There’s one alleyway in downtown Athens, Georgia, that holds special meaning for drag king Diego Wolf. Tucked down just past the intersection of Clayton and Hull streets, the aging brick wall serves as a reminder of a pivotal part of Wolf’s life.
“I got to a point in my life when I was like, you know what? I could either let this close in on me and I could die in this alley, afraid of everything, or I could break through that crap, get out of the alley and see the world how I want to see it,” Wolf said. “So that’s what I did.”
The alley was the backdrop for Wolf’s graduate school project at the University of Georgia, where he created a storyboard inspired by the Trapt song “These Walls.”
“[That song] really inspired me and helped me kind of get to the point to where I had the courage to tell people and be more open about being transgender,” Wolf said.
A king is born
Wolf realized at a young age he wasn’t a lesbian, but he wasn’t a straight woman, either.
“I was such a tomboy growing up,” he said. “It wasn’t until I was about 14 and, I did some self-guided research that I discovered what it meant to be transgender. I had been pretty much rocking this drag thing most of my life because I’ve always worn boys’ clothes.”
Wolf grew up on a farm in “backwoods Arkansas” in a town of about 2,000. His part of the country was so conservative that there was a stretch of road adopted by the Ku Klux Klan, and his great-grandmother founded the Southern Baptist Church he was raised in. Race was a taboo subject, so gender wasn’t even something to be brought up, he said.
“The very, very first person I ever told was my little brother,” Wolf said. “It was my senior year in undergrad. … It was a heavy snow day in Arkansas. I was outta class, he was off work. We spent the entire day in our barn, horse stable, smoking weed and talking.”
Telling his brother gave him the strength to tell his parents, and so during Thanksgiving 2003, back in Arkansas on break from school in Athens, Wolf gave a letter to his mom and dad. He said they both read it and their response was essentially to ask what he wanted for dinner.
“I was blessed with an amazing family. I really do feel terrible for any trans person or gay person or whatever that gets disowned or ousted by their family for being who they are,” he said. “Even though my parents don’t completely understand ‘transgender’ … We just don’t talk about it. [They said] as long as you know that no matter what, we love you unconditionally and that’s never going to change.”
It was during that year that Wolf was introduced to the Athens drag scene. He went to an open mic night at the local gay club and fell into an audition night for a drag king troupe.
“I showed up and I kid you not, for the first 20 minutes it was like, culture shock. Like they had to pry me away from the bar. It wasn’t that I was scared, it was just like a daze of, ‘This is happening? This is real? People do this?’ and I finally got relaxed and they asked me if I had a song,” he said. “I saw somebody performing and I was like, that’s what I want to do. I want to be this awesome guy. This is the perfect way for me to start developing my actual male persona.”
He nailed the lip-sync audition, his first time ever on stage, and made the troupe. But when it came to picking out his stage name, Wolf was momentarily stumped.
“I was like, I want something sexy, like ‘Diego.’ And I have lupus, which gets its name from the Latin name for wolf, so I was like, how about something like Diego Wolf? Because then it’s like, sexy but meaningful. And it was a joke, and it stuck,” he said. “And here I am, freaking almost 14 years later, same name.”
He also still has his same trademark black eye makeup after 14 years, though the styles of drag Wolf does now has changed somewhat. He participates in boylesque and bearlesque shows, does more acting — he’s in an upcoming show with the Town & Gown Players — and is a favorite in the annual Boybutante Ball, an area fundraiser for the Boybutante AIDS Foundation.
But no matter what he’s doing, drag will always have a deeper meaning to him than just putting on clothes.
“I lost my brother in 2006,” Wolf said. “The entire time, drag is what kept me grounded. That’s how I got my emotions out. That’s how I dealt with my grief. … That was also kind of the point where I was ready to move forward with my transition as well.”
Sometimes people tell Wolf “it’s not really drag” for him.
“Everything I put onstage is something that people can not just be entertained by, but something people can be emotionally connected to,” he said. “I have a number that I did … to the song ‘Unsteady’ by X Ambassadors, and I come out and I’m in this white morph suit and I’ve got this small, dark lady’s wig on and a black dress, and I’m sitting in a chair. People are passing by, bumping into me. As the song opens up and progresses … I slowly start to remove these female attributes and right at the big reveal of the song, I have a pull-tab on the zipper on the back and I literally unzip it from the back and down the front. As I peel out of this white morph suit — because for a period of time I’m this faceless, genderless figure — underneath it I’m all dude.”
“Die Mommie Die,” presented by Town & Gown Players
Aug. 10 – 13
Town & Gown Players, 115 Grady Avenue, Athens, Georgia
Tickets: $10 Thursday with proceeds benefiting Boybutante AIDS Foundation; $5 Friday through Sunday