If you don't know Dante Celeiro, you might at first be a little put off by his husky frame and tattoo-ridden arms. But it soon becomes apparent that there's a softer side to him that he likes to show off.
Celeiro is a member of local drag-king ensemble Boys R Us, and every couple of months, the troupe puts on a show aimed at challenging the way society views gender.
"We're here to push the envelope of gender," Celeiro said. "You never know if you're going to get boys, girls or something in between."
Celeiro, who was born a female but now identifies as a male, has two characters in the show: Big Mama and Big Papa.
"I identify as Dante, because for me, I don't see gender, so I see it as having the best of both worlds," Celeiro said. "What's in your mind and what's in your heart doesn't change; the only thing that has changed is the actual physical part, but who I am hasn't changed."
Every Boys R Us show provides something different so audience members will never see the same show twice--and don't expect to find Santa onstage at their upcoming shows, because they never revolve around a theme.
"We just kind of go around the room and say, 'All right, what do you want to do?' And then slowly, but surely, the next thing you know, we have a show," Celeiro said.
Celeiro performed drag in New York before moving to Tucson nearly nine years ago. Once here, Celeiro immediately began looking for the opportunity to continue performing drag. He discovered a small group of female UA students who were performing a drag-king skit and decided to join them. Celeiro soon became the group's manager.
"I just wanted to reorganize us and get us on the map," Celeiro said. "It started out as a couple of girls playing dress-up, and then it just took off."
Boys R Us has seen drag evolve since they first started performing, and they're excited to see where it's going. Celeiro says drag isn't all about men dressing up as women to do impressions, and drag doesn't only attract gays and lesbians--in fact, Celeiro says half his audience is straight.
"Our goal is to provide a rollercoaster ride of emotions at every show. We cover politics (and) sex, and we give you some comedy," Celeiro said. "Sometimes, we may even throw in some serious stuff and make you cry--it depends where we're at on our own personal levels.
At every show, the Boys R Us performers aim to confront common social issues surrounding gender, including self-projection and identification. They urge everyone to expand their minds about what gender could be.
"We are definitely there to entertain, but it's also a way to be our own activists without running around with picket signs--we get to educate in a different way onstage, but after the show, we're going to have you thinking," Celeiro said.
According to Celeiro, all of the members of Boys R Us are regular people with ordinary lives--people you may never expect to see performing in drag.
"I'm the guy dressed in paint clothes in Home Depot," Celeiro said. "I look like I probably just got out of jail, and then the next thing you know, I could be on stage in a corset or have a feather boa around me. You just don't know."
The group has included gay, straight and transgender performers, including both men and women, since its start almost seven years ago.
"People keep coming back, because they want to see what we're going to do next," Celeiro said. "It says to us that we must be doing our jobs."
Their next show will take place during this weekend's Fourth Avenue Street Fair--at the Surly Wench Pub, where Boys R Us performs on a regular basis.
"They're right in the heart of the Street Fair, so it's a win-win situation," Celeiro said. "The Surly Wench is a really diverse bar, and there's no label--they're a community bar--so it's become like a home for us."
Boys R Us is also preparing to host the 11th annual International Drag King Community Extravaganza--a conference that travels around the world providing workshops for drag performers. Drag troupes come together to learn more about promoting, entertainment and a variety of gender-transition issues. Last year's conference was held in Vancouver, British Columbia--and this year, it's heading to Arizona.
"We're fortunate to get to host it next year," Celeiro said. "It's a big deal, and Arizona has never seen anything like this."
The next Boys R Us shows, featuring a calendar release, will take place at 9 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 13, and 5 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 14, at the Surly Wench Pub, 424 N. Fourth Ave. General admission is $7, with seats available for $10. For more information, visit the Drag King MySpace page.