where they can grow and flourish” in an atmosphere that largely caters to drag queens. Even in gay bars, Matrix-Gritte said, many people are unfamiliar with the concept of drag kings. Though he said an ambitious and driven performer can often make his or her own way in the entertainment industry even without a clear example to follow, Matrix-Gritte said representation is important to help aspiring artists realize they even have the option to do what they want in life.
“The amount of effort you put into something, you will get out,” Matrix-Gritte said. “If you are putting shit-tons of effort in your stuff and you are willing to find whatever ladders and work for what you want to happen, then anything is possible. But what I think happens is that sometimes if people don’t see available opportunity, they don’t know how to force opportunity or create opportunity.”
Ultimately, performers should realize that they don’t have to pattern themselves after anyone or change who they are to fit a pre-established mold, he said.
“You don’t have to compromise who you are for other people, nor do you have to compromise your entertainment for other people,” Matrix-Gritte said. “You will find more success doing what you love and staying true to your passion, because if people see your passion, well then they’re interested in it. You’re not just rolling through the motions on autopilot. If you truly believe in something, then other people will buy it. … Just make sure you love it and you believe in it and go kill it.”
Pride performances begin 6 p.m. Friday with the Hootenanny hosted by Raven Delray and Rayna Over, who host a similar monthly drag show with the same name at Frankie’s. The 2018 Mr. & Mrs. OKC Pride pageant winners will make an appearance at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, and Dust Bowl Dolls, who perform burlesque monthly at The Flea OKC, will take the stage at 11 p.m. On promotional materials, the Dolls describe their act as a “sin stepping, fringe swaying, tassel twirlin’, corset wearing, stocking peelin’, rhinestoned explosion of entertainment” and they “[perform] everything from classic burlesque and striptease to neo-burlesque and plain ole’ moving and shakin’.”
The King Hour, hosted by Matrix-Gritte, will also feature Bastian Cox and reigning Mr. OKC Pride Hunter Matrix-Williams. Drag queens Delray and Shantel Mandalay will co-host the official Pride parade 6 p.m. Sunday.