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02 January 2011

Johnny Science (1955 - 2007) musician, activist, make-up artist

Suzie started dressing as a boy when still a child. She did theatrical make-up with friends, and even then was mainly making girls look like guys. Growing up, she hardly menstruated at all.

In the late 1970s/early 1980s Suzie Science was the lead singer in the band Science, which played the New York club, Max's Kansas City, Women's One World (WOW),and elsewhere. She was art director at Max’s, and as an advocate of lesbian S&M made occasional performance with leather implements.

As a man he used different names: John Grant, Johnny Armstrong, John Austen. By the mid 1980s Johnny was being taken as a man, and was doing live S&M shows with his girlfriend at Belle de Jour, a professional dungeon located in a loft in Chelsea. In 1986 he made serious enquiries about hormonal and surgical transition, and began taking testosterone.

He then founded his F2M Fraternity for both cross-dressers and decided transsexuals. He also invited curious doctors and writers. There was no other such group in New York at that time, Mario Martino's group of the late 1960s being long forgotten. A Gender Identity project was founded in 1989 at the New York Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Community Center, but it was primarily for MTF clients. The new group met at Kit Rachlin's apartment, and Johnny picked up most of the expense for advertising. He went on the Howard Stern radio show even though he knew that he would be presented as a freak, but it would get the word out.

Annie Sprinkle had met Johnny at an S&M show at Plato's retreat, and although not herself in transition, she loved the people, and started an affair with Les Nichols whom she met at the group. Johnny shot and co-directed and wrote the music for the film about them.

Johnny evolved from a butch dyke into a gay man. He moved from the lesbian S&M scene into a male sub/dom netherworld. He once went home with a man he met in a bar who tied him to a bed for days on end with a gun pointed at his head. The man finally ejaculated when Johnny gave him permission to shoot.

Dianne Torr met both Annie and Johnny when Johnny made her up for before and after photographs. Dianne credits Johnny with giving her the extra push that she needed to develop a male persona that could pass in public, by teaching her the necessary make-up. He claimed that he had coined the term 'drag king', and in 1990 he started the Drag King workshops, where he did the make-up on the participants and also gave lectures on phalloplasty. Dianne joined him to give instruction on body positions, gestures and attitudes. They also performed together at the 10th anniversary of WOW later that year. His demi-monde adventures made him unreliable, and Dianne had to take over doing the make-up as well.

In 1992 Johnny and several drag kings were on the Joan Rivers Show, and he organized two Drag King Balls that same year, with the first formally judged drag king contest (although the voguing ball houses had been doing much the same for some time and the film Paris is Burning had come out in 1990).

However his increasing desire was to pass as a gay man, and not be known as transsexual. But in 1998 he hosted a low-budget cable television show where he stated that he was not a drag king, but a regular guy. After that he returned to his private life.

He died in 2007.
  • Annie Sprinkle interviews Johnny Science. "Inside a Female Gender-Bender". Adam, 33, 1989: 29-30.
  • Annie Sprinkle & Johnny Science (dir). Linda/Les and Annie. With Les Nichols and Annie Sprinkle. Music and photography by Johnny Science. US 32 mins 1992.
  • Lauren Wells Hasten. Gender Pretenders: A Drag King Ethnography. Columbia University. 1999.
  • Gabriel Baur (dir). Venus Boyz. With Dianne Torr, Johnny Science and others. Switzerland/US/Germany 102 mins 2002.
  • Dianne Torr & Stephen Bottoms. Sex, Drag, and Male Roles. The University of Michigan Press, 2010: 2, 26, 27, 30, 89, 90, 92-4, 97-9, 101-5, 113-4, 118, 122-4, 143, 149, 206.
  • Veronica Vera, Kit Rachlin, Diane Torr & Annie Sprinkle. "Johnny Science". Transgender Tapestry, 114, 2007.

Leigh Crow (Elvis Herselvis) also coined the term Drag King in San Francisco around 1990.  She was impersonating ‘the king’ and doing an inversion of what a drag queen does.  There is no reason to assume that either Science or Crow borrowed the term from the other.  Like the word transgender, drag king was an obvious term that would be coined sooner or later, and it is no surprise that two persons coined it independently.

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