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Meeting the monarchs: New ISCSORE Emperor and Empress introduce
Meeting the monarchs: New ISCSORE Emperor and Empress introduce
Meeting the monarchs: New ISCSORE Emperor and Empress introduce 'Year of We' by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Rainier XXXIV Bruce Butler and Olympia XXXVII Nina Maxwell are no strangers to the International Court System (ICS) or to the Imperial Sovereign Court of Seattle (ISCSORE). Bruce has been working for the local and national organizations since 1992, while Nina's most recent accomplishment was being crowned Miss Gay Seattle XLI in 2004. Both have given their time generously to the community and look upon their latest endeavor as a vehicle to bring the Court System and local LGBT organizations together in ways they haven't known in quite some time.

I sat down with the newly elected monarchs after Sunday morning's Victory Brunch - a little less than 12 hours after their Coronation victory - at the site of their crowning, Seattle's beautiful Marriot Waterfront Hotel. Both looked tired, but you could still see the energy and excitement pulsing behind their eyes, both unafraid to answer any questions I decided to throw at them. Here are some of the highlights.

Sara Michelle Fetters: Congratulations to both of you on your victory. Less than a day later, how do you feel?

Nina Maxwell: Thank you very much! It feels really good. I'm quite happy.

Bruce Butler: Yeah, I would have to agree. It feels real comfortable. I'm still excited. Still a lot of things are rushing through my head, so complete thoughts don't exactly come through coherently right now, but overall I'm still very excited and can't wait to get started.

Fetters: Still rushing through your head? What do you mean by that? Second thoughts?

Butler: No, not at all. Rushing through my head in that all the ideas and all the plans that we have for the year, and the anticipation to get started with them, are [going] through it right now like a freight train. I'm ready to get going and can't wait to see what we can get accomplished. As I said, it's very exciting.

Fetters: Nina, during some of our e-mail conversations in preparation for this interview, you had mentioned you were running because you support ISCSORE's mission to provide funds and services to other non-profits within the Gay and Lesbian Community of Seattle and King County Washington. With so many options out there for people - so many LGBT organizations, outlets and what-have-you available - is that message still relevant?

Maxwell: It's very relevant. As I have said, this mission is very in-line with all of the other organizations in raising money and awareness. We just do it in a different way in that we do it with Drag. Drag will always be a part of the LGBT community and although the days of Stonewall are gone, we're still always going to be around. So, I think it is a very good organization to belong to and very much in-line and involved with the [rest] of the Seattle community.

Fetters: It is interesting to me that you bring up Drag. It seems like this art form is in a bit of a decline. Even within the organization, it is almost like ISCSORE and the ICS - with events like the inaugural Women's Summit - are, in fact, moving away from Drag to try and embrace those who might not necessarily consider themselves traditional Drag performers. If not everyone is doing it, how can you then say Drag is still relevant and your primary tool for outreach?

Maxwell: I think the point here is that there is room for everybody. Drag itself is changing. You see a lot more Drag Kings now and there are a lot more types of Drag then there were in the past. You see crossdress Drag. You see figures like The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. You see all types of variations. I think this proves there is room for everybody. That's what makes being involved with [the Court] so wonderful.

Fetters: In theory, yes, but I have to admit, for the last couple of years I have sat down with the new monarchs just before they have started their reign and each time they have expressed a desire to partner with other Seattle nonprofits. They have talked about increasing awareness in the organization. These are desires both of you have already expressed to me both here and in earlier conversations. What is going to make your reign different? How will you succeed where others have - for whatever reasons - failed?

Butler: I think one of the things that needs to happen is that initiative needs to be taken. I think we're dedicated enough to seeing this come to fruition that we will take that initiative. We've already had several conversations with other [Seattle] organizations, learning when their meeting dates are, when their events are going to be held. We want to attend those meetings & so we can be informed as to what it is they are bringing to the community and what the Court of Seattle can do to help them in their endeavors. The thing we have not done in a long time is to support the organizations that are out there. We're often coming to them with our hand extended, asking them how they can help us. It is so rare for them to have the Court come to them asking, 'What can we do for you?' We want to do that. We want to have that conversation. We can't foster a relationship if we don't [say] that we are here for them. That's what is going to be different. & We have to be the ones to take the first step.

Maxwell: Even going deeper, I think also for us to be able to extend ourselves we have to be strong. I think we need to work on building, not only our membership, but also building a stronger membership, a more motivated membership. & We have to build a really good foundation within, and only then can we extend ourselves [to others].

Fetters: You had both brought this up in our earlier online chat, but Bruce, you specifically stated, and I quote, 'The Court is great at surviving.' What do you mean by that? If it is great at surviving, doesn't that mean it is on the verge of death?

