Dr. Torcher, a Maryland drag king and sideshow artwork performer, is known for being a fire-eater. Now, they’re bringing again a practice of fire-eating on the D.C. Dyke March.

Every week, WTOP is celebrating a Pride Hero who has made a distinction in the LGBTQ+ group within the D.C. space as a part of our Pride Month protection. Check again all all through June as we share these tales on air and on-line.

Dr. Torcher, a Maryland drag king and sideshow artwork performer who makes use of they/them pronouns, is known for being a fire-eater. Now, they’re bringing again a practice of fire-eating at the D.C. Dyke March.

“Learning to eat hearth was a reclamation of my very own energy,” they instructed WTOP. Learning the empowering act a decade in the past helped Dr. Torcher to cope with PTSD and panic assaults they’d after a violent assault years earlier than.

“Doing this type of factor on stage actually helped me to take management of my concern response,” they mentioned.

The drag king taught two fire-eating workshops for queer folks across the D.C. space final yr,
honoring a historical past of fire-eating at marches, together with an indication in entrance of the White House at the first D.C. Dyke March in 1993.


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Reclaiming hearth’s energy

“People took to it so rapidly,” they mentioned. “When they make the choice, ‘I can do that,’ it’s like their entire physique modifications, and I may see it occur. It was actually, actually rewarding and validating for me to undergo that course of with each single a type of folks.”

Dr. Torcher and a bunch of their pupils did a fire-eating demonstration on the 2023 D.C. Dyke March, marking 30 years for the reason that unique protest.

Jennifer Miller, a well-known circus performer and professor, first launched fire-eating as an act of LGBTQ+ revolt and energy on the New York City Dyke March in 1992. Miller wished to honor two queer folks, Hattie Mae Cohens and Brian Mock, who had been killed by a racist, homophobic group that set hearth to their Oregon residence on Sept. 26, 1992.

“And so Jennifer had this concept,” Dr. Torcher mentioned. “Well, what if we reclaim this act of consuming hearth in a method that reveals that as a option to push again in opposition to violence, as a option to say, ‘you possibly can set us on hearth, and we’ll survive.’ And what a robust picture.”

March organizers had been extraordinarily excited once they pitched the concept of bringing their 10 years of expertise with fire-eating to the Dyke March.

“It simply felt like this was meant to be. I’m presupposed to be right here proper now and I’m prepared to do that,” they mentioned. “So it felt like an actual fruits of the journey that I’ve been on with hearth.”

Dr. Torcher taught two fire-eating lessons, earlier than this demonstration in Dupont Circle on the 2023 D.C. Dyke March.
(Courtesy D.C. Dyke March)

Courtesy D.C. Dyke March

Dr. Torcher main a fire-eating demonstration on the D.C. Dyke March in June 2023.
(Courtesy D.C. Dyke March)

Courtesy D.C. Dyke March

The Highball Productions workforce: Dr. Torcher, Vagenesis, Dabatha Christie, and Citrine .
(left to proper)

left to proper

Dr. Torcher in Billy Flynn costume for Highball Productions’ “SHECAGO” present.
(Courtesy Highball Productions)

Courtesy Highball Productions

The Highball Productions workforce, Citrine, Dabatha Christie, Dr. Torcher and Vagenesis .
(left to proper)

left to proper

How drag triggered ‘a complete revelation’

Even earlier than they had been Dr. Torcher, they at all times had a love for efficiency. After working as a stripper to pay for graduate faculty, they received into improv and stand-up lessons.

Onstage, they grew to become more and more conscious of how their extra female look, sporting “lengthy blonde hair” and acrylic nails on the time, made folks assume that they might act stereotypically female and demure. Instead, they had been loud and instructed “crass, gross” jokes.

They beloved upending these expectations, so it appeared like a pure subsequent step to eat hearth and swallow swords. After a weekend of sideshow coaching from a retired “carny” in Pennsylvania, Dr. Torcher was born.

They selected the intimidating stage title as a result of they’re sarcastically “actually silly and humorous on stage.” Plus, they moved to the D.C. space over 20 years in the past to get a doctoral diploma in anthropology at American University.

For seven years, Dr. Torcher produced and carried out within the D.C. Weirdo Show, an inclusive month-to-month circus present that grew to become more and more “queer” underneath their path.

Eventually, drag “grew to become a pure outgrowth” of their performances. Drawing on a mustache, chiseling their face with make-up, and carrying masculine garments for performances despatched Dr. Torcher on a gender id journey.

“To look within the mirror and see myself this fashion was a complete revelation,” they mentioned. “It simply turns into a method to do that out and play with gender onstage in a extremely highly effective method. And actually replicate again to the viewers that that is OK, to play along with your gender and take a look at various things.”

They began figuring out as nonbinary and realized that they’d been slowly discovering this a part of their id all through their efficiency profession.

“I actually firmly maintain that every little thing we do onstage is autobiographical,” they mentioned. “Everything I look again on that I’ve ever accomplished on stage, I can see how that’s related to my interior baby … to some type of expression that I wasn’t allowed to do as an individual who was socialized to be a woman, I wasn’t allowed to take up house or be loud or be gross.”

Now, Dr. Torcher combines fire-eating and drag performances to unfold consciousness of various gender identities. They’ve watched acceptance of LGBTQ+ folks broaden over the previous few years, from acting at small-town pleasure occasions, like Culpeper Pride, to conversations with their very own father, who’s “a conservative ex-military man.”

“He has made the hassle to return down and see me carry out. And each time he does, he will get an increasing number of snug,” they mentioned.

They tearfully recounted how, after their final efficiency, “he was speaking so compassionately about, ‘if I used to be homosexual, I’d need a house like this.’ It made sense to him. … It was wonderful to listen to him discuss like that.”

Two years in the past, they began performing, and extra just lately producing, for Highball Productions, which “takes musicals and re-envisions them as queered drag extravaganzas, and it’s totally rehearsed, totally choreographed, very top quality,” regardless of having a particularly low cowl cost.

“It’s been so fantastic to work with Vagenesis, Citrine and Dabatha Christie. It’s an exquisite workforce,” they mentioned. “It’s uncommon for drag queens to see the worth of drag kings and invite us in. And I used to be actually thrilled that they only get it — I don’t have to elucidate to them why drag kings matter.”

Dr. Torcher and the manufacturing firm had been just lately nominated for a variety of D.C. Drag Awards after their May manufacturing of “SHECAGO” at JR’s, a bar within the Dupont Circle neighborhood.

“We’re increasing out,” they mentioned. “So, for example, we do have a June present known as ‘Twerk-ules,’ which is a musical model of ‘Hercules,’ as you possibly can think about, and that will likely be at Shaw’s Tavern.”

From bringing fire-eating demonstrations again to the D.C. Dyke March to spreading the enjoyment of drag musicals with Highball Productions, Dr. Torcher continues to protect LGBTQ+ historical past and encourage folks to embrace their genuine self.

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