“The portrait of Louis XIV was definitely amazing,” Dorian says of Hyacinthe Rigaud’s famed 1701 portrait of the French aristocrat currently on display in the exhibit, on loan from the Louvre. “I first came across that portrait when I was researching the history of high heels for a music video. It’s so iconic and I’ve come back to that so many times for fashion inspiration. I didn’t know I was going to see that very famous piece of art in-person.”
Dorian, who identifies as genderfluid and non-binary, lives and breathes camp in both their art and everyday life. The 27-year-old counts Liberace, Prince, and Austin Powers as some of their personal icons, though they chuckle when they reveal the latter. “I was 6 years old when I watched that movie and it became my favorite. I didn’t get the joke that he was supposed to be gross -- with the bad teeth and stuff -- I just thought Austin Powers was this sexy male protagonist. That became my masculine ideal.”
As a kid, Dorian was obsessed with “Oscar Wilde and dandies and the baroque era,” yet they owe their introduction to the concept of camp not to this historical record, but rather to science fiction. “The first time I remember encountering [camp] was a teacher trying to explain it in the context of Star Trek. I was 14. My friends were all nerdier than me, from the debate team and stuff, and they were trying to explain it. But I didn’t get it. There’s a superficial level where you’re like, ‘I get it, it’s so bad and cheesy that it’s funny, right?’ But it’s more than that. It’s a very hard thing to explain to someone without examples.”
Dorian grew up in Texas, so you might imagine they struggled to find their footing in the dissonant space between the state’s conservative politics and its campy image of rhinestones, rodeos and big hair. There were some challenges, which primarily involved clashing with a deeply religious step-mother (who their father has since divorced) over topics like evolution and anatomy. Fortunately, the entertainer says they were “lucky and privileged to have come from an otherwise supportive, open family,” especially being raised in the progressive “liberal bubble” of Houston.
Dorian’s family, who are “ethnically Jewish, though not religious,” also existed outside of the dominant, largely Christian Texan culture. “I can share all my work with my grandma, who’s proud of me and super down with it. But it’s not normal, so we have to be grateful for what we have because the rest of Texas is an embarrassment," they say. “My mom and dad have always been weird and encouraged me to be weird at a young age. It made me comfortable with the idea that I was outside of the mainstream norm. My goal now is to share what I got to experience with other people through my art. Even if they don’t have that community at home, they can come to one of my shows or watch a video and feel like, ‘Well, if there’s this freak like me out there doing it….’”
Dorian first made an impact in 2010 when they released “I'm in Love With Friedrich Hayek,” a bohemian ode to the Austrian libertarian of the same name (Dorian notes they have not identified with libertarian beliefs since college and "find the ideology to be extremely problematic and deeply flawed."). They released a handful of somewhat esoteric indie tracks over the next few years, with lyrics about economics and social politics. By 2016, they had been comissioned by Refinery29 to create a series of intersectional feminist music videos about topics ranging from the clitoris to the history of drag, their musical style morphing into something both more avant-garde and pop-oriented along the way. It was during a photo shoot the same year where they accidentally stumbled upon their now-signature style marker: a thin, pencil-style mustache that helped them discover they “identify more with a feminine man rather than a masculine woman.”