We’ve covered the basics with drag queens, now let’s focus on drag kings!
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a drag king is “a person, usually a DFAB (designated female at birth) who dresses as a man and performs as an entertainer in male drag.” Correction, people of any gender can be drag kings. Drag kings, who usually personify male gender stereotypes, may perform a variety of acts from lip-synching, comedy, live music, or performance art.
“Male impersonation has been a theatrical genre for at least two hundred years, but the drag king is a recent phenomenon. Whereas the male impersonator attempts to produce a plausible performance of maleness as the whole of her act, the drag king performs masculinity (often parodically) and makes the exposure of the theatricality of masculinity into the mainstay of her act. Both the male impersonator and the drag king are different from the drag butch, a masculine woman who wears male attire as part of her quotidian gender expression.”— Jack Halberstam in his 1998 book titled, Female Masculinity.
While the term drag king was first coined by Bruce Rodgers in The Queens’ Vernacular: A Gay Lexicon back in 1972, one of the earliest record of drag kings (per se) was dated around the 1700s, where actresses appear in male clothing as a tradition among theatre and opera houses. In fact, drag kings were revered in the 1860s-1870s in the US and UK.
From the 1920s onwards, the cross-dressing scene became alive in places like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. And in the 1990s, the drag king culture began to grow visibly and more importantly, grew as a community.
The boom went on to create an International Drag King Community Extravaganza (IDKE), which started in Columbus, Ohio in 1999 as a three-day event. The conference was celebrated in different cities across the US before it was discontinued by 2010.
The truth is. . .
Drag kings have historically been marginalized by pop culture more than drag queens. The drag king scene is perceived as a mere glorification of male masculinity or an evidence of a lesbian fascination with men, as Judith Halberstam, author of Gender, Race, and Masculinity in the Drag King Scene pointed out.
Or it may be due to how a majority of our society still runs on patriarchy, where women taking on masculine roles and identities are perceived by the media as “threatening” or simply unappealing to the male gaze.
In terms of why drag kings still struggle to receive the same spotlight as drag queens while some kings argue the disinterest in drag kings stems from pure sexism. They argue that performing femininity is seen as more exciting than masculinity, and perhaps society has been taught to refuse and confront the highly political and controversial act of poking fun at society’s masculinity ideals.
Another reason is due to how wide the spectrum of drag performances are, and some kings’ conceptions of masculinity tend to conflict with one another. Additionally, drag kings of colour face double the challenge in navigating and establishing their presence in the drag community, mainly because they tackle the invisible issues of minority races on top of gender.
They ain’t backing down
While drag in general has gained mainstream attention (and commercial success), thanks to RuPaul’s drag queen TV shows, performances of masculinity are still not as privileged the way performances of femininity are. In fact, all-king showcases are a rarity compared to an all-queen showcase (at least in the US).
Needless to say, drag king showcases do exist, albeit in smaller numbers. The reason was mostly due to a lack of finances to open and consistently run a venue, as well as the lack of available spaces for them to book a performance slot at nightclubs.
Despite the physical barriers, drag kings persevere and continue to expand their network and presence online, in Facebook groups, and on Instagram, where kings follow the work of their peers in cities across the globe. In fact, you can check out this website called Drag King History, where it shines a spotlight on the history of male drag.
*Check out Kings of The World, a global cyber Drag King Variety Shows that was born from last year’s quarantine.
Many drag performers are members of the LGBTIQA+ community. Due to their diverse sexual orientations and positions, drag kings (like drag queens) possess a great deal of fluidity in how they choose to perform a drag show and how performers define themselves.
Nevertheless, the main aspect of this gender-bending art is all about finding one’s self-expression, connecting with other creative individuals in a safe, supportive community, gaining meaningful income through dazzling performances, and of course, just having fun!
*If you’re interested in learning more about the art of drag king, check out this online workshop created by Andro & Eve.
Aritcle By Elly Zulaikha
“love always wins. love has no gender. love is love. i am born this way. i am who i am”
Happy Pride Month