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    Gender Renegades: Drag Kings Are Too Radical for Prime Time

    Drag Kings


    In the so-called “golden age of drag,” kings are frequently notably absent from the narrative.

    In the span of a week in January, the New York Times declared this the golden age of drag (with a few caveats), put RuPaul on the cover of the magazine, called Drag Race “the most radical show on TV,” and began posting weekly recaps of the third season of Drag Race All Stars. Drag has gone mainstream, and it’s been a long time coming: RuPaul’s first show started airing on VH1 back in 1996.

    But where are the kings? When I asked that question, more than a few people had their own for me: What’s a drag king?

    Historically, drag kings have been female performance artists who wear masculine drag and personify male gender stereotypes. But as understandings of gender have become more fluid in recent years, so too has this definition; now, there are trans men kings, nonbinary kings, and even cisgender men who perform as drag kings—just as there are cisgender women who perform as queens. “Today’s drag is more expansive, gender-bending, and really pushing the edge from all sides,” says Murray Hill, a veteran of New York’s downtown scene who appears in this portfolio. “It’s a raw, kinda messy, fuck-you, anything goes vibe.” Rain Dove, a model and activist who also posed for Vogue, doesn’t consider what she does drag at all; on Instagram, where she has 215,000 followers and counting, she calls herself a “gender capitalist,” meaning she opts to code as a woman or a man depending on which will get her the most out of any given situation.

    Even as the world of drag kings expands, it remains more or less absent in pop culture. Solving that riddle is complex, but a good place to start is women’s underrepresentation in front of and behind the camera (only 11 percent of movies are directed by women, as Jimmy Kimmel reminded us during his Oscars monologue on Sunday night). More knotty: When women assume male characteristics they deny the patriarchy what it sees as their traditional roles. For certain parts of society, that’s threatening.

    Nonetheless, these drag kings persist. “Drag is therapy,” says Ivory Onyx, a California-based king who frequently impersonates Bruno Mars. “You can have a rough day, and go out in front of a crowd and the energy they give you can pull you out of whatever you have going on.” Putting on a David Bowie costume and performing his song “Time” changed Gene Jeanie’s life in the profoundest of ways. “Drag is what sent me on the path to discovering my queerness. I don’t know if I would’ve found this aspect of myself otherwise.”


    Visual Editor: Ruben Ramos
    Casting: Olivia Horner
    Visual Producer: Elizabeth Yowe
    Special thanks to Joe's Pub (Murray Hill portrait); The Standard Highline, Jenni Hensler

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