Anyone who's anyone has probably seen a drag queen show. But how many people can say they've seen a drag king performance? Why aren't the kings as prevalent as queens in the media and even on the scene?
Saying that, it's worth mentioning that Lucy Le Brocq, a Brighton photographer, recently unveiled a photo exhibition on the drag king transformation process! Dragging Gender explores gender in all its beautiful forms and covers the grey area between male and female. Throughout this article, I've chosen some of my favourite photos from the exhibition.
I was also lucky enough to speak to some incredible drag kings about their experiences. In the 1800s up until the early 1900s, drag kings were celebrities. Women such as Vesta Tilley and Hetty King were renowned for their music hall performances and adored by men and women alike.
Drag king performer Katrina Clifford, stage name Richard Reckless, elaborates a bit more on this, "Although drag kinging is a profession that goes back to Victorian times, we haven't had as much coverage in television and film in recent years. I also believe there is a possibility that in a patriarchal society women taking on masculine roles and identities may be perceived by the media as threatening as they like to keep us all in our little boxes."
Drag kings are usually exaggerated male characters and can often be found performing in mixed drag nights alongside drag queens where they may be the only king. Could this be the reason why drag kings are seemingly not as 'popular' as drag queens? Is our LGBTQI+ entertainment catered more for gay males than our community on the whole? Donnamarie Carol, who performs as drag king Eli Buck, says:
"Maybe it's because our community is male orientated. Kings have always been around we've just maybe not been as loud as our sisters. I find that clubs and nights will always book a Queen over a King because maybe they think they'll sell more tickets."
Typically, a drag king will dance, lip-synch, sing live, act or perform stand-up comedy - or a combination of any of these. This is what makes the drag king community so fantastic - everyone is welcome to come and have a go...in fact it's encouraged.
Pauline Harrison, going by the performer name Ringo Taurez, has been a drag king for six years. She explained, "I became a drag king after my partner of 14 years left me. I was at an all time low as she broke my heart and I thought my life was over, till I met Valentino King [well-known performer in drag king circles] who encouraged me to be myself and I attended one of her workshops in Aug 2011."
Pauline then joined a drag king 'boi band' called Draglife and toured Salford, Warrington Manchester and Liverpool. She, then became a solo performer from 2013. She told me, "I enjoy performing it makes me feel loved. Being a drag king means a lot to me as it saved my life and when I am Ringo I have no problems for a short time. I could not imagine my life without Ringo in it."
"We do not get the same press as drag queens and can't understand why. I have posed for students who have been doing photography - but that's about it really."
Donnamarie found her drag king persona by chance. She said, "One of my local gay bars opened a drag night called The Rabbit Hole and had a competition called Wig Wars where anyone who was anyone could enter. So I did. Although I didn't win, the host approached me after the show and told me that she had Queens but no King and offered me residency there and then."
So what does the future hold for drag kings all over the UK? Donnamarie thinks that the advent of mainstream shows such as RuPaul's Drag Race can work in the favour of drag kings too. "More people are venturing out to their local gay bars and catching drag shows and wanting to know more and more about drag. And while this is great for getting people to support their local drag, it's really starting to thrust drag into the social media mainstream. I see more and more people especially on all social media platforms becoming more and more engrossed in the drag scene. Which is wonderful!"
Katrina said, "I think many people don't even realise drag kings exist, so they don't know there is an outlet for them to explore their own gender identity. Although, on the other hand, I do believe that by being more niche and underground there aren't so many rules or expectations to adhere to when performing drag!"
Donnamarie added, "As a King I think we deserve just as much recognition as the Queens. I know a fair few Queens that think this too. It can be hard being a King in a Queens' world. For all the wonderful things I've seen, learned, know and experienced in and about the drag scene, it can also be one hell of a bitchy and negative place. Same with any scene I imagine! I've performed at places that was, shall we say a lot less accommodating to me because I was King. Not all drag acts are treated equally sometimes."
Despite the inevitable 'scene drama,' drag can be a magnificent way to discover who you really are. Donnamarie says:
"Before doing drag I identified as a lesbian but I've been doing drag now a little over a year and I've found more out about myself in that year than I have in my entire life," enthused Donnamarie, "I've learned that I'm actually gender fluid. When I become Eli, I am confident. I can actually talk to people, perform for them. I'm starting to ooze confidence when I'm in drag. On and off the stage. And that's a wonderful feeling I've never had before. Plus, I get to make people smile and laugh. Which, for me, is the best feeling in the world."
This is an abridged article for Huff Post, the full piece can be found Challenging Gender Expectations - The Rise of the Drag King.