With names like Vigor Mortis, Spikey Van Dykey, Jack Rabid and Freddie Prinze Charming, the latest drag kings were being nurtured in out-of-the-way venues in cities around the world, ones not unlike those clubs of the ’90s. In New York, performance collectives like Brooklyn’s Switch ’N Play, led by the burlesque-inspired “sex symbol” K. James; Night Gowns, a series of events run by Sasha Velour, a “Drag Race” winner; and Cake Boys, out of Queens, have been fertile ground.
Typically, younger performers blur whatever is left of gender lines. As Mr. Grrrl put it, “Right now, if you don’t have an ‘AFAB performer,’” — meaning a cisgender woman, trans man or nonbinary person dressed as a drag queen — “or a drag king in your lineup, you’re doing it wrong.” The future of drag, he said, “is going to be a big old mess and that’s a wonderful, glamorous, fantastic thing. We’re all finding new ways to spread joy through the power of sequins.”
When Damien D’Luxe, a 34-year-old drag king in Minneapolis, takes the stage, he may mime a medley of “Hooked on a Feeling” and “Crocodile Rock” dressed as Captain Hook. But he does so wearing high-heeled boots and false eyelashes that Bianca Del Rio would kill for. He has been known to wear a powdered wig and floppy lace cuffs straight out of Falco’s 1986 MTV video for “Rock Me, Amadeus” while lip-syncing to “The Barber of Seville” in Italian.
When you’re a drag king, it can take that much effort to get noticed.
“More kings are recognizing that passing as a dude, although that takes a lot of work and dedication and talent, isn’t getting the spotlight,” Mr. Cider said. “The kingdom has evolved into vivid colors and costumes and headpieces and glitter because that’s how you stand out in a crowd.” Especially, he said, when you’re on a bill with a gag-worthy gaggle of 7-foot-tall drag queens.
“We can’t compete in the Glamazon department,” said Wang Newton, 42, an Asian-American New York drag king who, in his act, tests the boundaries of political correctness while wrapped in vintage Vegas swagger. But that doesn’t mean drag kings can’t compete. “We’re not about death drops. We’re our own thing,” Mr. Newton said. “It’s a whole new bag and we can explore that now.”
And an increasing number of performers are doing so.
“I’m watching girls and performers of all genders who maybe five years ago would have gone into burlesque who now are seeing drag kinging as the ultimate art form,” Mr. Grrrl said. “It’s a very interesting space to be in. Masculinity is something that deserves to be made fun of.”