Drag queens and kings have a long and rich history, but right now, we’re in the midst of a drag renaissance. Queens in particular — thanks largely to the popularity of Ru Paul’s Drag Race — are everywhere, racking up millions of Instagram followers, landing major beauty campaigns, and broadening the spectrum of how we explore gender identity through dazzling performances.
But what about drag kings? “Drag kings are still largely ignored,” says Mo B. Dick, co-creator of dragkinghistory.com, a project that’s being archived in the Library of Congress. “Changing that is vital because we’re only seeing portions of the whole spectrum. You know, if you’re looking at the color wheel, you gotta look at all the colors — you can’t just pick and choose.”
Like any good art form, what it looks like to be a drag king has evolved along its own beautiful spectrum — from the feminist subversive power of natural-looking male impersonation to over-the-top, flamboyant characters that require serious makeup skills. “There are hundreds of talented kings who have been killing it for decades, have been pushing their art, and pushing the art of drag,” says drag king Luc Ami.
Here, we talk to three of them about how the beauty industry has influenced their performance — and how their art is pushing the beauty industry to be more inclusive.
View this post on Instagram
I loved to play dress up and I used to love looking at my mom’s lipsticks — I just thought it was so fascinating that you could just change how you looked so dramatically.
In terms of my life as a professional drag king, it was November of 1995 that I went into drag.
I thought previously, Oh, you have to be Butch. You have to be a lesbian. You have to be X, Y, and Z. Then I came to realize, anybody can do this. So, I got my hair cut short and had the hair clippings and I went to a drag queen friend’s house. All they had was eyelash glue so we chopped up the hair and put it on my face. I ended up wearing a ski cap and baggy clothes and stuffed my panties with a sock. I went to this local dyke bar Meow Mix and I passed. They guys just said “Oh hey” whereas before I would have been catcalled, verbally accosted, or ogled — it was really remarkable. Wearing this mask of facial hair, I could feel safe and hide and protect myself essentially.
Around this time, Diane Tour, Johnny Science and Annie Sprinkle created a drag king workshop where they taught the mechanizations of a drag king — from the facial hair to the contouring of the features, to the binding of the breasts and wearing an appendage of some sort. So that’s the school that I came from which was more about realness [and male impersonation]. That developed into the drag we see today, which is more makeup-oriented.
I’m very excited by the evolvement. The kids today have taken it to a new level that is really, really spectacular. It’s much more draggy and theatrical from the costume to the makeup, to the hair and the different characters. That has been really, really fun to watch. Now there’s the look kings and the performer kings and the theater kings. I’m more a theater king — I have a specific character that I play. There are not many drag kings who are comfortable as MCs because it means taking up space and using your voice, which women are often not as comfortable doing (not that all drag kings identify as women).
I would like to see more women supporting drag kings. I’d like to see women coming out in droves for the kings just as people do for drag queens. It’d be cool. The embracing of female masculinity is very cool.