Drag kings are mostly female performance artists who dress in masculine drag and personify male gender stereotypes as part of an individual or group routine. They may be lesbian, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, or otherwise part of the LGBT community. They may also be straight. A typical drag show may incorporate dancing, acting, stand-up comedy, and singing, either live or lip-synching to pre-recorded tracks. Drag kings often perform as exaggeratedly macho male characters, portray marginalized masculinities such as construction workers, rappers, or they will impersonate male celebrities like Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Tim McGraw.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, several drag kings became British music hall stars, and British pantomime has preserved the tradition of women performing in male roles. Starting in the mid-1990s, drag kings started to gain some of the fame and attention that drag queens have known.
History and terminology
While the term drag king was first cited in print in 1972, there is a longer history of female performers dressing in male attire. In theatre and opera there was a tradition of breeches roles and en travesti. Actress and playwright Susanna Centlivre appeared in breeches roles around 1700. The first popular male impersonator in U.S. theater was Annie Hindle, who started performing in New York in 1867; in 1886 she married her dresser, Annie Ryan. British music hall performer Vesta Tilley was active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a male impersonator. Other male impersonators on the British stage were Ella Shields and Hetty King. Blues singer Gladys Bentley performed in male attire in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco from the 1920s through 1940s. Stormé DeLarverie performed in male drag along with female impersonators at the Jewel Box Revue in the 1950s and 1960s, as documented in the film Storme: The Lady of the Jewel Box; DeLarverie was also a veteran of the Stonewall riots.
The term drag king is sometimes used in a broader sense, to include female-bodied people who dress in traditionally masculine clothing for other reasons. This usage includes women temporarily attempting to pass as men and women who wish to present themselves in a masculine gender role without identifying as a man. Diane Torr began leading Drag King Workshops in 1989 that offer women a lesson in passing as men. Torr was featured in the 2002 film on drag kings Venus Boyz. Many modern women wear men's hats, ties, jackets, or even full suits for fashion reasons (notably the "Annie Hall style"). These women are not considered drag kings.
Unlike drag queens, who pride themselves on making individual names for themselves and creating a "lineage," drag kings tend to form troupes or performance groups. While they may join houses and maintain a solo persona, this is increasingly rare in the drag king community. Many troupes are created out of the desire to forge a cohesive unit in order to book shows and performances. However, there are more and more drag kings now branching away from the troupe stereotypes, and performing individually. Drag king shows are becoming easier to find in this century and individual kings are getting bookings outside of the 'king shows' and finally sharing the stages with their drag queen counterparts.
Drag kings are largely a phenomenon of lesbian culture and can most often be seen at lesbian bars or festivals. However, not all drag kings are lesbians, and some participants in the drag king subculture are not otherwise involved in lesbian culture, society, or politics. Drag kings are a diverse group, making difficult to find something universal that all drag kings have in common. By performing masculinity on the non-cisgender male body, these performers are resisting society's notions of the gender binary. Some trans men also self-identify as drag kings. Faux queens (also called femme queens, femme performers, bio queens or Kittens) often perform alongside drag kings and may or may not be lesbian-identified.
A British lesbian cabaret organization called Lesburlesque made it part of their mission to promote drag kings on the wider British cabaret circuit. Their founder Pixie Truffle gave an interview to the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom on her desire for drag kings to close the gap with queens and with male stand-up comedians.
Similar to some drag queens who prefer to be seen as actors—like Justin Bond and Lypsinka—some drag kings prefer not to be pigeon-holed by the drag king label. "I think when people assume that somebody is queer, or different, or trans, they always want to put something before their name," said Murray Hill in an interview. "And that is what drag king has been. Why can not you just call me a comedian like Jerry Seinfeld is called a comedian?"
The International Drag King Community Extravaganza (IDKE) is the largest yearly gatherings of drag performers aimed at celebrating gender performance and exploration of gender issues, now in its ninth year. Delegates from various troupes throughout America, Canada and Europe congregate at IDKE to perform and engage in discussion and debate at a series of workshops organized by the host city under the guidance of the IDKE Board. A different city hosts this event each year, selected by the board.
The oldest and possibly largest drag king contest in the world takes place in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Drag King Contest has been called "A parade of gender-bending eye candy" by SF Weekly and the producer of the show is community activist and performer Lu Read, also known as Fudgie Frottage. The SFDK has the fortunate luck to have the Drag King Sensations, Momma's Boyz, perform every year while judges deliberate.
The Momma's Boyz always ensure they are not on the road at that time so they can donate their talent to this critical event. Another yearly gathering was the now defunct, or at least temporarily so, The Great Big International Drag King Show in Washington, D.C., created by Ken Vegas, who is also founder of the DC Kings.
In recent years, some drag king performers have adopted other terms to describe their own performance styles, particularly if they deviate from the more traditional forms of "kinging." Common names include "gender blurring" acknowledge the merging of both male and female traits in the performances while Vancouver performer Rose Butch adopted the ambiguous label "drag thing." Long-time performer Flare called the stage of drag king styles that emerged in Toronto's scene in the mid-2010s as "unicorn drag."
