by Mac McGregor -
Special to the SGN
In many cities throughout the world, on any given night, you can walk into any Gay bar and find on center stage a drag queen. The audience, ready with dollar bills, hangs on her every word even though the queen is most likely lip-syncing. Thanks to RuPaul's Drag Race and successes like Lady Bunny and Seattle's own Jinkx Monsoon, among others, drag queens are no longer starving artists. For the most part, anyway.
What you will not find in those same bars around the globe is a drag king. You read that right - the art of drag doesn't just belong to the 'boys who dress up like girls' club. Drag kings are mostly female performers who dress in masculine drag and personify male gender stereotypes as part of their routine. And just like drag queens, being a drag king is nothing new.
In the mid-20th century, drag kings started gaining some notoriety. They performed in British music halls as British pantomime made women in male roles a popular trend. The term 'drag king' was first used in print in 1972 even though the tradition had been around for decades.
WHY THE OBSCURITY?
You may have noticed that the drag community is not easy to break into - it's pretty tight-knit here in Seattle. But even though it is a thriving community here for queens, kings seem to get hardly any attention or recognition.
I believe the reasons for this have nothing to do with our queens but more to do with our society's deep-seated sexism and fear of people fucking with the masculine power dynamic. There are two main factors that represent power in our society: light skin color and male gender. Why are drag kings a possible threat? First, some men 'freak out' when kings are passable and believable. Secondly, cisgendered men sometimes take offense to the way women react to drag kings. People may think only Lesbians are into drag kings, but this is not true. I have been told by several kings, and observed myself, that many straight women enjoy flirting and playing with this whole blend or bend of gender. Thirdly, it is also not as outrageous in our world for women to dress in men's clothing as for men to dress in women's clothing, and most people seem to be drawn to the outrageous. Lastly, like most things in our world, the entertainment industry in all areas is primarily run by cisgendered men, and therefore is largely about what they want, or feel other men want, to see.
Randy Andy, Seattle's self-proclaimed premier drag king, has been winning hearts and crotches for 13 years and hosts a few shows a year, including 'Are You Ready for Lyme Time?' - a yearly fundraiser to help find a cure for Lyme disease, which he lives with. 'Lyme Time' is an unabashed in-your-face celebration, educational tool, fundraiser, drag show, and cabaret extravaganza exploring the perils of chronic Lyme disease, using performance art to educate the public and examine the physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and medical toll this little-understood, complex condition exacts. He promises you will never hear a song the same way again after taking a ride on his twisted lyrics roller coaster.
I got to ask Randy Andy and some other local kings a few questions about the drag king world. During these interviews I learned that drag kings are as diverse as the entire LGBTQ community. When I asked each of them how they identify, I got a variety of responses, from Bi and Lesbian to Queer and high femme - most likely not what you would expect. They said they have been inspired by people from David Bowie to Liberace. The kings I had the opportunity to speak with also, for the most part, have families and friends that are supportive of their drag performance art.
M.M.: What made you want to do drag?
Randy Andy: I was born to do this. I've lived my whole life in drag. My gender and gender presentation do not see eye-to-eye in most people's eyes. There is something about this genre that just allows for me to present a point of view as twisted as binary gender rules are to me.
Glitterace: (the love child of Freddy Mercury and Liberace, who also performs burlesque as a high femme): 'It gave me an opportunity to challenge myself to do something different with my stage art. Plus, femmes doing drag is pretty hot, and drag kinging gives me a new way to explore what masculinity means to me.'
M.M.: Is there discrimination in our own drag and LGBTQ community?
Randy Andy: Discrimination is too strong of a word but I tell you, I am a very good performer who, judging by crowd reactions puts on a very good show. I am consistent, and I think pretty easy to work with. But it's damn hard for me to secure gigs outside of shows I put together and some select Queer-identified mixed performance shows. And actually being asked? Forget it. The shows I do get outside that box I have to fight for, and ask to be in. And no matter how well I go over, with the exception of very few producers I don't get asked back unless I do the asking. So discrimination? I don't know, but it is cliquey and hard to network in.
