Drag kings are mostly female performance artists who dress in masculine drag and personify male gender stereotypes as part of their performance. A typical drag king routine may incorporate dancing and singing or lip-synching. Drag kings often perform as exaggeratedly macho male characters or impersonate male celebrities like Elvis Presley or Tim McGraw. Several drag kings became British music hall stars in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and British pantomime has preserved the tradition of women performing in male roles. Starting in the mid-1990s drag kings have begun to gain some of the fame and attention that drag queens have known for years.
While the term "drag king" was first cited in print in 1972, there is a longer history of female performers dressing in male attire. In theatre and opera there was a tradition of breeches roles and en travesti. Actress and playwright Susanna Centlivre appeared in breeches roles around 1700. The first popular male impersonator in U.S. theater was Annie Hindle, who started performing in New York in 1867; in 1886 she married her dresser, Annie Ryan. British music hall performer Vesta Tilley was active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a male impersonator. Other male impersonators on the British stage were Ella Shields and Hetty King. Blues singer Gladys Bentley performed in male attire in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco from the 1920s through 1940s. StormÃ© DeLarverie performed in male drag along with female impersonators at the Jewel Box Revue in the 1950s and 1960s, as documented in the film Storme: The Lady of the Jewel Box; DeLarverie is also a veteran of the Stonewall riots.
The term drag king is sometimes used in a broader sense, to include female-bodied people who dress in traditionally masculine clothing for other reasons. This usage includes women temporarily attempting to pass as men and women who wish to present themselves in a masculine gender role without identifying as a man. Diane Torr began leading Drag King Workshops in 1989 that offer women a lesson in passing as men. Torr was featured in the 2002 film on drag kings Venus Boyz. Some transmen also self-identify as drag kings.
Many modern women wear men's hats, ties, jackets, or even full suits for fashion reasons (e.g. the "Annie Hall style"). These women are not considered drag kings.
Drag kings are largely a phenomenon of lesbian culture and can most often be seen at lesbian bars or festivals. However, not all drag kings are lesbians, and some participants in the drag king subculture are not otherwise involved in lesbian culture, society, or politics. Faux queens (also called femme queens, femme performers, bio queens or Kittens) often perform alongside drag kings and may or may not be lesbian-identified.
Unlike drag queens, who pride themselves on making individual names for themselves and creating a "lineage," drag kings tend to form troupes or performance groups. While they may join houses and maintain a solo persona, this is increasingly rare in the drag king community. Many troupes are created out of the desire to forge a cohesive unit in order to book shows and performances.
Although, there are more and more drag kings now branching away from the troupe stereotypes, and performing individually. Drag king shows are becoming easier to find in this century and individual kings are getting bookings outside of the 'king shows' and finally sharing the stages with their male counterparts, the queens.
Similar to some drag queens who prefer to be seen as actorsâ€”like Justin Bond and Lypsinkaâ€”some drag kings prefer not to be pigeon-holed by the drag king label. "I think when people assume that somebody is queer, or different, or trans, they always want to put something before their name," said Murray Hill in an interview. "And that is what drag king has been. Why canâ€™t you just call me a comedian like Jerry Seinfeld is called a comedian?"
The International Drag King Community Extravaganza (IDKE) is the largest yearly gatherings of drag performers aimed at celebrating gender performance and exploration of gender issues, now in its ninth year. Delegates from various troupes throughout America, Canada and Europe congregate at IDKE to perform and engage in discussion and debate at a series of workshops organized by the host city under the guidance of the IDKE Board. A different city hosts this event each year, selected by the board. It is city's responsibility to create a website.
The oldest and possibly largest drag king contest in the world takes place in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Drag King Contest has been called "A parade of gender-bending eye candy" by SF Weekly and the producer of the show is community activist and performer Lu Read, a.k.a. Fudgie Frottage. Another yearly gathering is The Great Big International Drag King Show in Washington, D.C., created by Ken Vegas, who is also founder of the DC Kings 
Drag king names
Drag kings often take on playful names to reflect their stage personas. Sexual based names like "Smack Diaz" are common, as are general macho names like "Stanley Knife" and "Razor Blade." Similar to practices of drag queens joining "houses", kings will often join "troupes," practicing, performing and travelling together and even taking on a common last name.
