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This small-statured boy has ruled large over the KingDom of Denver for the last two years, something which a bout with chemo and cancer couldn’t even stop. Dustin Schlong is back now and stronger than ever.

With a show of his own opening up in 2020 at Gladys: the Nosy Neighbor, and Drag King Boot Camp under his belt, he takes his moves and health very seriously. Nicknamed Pop Pop, he performs both comedic and dramatic pieces on stage. From teaching baby kings at Drag King Boot Camp to opening up his life onstage, he gives his all to his community and to his art.

Before coming out as trans, or even as part of the queer community, Dustin got hooked on drag at Bump and Grind’s Sunday Drag Brunch while still in High School. He broke out of the Highlands Ranch bubble and brought his friends to more and more of these brunches. “I’m either gonna lose my friends today or they’re going to love it,” he remembered about his early days of drag.

“I wasn’t really out yet, or even queer-identifying really; it was just a fun adventure downtown. But, after I did come out, I just started going to Charlie’s and watching Kai Lee Mykels. After that, I ended up talking to some friends about drag. I wanted to do masculine drag, though.”

Dustin blew off any negative remarks about drag being for men dressing like women and just went for it. Soon, after hanging at Charlie’s for a bit, he attended Drag King Game Night at Blush & Blu. “I did my first performance about two-and-a-half years ago and haven’t looked back,” he recalled.

Since he began his drag journey, the shape of drag and gender identity in general has changed as well.

“Gender is being more explored, more open, more interpreted in a lot of different ways.” Dustin explained. “If you want to express your gender in a different way, that’s drag. Any ‘old’ definitions can be thrown out. If it means something to you, if it’s funny, if it’s putting your heart and soul out there and expressing yourself in a way you otherwise can’t, that’s drag.”

The drag king world opened up when Dustin began traveling the country and the world in search of other kings. “I just met some of the nicest, friendliest, most supportive guys, and that’s how I got the whole basis of the drag boot camp together.”

Dustin has been holding Drag King Boot Camp at Blush & Blu since November 7, and he just wrapped up with a finale on January 4. The two-hour, weekly class was taught along with Calder Goodlay and other guest speakers, and the whole thing was free. With this class, Dustin is giving his students the tools kings need to be successful.

“I want to be supportive and willing to answer questions, spend time with them, and give them the skills and the stage they need,” he said.

Still, despite all this positivity, there has been a darker side. In April of 2019, Dustin was diagnosed with cancer. He depicted this experience on stage recently in one of his performances.  This was a perfect act to do at Gladys’ Weirdo show, where, “You get to do anything. It’s a safe place where I could bring that story.”

“I made a bodysuit that looked like the Operation game,” he explained. On stage, Dustin depicted the removal of ovaries and a tumor, all while a buzzer was going off. To represent chemo, there was an IV on the stage, and he represented losing all his hair by ripping off his wig and beard. “At the time, I tried to hold on to my beard. To a trans guy, that’s really important. But I lost all that, too.”

“The song connected with the sadness and the depression that happens as you are accepting that death could be your fate,” he added. “All of this just hit. I shut down for a while, tried to stay engaged, but wanted to run away and hide and be done with everything, and people didn’t really see that side of me. I put on a smile, but the truth was, there were days I wanted to give up so bad, like I was a burden. I wanted the performance to be funny and storytelling, but I wanted to show that meaning, too.”

Dustin explained the end of the performance that night: “At the end of your last chemo treatment, you get to ring a bell. Getting to ring it again on stage meant a lot to me.”

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What inspires him now? “This boot camp has been a huge inspiration to me. Not only have I grown as myself in the community, but to give these opportunities as a drag king and with the uprise of kings gaining momentum, it’s so nice to see all of these eager, young people with all of this drive and wanting to dive into it, and being a bridge for for them.”

Not only does he want the kings to gain the tools to succeed on stage, he wants to make sure they actually get booked.

“I’ve reached out to show producers for these new performers, and I’m letting everyone know we are insuring the kings who will be getting these bookings are trying and fighting for this. These opportunities, even, like, a year ago, didn’t exist.”

Despite the fact that Dustin is a man and a king who wants to give other kings a chance, he is pumped about helping performers of all types, and emphasizes that everyone can be a king.

“Drag kings have a more masculine take perhaps but no set rules of what ‘masculine’ really means,” he added. “Whether that be wearing high heels and a packer and letting your boobs be out or whatever, your costuming and your makeup is up to you, and if you identify as a drag king, then you are doing it.”

Look out for Dustin and a city full of kings in 2020, and get ready for some masculine, androgynous, fabulous vibes.

Photos by Stu Osborne