Manual Tucker Lovett: Drag royalty, crowned again


Are you missing the excitement and euphoria of pride month? Yearning for a place to wear your favorite rainbow pride boa?

Pine away no more because you can get your pride on in all of its rainbow glory next month at Southern New Jersey LGBTQA Pride (SNJGP). 

Taking place September 8, right across the river at Cooper River Park in Cherry Hill, SNJGP is a wonderful, intimate and festive event. With a focus on fun and an anti-bullying platform, the celebration strikes a beautiful balance between serious and sublime. SNJGP has everything from free giveaways to raffles and a prize (a crown no less) for the best voguer! With a standout slate of performers including singing powerhouse and Broadway star Frenchie Davis — who will be headlining the event — what’s not to love?

Among the dozens of performers and over 100 vendors in attendance, you will find this week’s Portrait, the new Mr. SNJGayPride, Manual Tucker Lovett, known lovingly as Manny T. Lovett. A former Mr. Philadelphia Drag King and Mr. Philadelphia Gay Pride, Lovett has taken the area by storm with his “political, sexy and geeky performances.” IRL (that’s “in real life” for you old heads), Manny is actually Fanny Lovett, a self-described introvert who doubles as a nurse and mom. 


PGN: Can you describe what a drag king is or what the term means to you?

MTL: He’s an exaggeration of masculinity; it’s gender play, similar to a drag queen. It’s usually a female-bodied person impersonating a male-bodied person, but here in Philadelphia, it’s not always that cut and dry. You may have a transman perform as a drag king; we leave a lot of room for interpretation. It’s all about fun and fantasy. There’s usually some type of performance, usually lip synching, but it can be dancing, a skit, spoken word, you name it. 


PGN: What does Manny’s performance consist of?

MTL: I lip sync to music, but I really try to switch it up. My styles include traditional drag and a lot of drag-lesque where I tease and remove clothing. I have several character personas also. Manny is my hyper-masculine and strong, aggressive but fragile persona; Manual is my spastic, nerdy, vulnerable male persona — he wears glasses and is very smart but shy. He’s a geek but wants to bust out of his comfort zone so that fantasy gets played out on stage. Tuck is a kitty cat, and Tucker is my alternative white male privilege persona, he’s the guy who likes rock.


PGN:  I hear there are sometimes cookies involved in your performance?

MTL: Yes, one of Manny’s favorite things is to dress up like a pseudo Cookie Monster and do a number with milk and cookies. 


PGN: Because you’re in the public eye and comfortable in front of a crowd, are people surprised to hear you’re an introvert?

MTL: Yes, I definitely am an introvert. I need space and time to clear my mind of humans and just be by myself. A lot of my imagination comes from that time I spend alone with my thoughts. It’s hard to explain to people when they see you on stage, but it kind of feels like so many eyes on you translates to no eyes. It’s not like you’re performing for one person and thinking of what they’re thinking about you. A big crowd actually makes it easier. 


PGN: Let’s learn about you.

MTL: I lived in Philly for about 15 years, and now I’m back in Southern New Jersey. But I’m originally from Trenton — well, the outskirts of Trenton. 


PGN: What do the parents do?

MTL: My mother is a… [laughs] she’s an anger management counselor. I’m sorry, I laugh because she’s an angry person. But she says that being a counselor is therapeutic for her. She gets to reiterate the techniques on a daily basis. I like to say I had two dads: the dad that I didn’t know, he died when I was 10, and the dad that I did know, who died when I was in college. 


PGN: What were you like as a kid?

MTL: Shy, very shy. I didn’t talk very much, I didn’t have many friends. My best friend was my younger sister, and we’re still close. I was a bit of a geek and was really into school and academics. That’s about it. 


PGN: Who was your favorite teacher?

MTL: Mr. Byrd. He taught Earth Science, and he was a little weird, a little kooky, and I like that in a person. He’d say things that teachers probably shouldn’t say. 


PGN: Such as?

MTL: He once said, “You know you have a lot of strikes against you that you’re going to have to deal with: You’re pretty, you’re Black and you’re a girl.” At the time I didn’t know how to react, but he said a lot of things that resonated later. A lot of the science teachers were on the oddball side, and it got me interested in the sciences. 


PGN: And what do you do now?

MTL: I am a school nurse; it’s a science and an art. 


PGN: How often do you get kids faking illnesses to get out of tests?

MTL: Well, right now I’m in a school that works with autistic kids, and they do that stuff too, but it’s harder to tell, and you have to deal with it differently. But when I was in a school with neurotypical kids, they’d try it all the time. And that’s fun, when you catch them in a lie and send them back to class so they can formulate a new scheme! I’ve been doing this for about 10 years, so I’m pretty good at diagnosing the real problems from the fake. And sometimes the fake ones are important too because it can mean a kid just needs to talk. 


PGN: What’s the worst or wildest thing you’ve had to contend with?

