1984 – 1997
Johnny Science, John Grant, Johnny Armstrong, Daniel Austen
Drag King Make-Up Artist
Country of Origin
Birth – Death
1955 – 2007
Johnny Science was a musician, make-up artist, and LGBT community leader thriving in New York City. He is credited as the person who fostered masculine make-up knowledge for Drag Kings and for the burgeoning female to male community in the 1980’s and ‘90’s. In 1987, Johnny began his transition from female to male and identified as transsexual (1). As a community leader, Johnny made great strides in achieving visibility and community engagement as a pioneer in the FTM (female-to-male) community. He appeared on numerous daytime television shows and co-facilitated the first Drag King Workshop with Diane Torr and Annie Sprinkle in 1990. This workshop proved to be the catalyst for the emergence of the modern-day Drag King worldwide.
Born in Englewood, New Jersey on January 13,1955(2), Johnny’s parents nurtured him to be an artist and musician. As a child, he experimented with theatrical make-up developing different guises.
When Johnny started performing in New York City, he adopted the surname Science which became his most renowned name. He was a man of many monikers answering to John Grant, Johnny Armstrong, Daniel Austen, and Johnny Science. His band “Science” was one of the house bands for the celebrated nightclub, Max’s Kansas City in the early 1980’s. He was also the art director for Max’s which meant Johnny created promotional materials such as flyers and posters for the bands and events. And his band performed at W.O.W. Cafe Theatre (Women’s One World) during this time as well. Before his FTM transition, Johnny was involved with the lesbian S&M scene. He was an active leader in the Lesbian Sex Mafia group where he created flyers for events and outreach. Johnny performed at Belle de Jour (3), a professional dungeon, in NYC. There were live sex shows once a week and he and his partner at the time used costumes, prosthetics and special effects so that the audience perceived him as a cisman in the sex acts. They would write the scripts together and he would arrange the music. He would usually play a policeman, or a pirate. Or a biker.”(4)
“Good friend and collaborator, Annie Sprinkle, remembers Johnny as very butch (pre-transition) performing at Plato’s Retreat, a popular Manhattan club for swingers. “The show involved a woman in bondage, buckets of stage blood, a chainsaw, and some very loud hardcore punk music. It was very original and outrageous for its time.” (5) During this period, Johnny began to research surgical transition and sought out a therapist to discuss gender. It must be noted that there were no community resources specifically for FTM’s in New York City then. Johnny made the courageous choice to be a guest on the Howard Stern radio show to create F2M visibility and community.
In early transition as John Armstrong with his friend Kit Rachlin, they “created the F2M Fraternity, the first support group to meet in New York City for female-to-male transsexuals, female-to-male crossdressers, their partners, and friends. He published Rites of Passage F2M Newsletter as part of the effort to create an information and support network. In 1987, he was a facilitator and guest speaker at the International Foundation for Gender Education Annual Symposium in Massachusetts. He co-produced, scored (with his original music), and performed in the video “Linda/Les & Annie The First Female-to-Male Transsexual Love Story”.”(6) This docudrama was made in 1989 by videographer Albert Jacomma, Annie Sprinkle, and Johnny, and is the first ever sexually explicit F2M film made.(6)
As make-up artist John Grant, Johnny developed male make-over techniques which he used to develop The Drag King Workshop with Diane Torr at Annie Sprinkle’s salon beginning in 1990. Performance artist and dancer, Bridge Markland attended this first workshop and credits this experience as her first foray into the Drag King world. These workshops became very popular and world renowned leading the way for Drag Kings of today to emerge. Johnny and Diane traveled far and wide to teach this workshop at The Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, Simmons University Boston, MA, New Langton Arts in San Francisco, CA, “Genders That Be” Conference at Intermedia in Minneapolis, MN, Melkweg, Amsterdam, and more. In March 1995, the workshop was covered in a BBC2 documentary called “Sex Acts” which was directed by Richard Dale.
In May 1992, Johnny organized the first Drag King Ball in NYC at the gay Crow Bar in the East Village. He also created The Drag King Club which was “a social group for women who enjoy cross-dressing”. This was an attempt to build a sense of community among workshop alumni. He also had a cable TV show on the community access channel Manhattan Neighborhood Network called “That Show ! With Johnny Science” which ran from 1993-1998 with notable NYC Drag Kings as guests such as: Buster Hymen, Mo B. Dick, Dred, and more. Additionally, Johnny appeared on numerous daytime television shows such as Phil Donahue (1991), Jerry Springer (1993), Montel Williams (1995), Geraldo Rivera, and Joan Rivers to further create visibility and conversation around F2M’s, Drag Kings, and female-to-male crossdressers.
Around 1997, Johnny chose to forgo his Drag King pursuits to fully engage in the gay men’s leather community. He was a member of GMSMA (Gay Male S&M Activists), and he became President of the Metro NY Chapter of the National Leather Association. And he founded The Jovian Gentlemen, a gay male social group that connected younger and elder males which met at the NY LGBT Community Center at 208 W. 13th Street.
During the last few years of his life, Johnny experienced many health problems, and on December 14, 2007, he passed away from heart failure in New York City. His legacy remains and Drag King History is indebted to his numerous contributions to our community.
(Submitted by: Mo B. Dick, Los Angeles, CA, and Kit Rachlin, NY, NY)