Today is International Drag Day, and we have an ideal way to celebrate. Drag kings may feel like less of a trend now than in the ’90s and early aughts, when troupes were found performing weekly or monthly in most metropolitan areas including the Chicago Kings and NYC’s The Kingpins. Meanwhile, drag queens have become even more popular with the success of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Kinky Boots on Broadway. So how do we bring the kings back to life?
For one, we can recall the history of women dressing in drag, how it started as performance but became necessary as a safety precaution for some lesbian women in the ’40s and ’50s. The androgyny of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s led to the rise of performative masculinity in the 1990s, which is arguably the heyday of male impersonator popularity, leading to the first-ever The International Drag King Extravaganza (IDKE) in 1999.
Sadly, while the conference seems to be longer in existence, this is not to say king culture is completely dead. Boston’s All The King’s Men Are still performing regularly and Melbourne, Australia has an entire drag musical at the Laundry Bar, and Portland boasts frequent shows by Emilio, the Latin Drag King.There have been several films made about drag kings, and since we can’t all go out and find the nearest show to celebrate the holiday, taking a look at one or all of them might fulfill your craving for a little bit of gender play.
In Drag King, Maddy G details her interest in drag and defying gender roles.
In Becoming a King, filmmakers follow the performers of University of Wisconsin: Platteville’s Rainbow Rave Drag Show.
Filmmaker Nicole Miyahara is working on a documentary, The Making of a King, which you can watch the trailer for right here. (Even better, some of these kings can be seen live in West Hollywood this weekend.)
This 2012 film A Drag King Extravaganza shares a little more history about the IDKE.
Support your local drag king, if you’re lucky enough to have one.