Glitterace: I'm sad to I see the community fracture and divide because folks driving the agenda do not include the greater good for all the folks within our community.
Frankie Moon: I have personally experienced some discrimination within the LGBTQ community. Because I am Bi, and present as straight because of my male partner, I have been viewed as an outsider and not a real member of the community. I have been treated as though I'm not Queer enough to be included or treated as equal, and no one seems to see how ridiculous that is.
I would love to see kings and queens share the stage more often at community events other then competitions. It would be wonderful for producers and some of our well-known queens who run shows to make a point to include kings and even some androgynous performers in the community.
M.M.: Does doing drag or the way you do drag make you an activist or rebel in our society?
Randy Andy: Honestly, just because this is a 'fringe' performance art, it doesn't automatically give you a badge in activism. I have seen so many kings, through their work, perpetuating sexism, being downright racist, just in general not taking any time to self-reflect on what they do. You don't have to be political in your stuff to be an activist - most of the time I'm not, but I think about what I am putting on a stage even if it's just about how funny I think a piece is.
Glitterace: Totally. I'm a fat girl who does Queer performance art and tries to fuck with people using subversive humor. With burlesque I can make commentary on beauty standards or show that fatties can bring the sparkle just as much as anyone else. I'm lucky that I get to use the stage as my palette for 3-5 minutes and take people anywhere between poignant to absolutely ridiculous. There's a lot of joy in that, and being downright giddy happy in one's own skin is unfortunately terrifying to a lot of people.
Frankie Moon: I like to think I'm being subversive and making a statement when I do drag, but really, for me - I am certainly not making statements for other performers - it's kind of a selfish act. I perform drag because it makes me feel good, though maybe I like the experience simply because of its defiance of social norms.
MAKING THEIR MARK
I asked the kings what legacy they would like to leave as a performer in the community.
A big girl with a big heart, Glitterace said, 'I want to make a difference. Maybe I can inspire curvy folks to live the life they want in the skin they have now vs. waiting for the right dress size to define their existence. I definitely want to bring the sparkly costumes and enable folks to do the same. I want Queer youth to know they are loved. I want to show the audience that awesome stage performances come in all shapes and sizes.'
For Randy Andy, legacy is a little different and more specific to keeping the king community alive. He wants to be remembered as the conqueror of bad ballads, champion of the unrelentingly horny - and as the king who kept the scene alive in Seattle when no one else was doing it and breathed some life back into it.
If you are someone who has been thinking trying your hand at drag kinging, as they call it, here is some free advice from the local kings.
'Remember, looking cute, passing and bad lip-syncing does not make a good king,' says Randy Andy. 'Do a little character development, a little choreography, practice lip-syncing in front of a mirror. There are more personas out there than macho and skeevy. Look for your kings that have been doing this for a while - we are happy to help. I personally will not only workshop with any king who wants it, but if your heart is into it I'll put you on my stage. And of course be true to who you are. If you want to be a king, be one, even if there doesn't seem to be a lot of opportunities. You be who you are and you will find your niche.'
Frankie Moon added, 'Starting out as a new king, I say go see other performers as much as you can. I started kind of blind, with very little exposure to other kings, and it took me a long time to create my king identity because of it. Take in as much as you can, learn the clichés and old standby gags, and then make them your own. Take what you learn, and turn it into something new. And make sure you're having fun, because that's the best part.'
Glitterace stated, 'Go big, bold, and badass!'
COME SEE FOR YOURSELF
We have such amazing creative artists of all kinds in our own LGBTQ community, so let's support it all. If you would like to see these and other amazing drag king performers, come to the show 'V.D. in June - A Carnival of Delights,' put on by Handsome Devils Productions at Re-bar on June 15, starting at 8 p.m. This is a combination drag king show and dating/flirting event. Audience members will be able to purchase 'flirts' from fairies and send them to anyone in the room. There will be other fun happenings as well, like a kissing booth with kings in it. You don't want to miss this, the only Pride month king event. Tickets are only $10 in advance ($25 gets you VIP reserved seating, a free drink, and unlimited flirts) at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/385118.
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