Luster and Lustivious Dela Virgion are drag king personas of gender performer Sile (pronounced “Sheila”) P. Singleton, an icon in the drag community. Singleton performs both characters in ways that subvert LGBTQ assumptions of sexuality, identity, and performance genres.
Sile P. Singleton
Born in Zanesville, Ohio, Sile P. Singleton is an LGBTQ advocate and Queer folk performer. Co-founder of Fast Friday Productions (with Julia Applegate, Heidi Madsen, and Helen Harris) and a founding member of H.I.S. Kings — a trailblazing drag king troupe from Columbus, Ohio — Singleton has promoted drag king folkways for over a decade. She is also a host emcee (“master of ceremonies”), social activist, critical theorist, cultural commentator, writer, and parent. Singleton has co-produced and hosted a range of events from international drag king shows to music festivals to her own multimedia one-person show, PAINT! and presented at the 2007 Qualia Festival of Gay Folklife.
While she has done a range of performance and advocacy work, Sile is perhaps most famous for the memorable characters of Luster and Lustivious Dela Virgion.
Lustivious Dela Virgion first appeared in Columbus, Ohio with the launch of the H.I.S. King drag king troupe in 1996. While H.I.S. Kings was primarily a drag king troupe centered on the performance of masculine identities, its members engaged in a wide range of gender performances. Lustivious was the emcee for this troupe, starting each show with a hyper-feminine swagger across the stage, a bat of her often brightly colored fake eyelashes, and a question posed in a highly provocative tone: “Would you like to see my bo-o-oys?” Performing as a drag queen and wearing outrageous outfits, Lustivious challenged Gay identity classifications with her embodiment of feminist, Queer, and anti-racist politics. When appearing before audiences unfamiliar with Singleton, the “woman behind the woman,” people would debate whether Lustivious was female, male, drag queen, or drag queen impersonator.
Lustivious was known for her banter as emcee. She filled the spaces during costume changes and technical difficulties by flirting with the audience and showing off her impeccable homemade costumes. She would teach the audience about tipping, offering a thigh-high boot or other spot on her person for tucking dollar bills, assuring the less boisterous members of the audience: “If you’re too shy to tuck, you can just wad it up and throw it onstage. We’re cheap – we’ll pick it up.”
A key piece of banter and audience participation was the “Awww… suki suki!” routine. Lustivious would teach the audience to show their appreciation at the end of a number by yelling (in a manner specified and demonstrated several times by Lustivious herself) “Awwwwwww… suki suki!” with accompanying hip swinging and hand gestures, a whole-body cheer that became a trademark for Lustivious.
Lustivious also performed in both solo and group numbers at H.I.S. Kings shows with numbers such as Nina Simone’s “Feeling Fine,” Lena Horne’s “Believe in Yourself” from The Wiz, and Kina’s “Girl from the Gutter.” Group numbers featuring Lustivious included “Whip It” by Devo in which she played the dominatrix headmistress of Lusty’s Reform School for Boys, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” her take on Marilyn Monroe, “I Want to be Evil” by Eartha Kitt, and “I’m Getting Along Alright,” by Big Maybelle in which Lustivious names a string of lovers (played by various H.I.S. Kings members) including the wood man, the ice man, the coal man, the meat man, and the landlord.
While Lustivious was the first of Sile’s characters to emerge onto the drag scene, the next was the ultra-masculine Luster Dela Virgion. Luster first appeared at a H.I.S. Kings show, hosted by Lustivious, in 1997. He was a ladies’ man: suave, masculine, and paradoxically shy. When Lustivious took the microphone later in the show, she would coyly refer to him as “my brother.” Over time, Luster made additional appearances with H.I.S. Kings.
Luster appeared in a documentary in 2004, Ladies As Gentlemen: Drag Kings on Tour, directed by Sonia Slutsky. This documentary follows six drag kings through a three-week, 15-city tour, and gave Singleton an opportunity to further develop Luster separate from the H.I.S. Kings shows. Luster, like Lustivious, is an experienced emcee and host, comfortable on the microphone and capable of improvising as needed. Luster has hosted numerous events over the years, including The Great Big Drag King Show in Washington, D.C. and the International Drag King Extravaganza in Columbus, Ohio.
Musically, Luster is as diverse his hyper-feminine counterpart, doing songs such as Prince’s “Beautiful One,” Otis Williams’ “Shout,” Sammy Davis’ “Love Me or Leave Me,” Cowboy Troy’s “I Played Chicken With the Train,” and openly-Gay Sylvester’s “Do You Wanna Funk.”
Blurring the Line
A central theme with both of these characters is blurring of the line between what is real and what is performed, and the opportunity for the audience to question assumptions about masculinity and femininity. Singleton has been known to say that even at his most macho moments, Luster may be wearing a pair of ruffled panties underneath the suit, and Lustivious may be packing a penis.
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Troka, Donna Jean, Kathleen LeBesco, and Bobby Noble. The Drag King Anthology. New York: Haworth, 2003.