MTL: Actually, it was dealing with a colleague who was assigned to do physicals at the school. She made a lot of vaguely racist comments, and it was very uncomfortable. She’d say things like, “Well, all they do is eat rice and beans…” about an overweight Latinx student, and I’d have to say, “You don’t know that.”  But the wildest was when a kid punched his fist through a window, and it got caught in the metal mesh they have on the school windows. He split his hand open down to the bone; that broke the monotony for me. It was really gory, which I appreciated. It looked like a bean or a potato that…


PGN: [Covering my squeamish ears] Please stop! 

MTL: A bean that opens up when you squeeze it and the stuff plops out. It was awesome! 


PGN: Sorry I asked. 

MTL: Okay, no more gore, but the best part is that when he came back from the hospital the next day, everything was stitched up and the kid told me that the surgeons said to tell me that I’d done a good job. I was ecstatic. 


PGN: So now that I’m nauseous, I’m going to switch the subject. How did you get involved in drag?

MTL: I saw someone else, Jimmy Two Fingas, who was Mr. Philadelphia Drag King 2014, perform at Tabu and I said, “[Gasp] I can do that!” So the next year, I entered the PDK, Philly Drag King contest, and I won! I’ve been doing it ever since. The Cookie Monster is my favorite performance, but a lot of people like my Donald Trump. 


PGN: Any missteps?

MTL: Oh, when I fell off the stage! I was doing my geek number and there were pants on the floor that I didn’t see. In the number I kick my leg out and it got caught in the pants and I went up and came down on my back like in a cartoon. People thought it was part of the performance ’cause I kept going, but it hurt! 


PGN: What are some of the songs you lip synch to?

MTL: I do a pretty wide variety from Bohemian Rhapsody to Extreme’s “More Than Words” (that’s the Cookie Monster’s number) to Jason Derulo to country music, you name it. 


PGN: I understand that you’ve done some acting too.

MTL: Yes, I was in a play called “RAW Philly” which was a great experience. I learned a lot, and I was in a short film called “Burning Bridges.”


PGN: Ah, we screened that at The Women’s Film Festival. I didn’t realize that was you. Now I see why you look familiar. What are you doing these days?


MTL: I just started a production company for drag kings called GQ Drag. It’s inclusive of everyone but centering on people of color and trans people. We’re focused on service, inclusion and community, for instance yesterday we served food at a rescue mission. We’re also collecting menstrual supplies to donate to them. Our next show is Sept. 14 at Tabu.


PGN: When did you come out and how?

MTL: How? Horribly! I was married at the time, and I didn’t really come out, I was pulled out. It was an outing type situation that was horrific…and wonderful at the same time, you know. It was like, “Oh, this is why I never thought I worked properly.” It was the end of my life as I knew it and the beginning of my life as it could be. 


PGN: And you got a little something out of it.

MTL: Yes, I have two wonderful sons, 18 and 15. 


PGN: Random question time: What’s an era in history you’d want to go back to?

MTL: I wouldn’t do it, I wouldn’t risk going back. What if I got dealt a bad hand? Unless I could go back as a gay person’s cat. Even if they were still in the closet, as long as I was well kept and cared for. In that case, I’d go back to almost any time period and just observe everything. If I had to pick one era though, I would say somewhere down South about 20 years after slavery ended, just to see what was really happening. You know what I mean? 


PGN: What household trade do you hate?

MTL: Trash. I hate touching trash. It’s okay before it’s in the can, but once it’s in there, I don’t want to go near it. It even bothers me when people lift the lid with their hands. Yuck, I have one of those step cans. Just don’t touch it, people.  


PGN: If you had a theme song that played whenever you walked into a room, what would it be?

MTL: I can’t pick that one, I can’t do it. Because it would be different depending on my mood, the feeling. I had a song for when I was feeling reckless, but I can’t remember the name. No, wait, it’s “Riptide” by Vance Joy. 


PGN: What superhero would you be? (I glance at the small gold Superwoman “S” on her necklace.)

MTL: Wonder Woman. Which probably makes you wonder why I’m wearing an “S”?  Most of the Wonder Woman gear is always too frilly or comes in bright colors. And I don’t see myself as a frilly person, but I love Wonder Woman. She’s been my favorite since I was an itty bitty. She isn’t a sidekick, she’s her own woman. Oh man, if they made Wonder Woman gear in all black, I’d be in heaven. 


PGN: You’re having a dinner party, what three celebs do you want there?

MTL: Beyonce, she seems like fun, and she’s cute. I want Kanye because I think he’d say something crazy and make some inappropriate things happen. But then again, he’s got kids now, so I might get Daddy Kanye. But I like the element of surprise. Who else, who else? Oprah, just because she’ll keep the conversation going. 


PGN: Let’s talk about your upcoming performance and SNJGP.

MTL: Yes, I’m so excited! I’m going to be crowned King. It’s going to be so much fun. I need to pick out my outfit! 


PGN: What do you like about this festival? What makes it special? 

MTL: I love that it’s a great big family atmosphere. It’s laidback and relaxed. It’s nice to see the variety of people who come out: young people, older people, all different colors of people and all different types of people. It’s a nice community gathering. It’s a good time.