Carlos Las Vegas (1975-) is a drag king from Winnipeg, Manitoba and an icon in the drag king community. He is renowned for performances that subvert assumptions about sexual orientation, biological sex, and what constitutes masculine performance.
“Carlos Las Vegas” is the stage name for Reece Lagartera, a first generation Filipino-Canadian with a background in Filipino martial arts. Both of his parents were ballroom and line dancers. His mother had dreams of becoming a professional dancer and actress but was unable to pursue it because of her home country’s political climate and family’s economic situation, and his father had a fondness for karaoke. Lagartera speculates that his parents’ involvement in the performing arts help them understand and embrace his artistic choices.
Lagartera first performed in drag in 1994 at a University of Winnipeg fundraising event. For his first piece, he filled in as a last minute back-up dancer, dressed as a Greek statue that later came to life. In the second part, he did a gender-bending duet with a drag queen. “Carlos” was a temporary name that stuck and “Las Vegas” was later added to encapsulate the bright-light personas that the character came to embody.
In the Showcase television series, KINK, Lagartera described Carlos Las Vegas as a “macho guy who is a daddy to many people,” both nurturing and a disciplinarian, and he is “a lot more charismatic on the [stage]” than the fellow behind the moniker. Some of his on-stage personas include circus ringleader, socially awkward nerd, Leather daddy, bejeweled showman, Gay Olympian, sexually fluid gender morpher, Asian warrior, and burlesque performer. He is also known to perform illusion, throw fireballs, and launch confetti cannons.
In other capacities, he choreographs and directs routines as well as produces events, including the International Drag KingCommunity Extravaganza (IDKE). In 1997, he was elected Baron II of Winnipeg and All of Manitoba of the Snowy Owl Monarchist Society (SOMS), and has held several positions within this chapter, including being elevated as Emperor. The Snowy Owl Society is one of seventy of the International Court System, originally founded in San Francisco in 1965 by José Sarria (also known as Absolute Empress I, the Widow Norton). As part of his contribution to the Snowy Owl Monarchist Society, Lagartera founded the SOMS Community Development Award for students who work for the betterment of Queer and Trans communities in Manitoba.
Carlos Las Vegas has made several television and film appearances, including an important role in Sonia Slutsky’s documentary film, Ladies as Gentlemen: Drag Kings on Tour (2004). Carlos Las Vegas was a main feature of the Kingdom Come drag king tour and co-founded Kingdom International Drag King magazine in 2002.
Educator and Activist
Lagartera is an LGBTQ activist, professional speaker, writer and educator. He authored a booklet, Shout Out Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia & Heterosexism, in 2009. He is also the author of Gender Diversity in Schools: Questions and Answers, to be published by the Public Health Agency in Canada, a department of the Canadian Federal Government. Over eighty-five per cent of his performances are fundraising events for charities and social service organizations.
Of this interplay between art and activism, he writes,
By addressing these issues in a clever manner, it doesn’t feel as scary, radical, or sourly in your face which can alienate those whom I’m strategically targeting with my message. I feel that my performances have matured; a layered presentation is accessible to everyone regardless of whether you’re an academic or not. At my best, I can be a combination of a static visual presentation, a performance artist, a gender outlaw and a drag persona all wrapped into one. It’s up to the audience to decide what they see and what they want to get out of the performance. Of course I always have an agenda when I’m in the spotlight. That’s what keeps it fun and edgy… I see it as a way of exercising critical discourse, building awareness, personal therapy, political dissonance, deconstructing and creating gender, a mental and emotional orgasm and an expression of sexuality all wrapped in a ball of fun.
What Is a Drag King?
When Lagartera was interviewed for Allan Peterkin’s book, One Thousand Beards (2001), he described a drag king as “a woman who displays or portrays a physical interpretation of masculinity.”
On the television show KINK a few years later, Lagartera offered a new definition. “A drag king,” he said, “isn’t necessarily a biological woman or a biological man; it’s a person playing a masculine character.” In a 2004 interview, he added that drag kinging “isn’t necessarily male impersonation per se … but an exploration of masculinity, an exploration of gender and the binaries that society has pressured us to choose.” He notes in another interview that drag is a “political act” and can be therapeutic for those struggling with their own insecurities about gender. Drag presents “an overt challenge to the traditional gender roles that make up our social framework” while also providing an outlet to express a larger-than-life persona.
Lagartera’s evolving definition reflects an evolving sense of self. In an interview with Stacy Bias for TechnoDyke.com, he mused,
What drag meant to me then is much different than now, which has attributed to my personal and spiritual growth and evolution. Kinging to me is more than just what it seems as it combines a number of paradigms from the pure entertaining aspect, gender fluidity, social awareness, politics, feminism… it’s ever evolving for me and will probably mean something different to me in the future.
Bias, Stacy. “Kingdom Came!” TechnoDyke.com. 2002. www.technodyke.com/drag/050602_kingdom.asp, accessed July 2010.
Peterkin, Allan. One Thousand Beards. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp, 2001.
Taormino, Tristan. “Drag Kings Make Me Wet.” The Village Voice 46:47, 27 Nov. 2001: p. 115.
Slutsky, Sonia. Ladies as Gentleman: Drag Kings on Tour. OpalEye Productions. 2004.