Drag queens and kings have a long and rich history, but right now, we're in the middle of a drag renaissance. Queens in particular – thanks largely to the interest in Ru Paul's Drag Race – abound, accumulating millions of Instagram followers, landing major beauty campaigns, and broadening the spectrum of methods we explore gender identity through dazzling performances.
But how about drag kings? “Drag kings are still largely ignored,” says Mo B. Dick, co-creator of dragkinghistory.com, a task that's being archived within the Library of Congress. “Changing that is vital because we’re only seeing portions of the whole spectrum. You realize, if you’re exploring the color wheel, you gotta look at all of the colors – you can’t just select.”
Like worthwhile art form, what it appears like to become a drag king has evolved along its very own beautiful spectrum – from the feminist subversive power of natural-looking male impersonation to over-the-top, flamboyant characters that need serious makeup skills. “There are hundreds of talented kings who have been killing it for many years, have been pushing their art, and pushing the skill of drag,” says drag king Luc Ami.
Here, we speak with three of them about how the wonder industry has influenced their performance – and how their art is pushing the wonder industry to become more inclusive.
Mo B. Dick
I loved to play liven up and I used to love taking a look at my mom’s lipsticks – I just thought it was so fascinating that you could just change the way you looked so dramatically.
In relation to my life as a professional drag king, it was November of 1995 which i entered drag.
I figured previously, Oh, you have to be Butch. You have to be a lesbian. You need to be X, Y, and Z. Then I found realize, anyone can do this. So, I got my haircut short and had your hair clippings and I visited a drag queen friend’s house. All they'd was eyelash glue therefore we sliced up the hair and set it on my small 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 that i passed. They guys just said “Oh hey” whereas before I'd happen to be catcalled, verbally accosted, or ogled – it was really remarkable. Wearing this mask of hair on your face, I could feel safe and hide and protect myself essentially.
Around this time around, Diane Tour, Johnny Science and Annie Sprinkle created a drag king workshop where they taught the mechanizations of the drag king – from the facial hair towards the contouring of the features, to the binding from the breasts and wearing an appendage of some sort. So that's the school which i originated from which was more about realness [and male impersonation]. That developed into the drag we have seen today, that is more makeup-oriented.
I’m very excited through the evolvement. The kids today took it to a new level that is really, really spectacular. It's much more draggy and theatrical from the costume to the makeup, towards the hair and the different characters. That's been really, really fun to watch. Now there's the look kings and the performer kings and also the theater kings. I'm more a theater king – I have a specific character that I play. There are not many drag kings who're comfortable as MCs because it means taking up space and taking advantage of your voice, which women are often not as comfortable doing (not that all drag kings identify as women).
I want to see more women supporting drag kings. I’d like to see women being released in droves for the kings just as people do for drag queens. It'd be cool. The embracing of female masculinity is extremely cool.
I’ve been a theatre kid my life and was often given male roles as a kid (probably since i was loud and didn’t mind playing those roles). As I got older I now use doing more behind the curtain work and was especially intrigued through the face painting camp I did in high school and also the creative special effects makeup courses I took in college. Attending college, the LGBTQ club and The Theatre Department I had been enrolled in both held drag shows and drag felt like a fantastic way to blend playing with creative makeup and performing.
I originally had a drag queen persona because my knowledge of drag was super limited until I discovered that drag kings and club kids existed and learned that I could look for a form of drag which i better associated with. Exploring methods to express and perform my drag solved the problem understand both my own gender and sexuality and just how I needed to comment on gender and sexuality through my drag.
I definitely have seen a shift in the representation of drag kings. I think a lot of references when I first started out were drag kings emulating and commenting on cisgener/heterosexual men. There are plenty of kings that still do which is actually a 100% valid form of drag, but I think we’ve also seen more kings getting more flamboyant with their drag, emulating and commenting on queer and fluid types of masculinity. For drag kings specifically, we’ve seen a shift from male impersonation and natural makeup to more exaggerated types of makeup – bolder contours and highlights, colorful eyeshadows, blush and much more.
Drag culture is becoming more and more about seeing the best way to keep pushing your aesthetic – whether it’s the details within the outfits, the blending and details within the makeup and/or how you perform. I believe people definitely expect more when it comes to makeup, regardless of the kind of drag. Artists are paying more focus on the way it reads on camera and ensuring it’s visually appealing – particularly in a year ago of quarantine where we were only seeing drag content online!
I’ve were built with a strange relationship with the beauty industry. Makeup has always felt just like a performative process, something used as a way to transform myself. Consequently, I’ve felt disconnected with beauty makeup and frequently don’t utilize it in my everyday life. The beauty market is not great about producing products for people with darker skin (I recall my makeup teacher needing to produce a contour color for me attending college since the contour within the darkest makeup kit was my foundation color – and I wasn’t even the darkest student within the class). Makeup for darker skin is improving but it’s still a procedure.
Doing drag was after i really began to like the way i looked with makeup on making me begin to evaluate what about appearing like a multicolored androgynous being am comforting that I wasn’t connecting within my normal complexion and with beauty makeup. I’ve learned to be more comfortable with who I'm from drag but it’s definitely still a growing process.
My personal journey into drag going on Halloween 2004 as a costume that received immensely positive feedback and continued invitations to events. My style is still considered standard masculine – that is, I express masculinity as society has traditionally established. As i serve an entertainer-in-suit vibe, drag kings have beautifully evolved to include more colorful make-up like our drag queen counterparts, plus promote themselves in various ways across the gender spectrum.
The drag kings who are actually trained make-up artists are stunning. Who doesn’t love the make-up expert at the counter? And, who doesn’t love ye olde ‘drag make-up tutorial’ video! Social media means literally anyone in the world to watch and learn (and find out drag kings!). This provides anyone at any income or accessibility level a chance to ‘paint for the Gawds’ once we say. While social media blew doors wide open, I must provide a nod to the concept of in-person connection and the Chosen Family community (a detailed relationship not based on being a blood relative). One absolutely doesn't have to be queer to complete drag, yet I have to acknowledge what percentage of the queer community are rejected by their own genetic family. It is a treasure so that you can possess a ‘drag parent’ Body who provides nurturing advice within the art of drag as well as in life.
Believe it or not, I was pretty high femme for most of my life before drag. (I'm now more androgynous/non-binary/genderfluid and presently don't desire to surgically transition to male.) As one who was raised in small-town America, representation is unquestionably vital that you me. For instance, are you aware that you will find under 40 drag kings of Asian heritage in the world which took me over a decade of performing before I came across them? I did previously love colorful makeup within my 20’s, but because masculine energy emerged within me in my 30’s, Personally i think it would be amazing to see the wonder industry showcase masculine make-up tricks like chiseled cheeks and sideburns.
As a drag industry insider and world traveler, I've the honor of seeing so much beauty in a variety of forms. We're multi-talented Beings and inventive beyond measure. Drag kings can certainly be just as glamorous and fabulous.