Butler: No, not at all. It does not mean it is on the verge of death. When I say it is constantly surviving I mean to say that [the Court] is a resourceful organization. It's not 'just' surviving, it's not 'just' getting by, it is instead finding ways to grow and adapt and prosper in a changing environment. When faced with the question between packing our bags and giving up, [the Court] has always made the decision to move on. We've always found a way to pull ourselves out of a hole when faced with that. Granted, that isn't to say we have successful outcomes each and every year. But we've never, ever given up on the mission we set for ourselves & We find a way to get out of those difficult situations and those difficult times. & There are better years than others, no question. We can't deny that. But some of our strongest moments have been in the lean years. Maybe we're best when we are struggling, because that is when we dig deeper within ourselves to come up with those ways to triumph.

Fetters: In regards to those sentiments and to membership, I was noticing at Victory Bunch that through some of your words and actions it appears you are going to be making a big push to get the youth of the community more involved.

Maxwell: The youth are our future. It is as simple as that. We have to listen to what their needs are, how the organization can fit into their needs, and what their goals are. The youth are going through a lot of things we didn't, and we need to listen to [that] and not just get caught up in our own personal [past]. We need to create a balance between the people that have been here for a while and at the same time make it interesting for those that are coming in now.

Fetters: A balance, then, between history and future, past and present?

Maxwell: Yes. It's all about the balance.

Butler: It really is. The organization is a legacy, and whether it leaves a strong one or whether it leaves a weak one as each year passes by, it will leave one [nonetheless], and that legacy has value and worth in the community and needs to be passed on. If we don't support our younger community members then we don't have anyone to pass this legacy on to. We can only do it for so long; they have to take the reigns. In order for that to happen we have to engage and involve them. We also have to learn how they operate. They are a different generation. Nina and I come from a generation of making careers of things, of really sticking to things and having a lot of dedication. This new generation doesn't have that, and that isn't necessarily a negative. They were raised with a different set of values, told by their parents and peers to take every opportunity as it is presented to them. They have been told they can be anything they want to be and they've taken that to heart and soared with it. & We have to figure out how to adapt that into our system because this isn't a thing we can - or should want to, for that matter - change within them. Instead, we have to learn how to change. We have to adapt. We, not they.

Fetters: Let's talk about fun for a minute. You two look like you're having one heck of a good time, even when faced with so many obstacles and potential roadblocks. How do you make that enthusiasm infectious? How do you bring the fun back to ISCSORE?

Butler: I don't think it ever left. I'm having a great time, but as far as the future is concerned we want to bring back some old values and bring in some new ones & we want everyone to feel welcome. How do we do that? I think we invite them personally. We don't make it general, we make it specific. & We learn about people and we engage them on [their] level. We're looking in town right now and trying to discover what succeeds and what doesn't, and we're trying to take those ideas and incorporate them into our organization. But I think Nina is the one who is going to have the specifics on that. Between the two of us, she's the one [people] are going to love. & As far as fun is concerned, people only have to see how much she's having, and that should be more then enough to get them excited, too.

Maxwell: I think, however, when you say, 'making it fun,' I'm looking at it as having to make the work fun. We have to still work. We have to get that done. And making it fun for us is getting everybody involved & with the organization input. & There are people in the Court who are great at all facets of production, and we want to make the production values of our benefits and our charity work just a little bit higher in regards to standards, and everyone can help with that. For me, when you get everyone involved and make them feel like they have some sort of value and input within the group, then the work will become fun. That's what is exciting to me. That's where I see the fun happening.

Fetters: So you'll be tapping into all facets of your membership's creative side.

Butler: You got it. Because that is how we learn what people's strengths are, that is how we engage with them, and then in doing so, we can help bring those strengths out to make all of [ISCSORE] successful. Everyone has their unique talents; we just have to utilize them.

Maxwell: More than that, maybe we can help them expand on those talents. Maybe we can push them a little bit to doing some things maybe they're not so comfortable with and give them a challenge. I think people appreciate that. They want those opportunities to grow.

Butler: Giving people opportunities to do things they maybe never knew they would get the chance to before, I think the Court is uniquely positioned to provide that. Though we are primarily a Drag Queen organization originally, there are so many roles that can be filled. I never thought I could be a public speaker. I learned to be one through the Imperial Court System. It is something I always wanted to do but never had the courage to [try]. I can do that now, and my involvement in the [ICS] is what made it happen and what gave me that opportunity. People can do things they never imagined.

Fetters: So, a little less than 12 months from now, if we're sitting here together talking about the past year what do you both hope to be telling me?

Maxwell: We did it!

Butler: Yes, we did it. That would be great. If we could be sitting here and I get to tell you that in the past 12 months we were successful in contributing to this community, that we were able to create self-awareness, pride and a sense of ownership within our own membership, and I would love to tell you we need a new meeting place because so many people have been inspired and wanted to commit to our efforts. That would be the biggest thing for me. That would mean that we were successful in my eyes.

Maxwell: I'd really like to see a reflection of us opening up the circle to the Court, not just being so club-oriented but opening things to other groups, being involved with [them] and they in turn sharing their resources with us. I'd like to see an increased membership and a more balanced membership in regards to men, women, Transgender; just everybody.

Fetters: Final thoughts?

Butler: We're here, and we're not going away.

Maxwell: And we're going to work hard. It's going to be the 'year of we.' We want everyone involved. Everyone.

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