Kenn Murphy is pretty much your typical gay dad, in a world where “typical gay dad" can now be used without irony. The 49-year-old Fort Myers, Florida, resident lives with his 17-year-old son Ryan, from a previous marriage to a woman, and has a job at the local automotive shop. He's single, frustrated by the dating process, and, like most Americans, struggling to make ends meet. Then on Saturday nights he spends four hours dressing up like a woman before headlining a local drag queen act.
Okay, maybe not so typical. While drag queens are de rigueur across the United States (Quick show of hands for anyone who knows at least one!), rarely does one hear a story about the challenges of balancing a drag act with raising kids.
“It's part of my act," says Murphy. “I talk about my son, that I am someone's father. All of the owners know him. He's not old enough to come to the bar, but he's been with me when I've done charity work." He notes later on: “He sees me getting ready all of the time. He's gone shopping for dresses with me."
His son is straight – “But I love him anyway," jokes Murphy – and Dad can't emphasize enough how much time they spend together. “Outside of school his entire focus is on music," says Murphy, “and he heads up a three-piece band as lead singer and bass player."
Murphy's own act takes place at a club called The Bottom Line, the largest on the Gulf Coast of Florida, with multiple bars and a two-story dance floor. Each weekend he's the emcee of the show “Morgan Davis Presents Saturday Night Love," using his drag name in the title.
Despite living in one of the less liberal sections of Florida, Murphy says that he's never had a personal problem being gay, being a gay dad, and being a gay dad who wears women's clothes.
“I don't force my lifestyle on people, I don't walk around with a rainbow flag, I don't say, 'Hi, I'm gay,'" he says. “I've been very lucky."
He also doesn't spend his days in heels. “I never go out in drag unless I'm working. I don't enjoy it that much."
Working at an auto shop, Murphy says, “I live my life very openly and all the guys know what I do. They're cool with it, and they are planning to come to the show. Some of the girls have already come."
Murphy's relationship with his son's mother ended in 2011, with the father maintaining custody. Murphy began performing in drag a year before his son was born, making it an atmosphere his child grew up with. He was also out to his wife when their son was born.
“I told him I was gay first," says Murphy on the order of the gay/drag talk. “After I told him, he said something like 'Great, can I go watch TV now?' He was raised around gay people. He's always been a kind, accepting soul. The next day he went to school and told everybody. There were no negative reactions."
Telling his son he was a drag queen was an easy follow-up. “He was about 10 or 11. He grew up knowing men who did [drag] already," says Murphy. “I had gay entertainer friends. I explained to him that it's no different than an actor in a movie. It's a character."
Telling people the difference between Caitlyn Jenner and himself is often more challenging. “When [she] came out, they didn't know and understand," says Murphy. “I had to explain it to people. People see you as a drag queen and they make assumptions."
As to why there are not more stories of drag queen dads? “I have no idea. We are still evolving. But you are a little self-centered in drag. It's all about you. Anyone who's in the spotlight has a little of that."
“I think as a gay parent, we have a different sensibility about things," says Murphy. “I think it's our duty to teach our children about all types of people and lifestyles. It's our way of ensuring that things will absolutely get better."
Murphy is a large man, standing 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing approximately 275 pounds. He says that, in his younger, Atlantic City days he was often approached to take part in drag shows, and now finds it more than just a way of earning extra cash.
“I like entertaining people. I can let my guard down in drag, let loose."
What he can't always do is find a date.
“I'm not young anymore. I don't have a gym body. I have a kid and I'm a drag queen. There's not a lot of guys willing to put up with all of that."