By day, Leslie Einhorn directs a children’s theater program in San Francisco. By night, she sometimes transforms into Arty Fishal, a drag king alter ego. An actress and director, Einhorn has frequently performed at clubs in San Francisco, and she’s even taken her act to daytime television. She also teaches gender-bending classes at sex shops and theater companies. Growing up in Indianapolis, Leslie was a tomboy wannabe. “I was always really girly, but I loved tomboys and tried to be really tough,” she said. “But I couldn’t really pull it off, because ultimately I didn’t have the personality to back it up.” She later attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., where she was a theater major. The first time Einhorn did drag, she had an epiphany of sorts. After college, she had moved to San Francisco, where she attended a “come as you’re not” party dressed as a man. “I hadn’t heard the term ‘drag king’ before,” she said.
“I remember putting the mustache on in the bathroom mirror and just being so excited that my face could transform like that, and I felt completely different. I could just completely let go of who I was.” After that, she put her acting skills to work and began entering drag contests. In 1998, Einhorn won San Francisco’s Drag King title. “The thing that I loved was what I got, being a man — the sense of entitlement and a sense of freedom from letting go of my own gender,” she said. “I’m really interested in how much we perform our genders and how, as women, we’re expected to behave in certain ways. You can realize so much about how you are socially, the ways you accommodate people, the ways you don’t get your needs met, and with men, it’s a whole different thing. That’s what feels so powerful to me.”
Einhorn has worked her magic to turn women into men at Good Vibrations, the San Francisco Bay area sex-toy shop; through Women’s Will, an all-women’s Shakespeare company; and at LYRIC (Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center) in San Francisco. The Good Vibrations classes primarily target butch lesbians or transgender men who want to pass, while the Women’s Will classes are mostly directed at straight female actors playing male roles in one of the group’s shows. Her classes vary based on the audience; at Good Vibrations, Einhorn has taught an “arts and crafts” class that focused on the physical mechanics of passing. At Women’s Will, Einhorn helps her actor students get in touch with times when they’ve felt masculine, come up with words to describe those feelings and then create and get into male characters.