Phoenix’s Melrose District, affectionately known as the “gayborhood,” has grown from a single bar to a vibrant economy fueled by local businesses, artists, and performers. Dustin Riot came into the Phoenix drag scene about three years ago with his dark, grunge aesthetic and alternative performance style. The Phoenix resident traveled to compete in the national drag king extravaganza, ultimately winning the title of Mr. USofA 2019 MI (“male illusionist” category) and earning himself a national reputation.
Write On Downtown (WOD): There’s plenty of people who aren’t as familiar with biologically female or AFAB drag performers as they are with “traditional” drag queens. How do you begin that conversation of introducing people to different types of performers?
Dustin Riot (DR): Typically, when someone asks what I do, I tell them I am a drag performer and continue the conversation. If they ask what that is I respond with, “Do you know what a drag queen is? Well I do that, but I am a king.” At the end of the day I believe there is no difference, we all work hard to make costumes, put on makeup, and go on stage. To me, everyone is just a drag performer.
WOD: When and how did you start getting into drag?
DR: I was first introduced to drag by a local AFAB Queen, Dita Dame Savage, about five years ago. I started out as her backup dancer and continued to do that for about three years. During that time, I started learning about gender expression and decided I wanted to explore my gender identity more and decided to try performing on my own as a drag king.
WOD: Where does the inspiration for your style come from?
DR: I have always found the darkness to be beautiful. There is something about the dark that is just so beautiful and sexy. I firmly believe that clothing can give off a feeling or attitude just as much as a person, which is why many people really put time into everything they wear. My style in drag is very dark, dirty yet shiny, loud and with a lot of layers. It’s a style that growing up I always wanted to have but was never confident enough to do it. Now I get to express myself through being on stage and it is a very freeing feeling. I am ALWAYS getting new inspiration from Queens and runways. Every time I see something I like I think, “How can I change the feeling of this to make it more masculine?” and I go from there!
WOD: Where do you see yourself going from here? Do you have any specific goals that you are currently working to achieve?
DR: I will be stepping down [from Mr. USofA] in March and from there I would like to start doing bigger numbers with either more choreography or more production value. My ultimate goal will be to stage full production numbers for full length performances including lip singing, dancing, and stage blocking.
WOD: How has Phoenix influenced you and your performances? Is there anything unique about the Phoenix drag community that you really love?
DR: Phoenix has been my biggest inspiration for drag! When I first started there was a majority of pageant style performances, so every time I performed I was met with, “Good job, but we need more.” This forced me to keep making everything I was doing bigger and better, but at the same time the alternative scene started growing and I jumped right in. This enabled me to express my art the way I wanted to without fear of it not being “entertaining enough.” I’ve learned how to stay true to my art but still find a way to elevate it to the point of being entertaining. I truly do credit the ability to do this to the Phoenix drag scene with its diverse performers and constant critiques on how you can grow.
WOD: What has been your favorite/best experience in the drag community to date?
DR: My favorite experience in the Phoenix drag community would be performing in an old show that was hosted by Ben Addiction and Rubye Moore called Sis?! It was a show full of alternative performers, when at the time there were not as many, and the experienced backstage and support given from both the performers and the audience is something I will not soon forget.