Arts & Culture

This group of LGBT performers changed drag culture in New Orleans. He is their voice.

Teddy Mars is a husband, father and the host of the Carnival Kings of New Orleans, one of the longest running drag troupes in the country. Mars' role is much more than just hosting the monthly drag shows, he also serves as a mentor for those searching for community who find the Carnival Kings.
Teddy Mars is a husband, father and the host of the Carnival Kings of New Orleans, one of the longest running drag troupes in the country. Mars' role is much more than just hosting the monthly drag shows, he also serves as a mentor for those searching for community who find the Carnival Kings. amccoy@sunherald.com

It's been more than 15 years since a group of performers got on stage for the first time together at the iconic Bourbon Pub at the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Ann in New Orleans.

And it was something that New Orleans — yes, New Orleans — had never really seen before: a troupe of drag kings.

Yes. Drag kings.

The drag world is a huge part of LGBTQ culture across the United States, including the Deep South, where many famous queens get their start on stages in New Orleans, Nashville, and smaller towns everywhere in between.

RuPaul's Drag Race has also catapulted drag artistry into homes across America. Two of the finalists on the latest season of the show, Kameron Michaels and Eureka O' Hara, are from Nashville and Johnson City, Tennessee, respectively.

But drag culture is largely categorized by queens. And Carnival Kings in New Orleans offers support for drag kings looking to achieve their dreams within a community.

Carnival Kings started as a combination of two smaller troupes in New Orleans and brought new performances to the Pub every Tuesday night.

Now, the group performs once per month at various venues across the city, said Carnival Kings Host Teddy Mars. And in their troupe, Mars said there is a place for every performer.

"New Orleans means complexity. It's very scary to break into a new clique, to find a community. It's really what people to go to drag shows for," Mars said in an interview for "Out Here in America," a podcast by the Biloxi, Mississippi, Sun Herald and McClatchy that explores what it's like being LGBTQ in the Deep South and in other areas of America's heartland.

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Mars has been with the kings for 11 years, and the performers have become family, a one very different than the one Mars grew up with not far from New Orleans.

"You need community, and you need people who are willing to live your experience with you and understand," Mars said. "And unless you are in that community, you cannot understand what it is to be that minority, whatever that marginalized community is, no matter your intention."

Mars, a trans man, lives in a town called Gretna just outside of New Orleans, with his wife, Susan, and their 11-year-old son, William.

In this episode, you'll hear:

  • Mars' path to New Orleans
  • About Carnival Kings and how they've shaped the drag scene in New Orleans
  • Balancing life as a Carnival King and family man
  • How Mars plans on guiding the way for the next LGBTQ generation

If you have an idea or suggestion for "Out Here in America," email Justin Mitchell, jmitchell@sunherald.com.

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