Some drag kings have become popular performers in the LGBT community especially amongst lesbians who admired the DIY bravado of reclaiming male and female gender roles. Some of these performers' stage names have become cornerstones in the community including Murray Hill, Gage Gatlyn, Mo B. Dick, Dred, Buck Naked, Ken Vegas, Carlos Las Vegas, Elvis Herselvis, Dante Di Franco, Slick Moorehead and Fudgie Frottage.
Tools of gender illusion
Drag kings face similar challenges of drag queens in creating gender illusion, costuming and performance. They generally must hide their breasts, add the illusion of male genitalia and mitigate feminine features to appear more masculine. Clothing is usually the easiest change to make with the phrase "clothes make the man" taking on extra layer of meaning.
Hiding one's breasts is likely the most challenging piece of the gender illusion puzzle for a drag king. While some are small breasted and may succeed using a tight sports bra, many kings resort to one of the following, or several of the following used in conjunction with other methods: Ace bandages; duct tape; soft, hard, or ribbed back braces (worn backwards); and compression shirts and vests. Some use a method involving cutting a hole in the crotch of pantyhose for the head and making sleeves out the legs. This creates a tight stocking shirt that compresses the breasts. While it is uncomfortable to bind one's breasts in any way for any period of time, duct tape is the most damaging. Prolonged use has resulted, in some cases, of tearing off skin and excessive blistering after removal, or stretching of the breast tissue and skin after long term use. Another damaging binding technique, but more immediately so, is the use of Saran wrap.
While some female-to-male (FtM) transsexual performers may have a reasonably good growth of facial hair from hormones, drag kings are mostly biologically female. Most women do not have the same quality of facial hair that a man does, and thus many drag kings find that creating facial hair aids greatly as a visual cue of their desired gender illusion. Men usually have coarse-textured facial hair that begins at the top of the jaw bone where a beard would start. This beard hair is noticeably different in texture compared with the hair on their heads. Drag kings use various cosmetic shadowing, loose hair and piece applications to imitate a mustache, beard, goatee, sideburns or other hair application. There are many drag kings who utilize shadow makeup to create the illusion of "five o' clock shadow" and forgo the look of longer facial hair, sometimes out of simplicity or as a stylistic choice depending on the character they are performing.
The application of loose hair using an adhesive is done by obtaining hair through their own haircuts or purchase braids of synthetic hair in a variety of colors from costume shops. Once the hair is chopped very finely, it is typically applied using a skin-safe adhesive like spirit gum or liquid latex, also available at costume shops. Using liquid latex creates a facial hair piece that can be removed and re-used and is considered a better choice for those with very sensitive skin that does not tolerate spirit gum or spirit gum-removal chemicals well.
Another method of applying hair is using a woven facial hair piece provided by skilled artisans that often supply costume shops. Far superior in look and feel to mass-produced costume mustaches found in party supply stores, professionally-created pieces are typically made from real hair and are woven onto a thin netting that is attached to the face using spirit gum or liquid latex. They are usually more expensive than those found at party stores, but they create a more realistic effect.
Eyebrows are usually thickened using eye shadow, eye pencils, or mascara, since women's eyebrows tend to be thinner and less substantial in general than men's. Skin color is sometimes darkened on the face of performers as women are typically lighter in skin color than their male counterparts . A slightly darker face powder or bronzer creates this illusion with much subtlety when applied correctly. Additionally, sideburns must be considered.
Masking feminine features includes dealing with hairstyle. While many drag kings have short hair, some performers that live their everyday lives with longer hair or feminine haircuts must manage this part of their appearance to make the illusion complete. While some performers with long hair opt to leave it down and styled in a masculine way, others tuck their hair into stocking caps and wear a variety of men's hats as part of their costumes.
The last great challenge in creating the female to male gender illusion is the masking of feminine features and movements. Despite a lack of scientific research on the subject, it is noted that women move differently from men in general. Whether it is due to the different pelvic shapes, and resulting differences in the angle of the thigh bones, or social programming is yet to be determined. The stereotypical portrayal of a man finds the performer using masculine gesture and motion, decisive, crisp movements and dance. As opposed to drag queens who may display smooth, sweeping motions during their performances portraying women.
- List of transgender-related topics
- Of Drag Kings and the Wheel of Fate (novel)
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- How to: be a drag king
- Drag king resources
- Anderson Toone's drag king time-line with photos and events
- San Francisco Drag King Contest, the oldest (and possibly largest) drag king event
- Technodyke's drag king archived articles and interviews
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