Drag king names
Drag kings often take on playful names to reflect their stage personas. Sexual based names like "Smack Diaz" are common, as are general macho names like "Stanley Knife" and "Razor Blade". Similar to practices of drag queens joining "houses", kings will often join "troupes," practicing, performing and traveling together and even taking on a common last name.
Some drag kings have become popular performers in the LGBT community especially among lesbians who admired the DIY bravado of reclaiming male and female gender roles. Some of these names have become Cornerstones in the King community, including Mo B. Dick, Dr. Wang Newton, Gage Gatlyn, Murray Hill, Ian Blakk, Anson Reign, Damian Matrix, Owen McCord, Xander Kinidy, Remington Steal, Flare (Flarington King), Freddy Prinze Charming, Amadeus Karmani York, Richard Cranium, Gunner Gatlyn, Dred, Will Ryder, Buck Naked, Spikey Van Dykey, JC ALL-Cox the acronym of his given drag name JC Alexander Lane Leigh-Cox.
Tools of gender illusion
Drag kings face similar challenges of drag queens in creating gender illusion, costuming and performance. They generally must hide their breasts, add the illusion of male genitalia and mitigate feminine features to appear more masculine. Clothing is usually the easiest change to make with the phrase "clothes maketh the man" taking on extra layer of meaning.
Hiding one's breasts is likely the most challenging piece of the gender illusion puzzle for a drag king. While some are small-breasted and may succeed using a tight sports bra, many kings resort to one of the following, or several of the following used in conjunction with other methods: Ace bandages; duct tape; soft, hard, or ribbed back braces (worn backwards); and compression shirts and vests. Some use a method involving cutting a hole in the crotch of pantyhose for the head and making sleeves out the legs. This creates a tight stocking shirt that compresses the breasts. Duct tape is the most skin damaging method of binding. Prolonged use has resulted, in some cases, of tearing off skin and excessive blister after removal, or stretching of the breast tissue and skin after long-term use. Another damaging binding technique, but more immediately so, is the use of cling wrap. This method has caused Kings to fall unconscious while performing.
While some female-to-male (FtM) transgender performers may have growth of facial hair from hormones, many drag kings find that creating facial hair aids as a visual cue of gender illusion. Men usually have coarse-textured facial hair that begins at the top of the jaw bone where a beard would start. Beard hair is noticeably different in texture compared with the hair on their heads. Drag kings use various cosmetic shadowing, loose hair and piece applications to imitate a mustache, beard, goatee, sideburns or other hair application. There are many drag kings who utilize shadow makeup to create the illusion of "five o' clock shadow" and forgo the look of longer facial hair, sometimes out of simplicity or as a stylistic choice depending on the character they are performing.
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The application of loose hair using an adhesive is done by obtaining hair through their own haircuts or purchase braids of synthetic hair in a variety of colors from costume shops. Once the hair is chopped very finely, it is typically applied using a skin-safe adhesive like spirit gum or liquid latex, also available at costume shops. Using liquid latex creates a facial hairpiece that can be removed and re-used and is considered a better choice for those with very sensitive skin that does not tolerate spirit gum or spirit gum-removal chemicals well.
Another method of applying hair is using a woven facial hairpiece provided by skilled artisans that often supply costume shops. Far superior in look and feel to mass-produced costume mustaches found in party supply stores, professionally created pieces are typically made from real hair and are woven onto a thin netting that is attached to the face using spirit gum or liquid latex. They are usually more expensive than those found at party stores, but they create a more realistic effect.
Eyebrows are usually thickened using eye shadow, eye liner pencils, or mascara, since women's eyebrows tend to be thinner and less substantial in general than men's. A slightly darker face powder or bronzer creates this illusion with much subtlety when applied correctly. Additionally, sideburns must be considered.
Masking feminine features includes dealing with hairstyle. While many drag kings have short hair, some performers that live their everyday lives with longer hair or feminine haircuts must manage this part of their appearance to make the illusion complete. While some performers with long hair opt to leave it down and styled in a masculine way, others tuck their hair into stocking caps and wear a variety of men's hats as part of their costumes.
A challenge in creating the female to male gender illusion is the masking of feminine features and movements. Women move differently from men in general, perhaps due to social programming or the different pelvic shapes, and resulting differences in the angle of the thigh bones. The stereotypical portrayal of a man utilizes masculine gesture and motion, crisp movements and dance. Contrast to drag queens, who may display smooth, sweeping motions while portraying women.
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|Wikinews has related news: Murray Hill on the life and versatility of a New York drag king|
- Drag king resources
- 'How to be a drag king' by London king Lenna Cumberbatch
- Anderson Toone's drag king time-line with photos and events
- Art of Drag Kinging by Dante DiFranco
- Drag Kingdom, Germany king networking and events site
- Drag Kings at Curlie
- San Francisco Drag King Contest, the oldest (and possibly largest) drag king event
- Technodyke's drag king archived articles and interviews
- Girls will be boys: an article on the otokoyaku, or male role players, of the all-female Japanese Takarazuka Revue
- Radio Documentary, The Drag King Show, produced by JD Doyle for Queer Music Heritage including interviews with Anderson Toone and Leigh Crow.