gender king

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Top: Matilda Alice Powles, more commonly known by her drag stage name, Vesta Tilley. Tilley was one of the most famed English drag kings of the late Victorian era. 

Bottom: Ella Wesner, likewise was also a highly influential drag king from New York during the same time as Tilley. Wesner was known for her scandalous female love affairs. She also requested to be buried in her male clothing upon her death.

The History of Drag Kings

When compared to the exquisitely expressive art of Drag Queens, the wonderful world of Drag Kings appears to exist with far less attention from popular culture. When I speak of Drag Queens amongst my friends, most of them seem familiar with the craft, so much so, they can even name and discuss examples. However, when I raise the term ‘Drag King’, I am often confronted with a response similar to, ‘Wow, I never even knew they existed’. Nonetheless, Drag King performers are storming stages all around the world, treating an array of audiences to bold shows which captivate and challenge creative minds.

The idea and practice of performers transforming themselves through male personas is by no means a new concept. For instance, English playwright, poet and actress Susanna Centlivre is notable for her work as an actress in ‘breeches roles’. Dubbed as “the most successful female playwright of the eighteenth century”, she performed regularly in traditional male attire. In other words, she became accustomed to fitted knee-length trousers and popular masculine garments; clothing worn mostly by men around the 1700s. Since this time, Drag Kings have progressed and developed; increasing in popularity whilst making use of sophisticated resources and techniques. Distinguished impersonators and cross-dressers across the 19th and 20th Centuries include theatrical performers such as Annie Hindle, Ella Shields, Vesta Tilly, Bessie Bellwood and Hetty King. Not to mention other provocative entertainers such as Blues singer Gladys Bentley and the more controversial LGBT civil rights icon; Stormé DeLarverie. Referencing the OED, during 1972, the term ‘Drag King’ was initially published in text to represent the description ‘woman masquerading as a man’. Referring to the updated version, we can see the definition as ‘A woman who dresses up as a man; a male impersonator’. Bringing Drag Kings into the 21st Century, the field of performing arts and creative industries offer a wide range of practitioners specialising in drag king performances, workshops and transformations. Some of my favourites include Phantom, Spikey Van Dykey, Adam All and Landon Cider.

The International Drag King Community Extravaganza is the largest event of its kind and is entirely run by volunteers. Hosted in a different city each year, the IDKE is known for its extraordinary performances, workshops and events which push the boundaries of gender. In order to achieve different levels of gender illusion, drag kings combine methods of breast binding, application of facial/body hair, masculine haircuts, styles or wigs, performance props, staging, illusive male genitalia, manly clothing, as well as altered posture and movement. Despite being relatively unheard of to the masses, Drag King shows are becoming more and more accessible, with both troupe and solo performers making a name for themselves amongst artistic and LGBT communities. For example, ‘Boi Box’ is a monthly Drag King show held at ‘She Soho’, a lesbian venue situated on Old Compton Street in London. There are also many opportunities for Drag Kings to compete and network, with The San Francisco Drag King Contest being significant as supposedly the oldest and biggest Drag King competition in the world.

The drag scene plays host to a magnificent mixture of gender bending cabaret, comedy, burlesque, circus, theatre and performance art. The art of drag has been saturated with fascinating historical events, and continues amaze through the footprints of modern day practitioners. Drag Kings take their place in the spotlight, giving us a glimpse into a remarkable and inspiring world which deserves to be adored and celebrated.

DRAG 👏 IS 👏 NOT 👏 THE 👏 SAME 👏 AS 👏 BEING 👏 TRANS 👏

YOU CAN BE A CIS FEMALE AND DO DRAG
YOU CAN BE A CIS MALE AND DO DRAG
YOU CAN BE A TRANS FEMALE AND DO DRAG
YOU CAN BE TRANS MALE AND DO DRAG
YOU CAN BE NON-BINARY AND DO DRAG


YOU CAN BE STRAIGHT AND DO DRAG
YOU CAN BE GAY AND DO DRAG
YOU CAN BE BI AND DO DRAG
YOU CAN BE ACE AND DO DRAG

ANYONE CAN DO DRAG

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More Than Binary, Krysta King

More Than Binary is a makeup piece centered around gender. Many would say that gender is binary, meaning it is based on two genders. Gender is more than just male and female. To explore this concept, I used two heavily gendered colors and switched their places; A typical male face being pink and a typical female face in blue is shown. With both sides being on the same face it brings in genderfluid and non-binary genders into play. This piece was done using airbrush body paint and makeup.

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