April 25, 2008

IconHow to: be a drag king

Why should drag queens get all the gender-queering fun? The drag king scene is picking up in the UK, as girls realise the fun they can have in becoming men. Because if there’s one golden rule of being a drag king, it’s that you don’t have to be male to have fun being a man.

In fact, and just to confuse matters, you don’t necessarily have to be a woman either. “I have a friend, a gay biological man who loved the idea of being a drag king and performing maleness,” says drag king expert, Lenna Cumberbatch. “It’s about performing gender. It’s about getting on stage and performing a stereotype or a celebration of gender.”

Lenna should know – she’s been in the drag king scene for years, performing as smooth-talking ladies’ man Leon DaLuva and Uncle Lenny, a used car salesman type.

Lenna’s lived in both the UK and the USA, and finds that there are surprising differences in the drag king scenes of both countries: “In the US there seems to be a lot more parodying of performers like Justin Timberlake or Barry White,” she explains. “In the UK there tends to be more silliness, it’s more about comedy.”

But how does the trans community feel about a bunch of female-identified women playing at being men? “I’ve found Trans people to be generally drag king friendly,” she says. “One member of my troupe is a transman, and he sees himself as being a man on the stage, not a drag king.” Safety and visibility are important too of course – some transmen don’t consider themselves to part of the queer community at all, so to come to a drag king event would be to out themselves as trans.

Safety is definitely a big issue. Just as you don’t have to be gay to be gaybashed, you don’t have to identify as trans to suffer from transphobia. After all, it’s no good shouting ‘But I’m only being a drag king tonight! I usually wear frocks!’ as you’re getting punched by a drunk on the nightbus home.

Not that Lenna’s had that kind of experience herself – in fact she’s felt that passing as a man can actually make her fell more safe. “These days when I’m performing as a drag king I tend to dress at home and take the bus,” she says. “9.9 times out of 10 people assume I’m just a normal black man. End of story. Only once has someone – a man – looked twice at me. I looked right back at him and he looked away quickly.”

It’s a fact of life in our sexist society that when men look at other men they’re challenging them, but women are used to being constantly scrutinised. For Lenna, acting in drag makes her aware of that difference, and allows her to claim back some of the freedoms that men have every day into her female life.

Why are there so many negative reactions to drag kings – and queens – in any case? Maybe it’s simply because drag messes with gender expectations. As Lenna explains, “most people think of gender as fixed, and if we challenge that they get uncomfortable, and anything that makes people feel uncomfortable makes them angry. It’s sad. What we choose to do with our bodies has got nothing to do with them.”

Leaving the heavy socio-political stuff for a moment, there’s one very important question that needs to be answered. Why is Elvis such a popular choice for drag kings? “It’s easy to be Elvis!” laughs Lenna. “It’s not just the king community that loves to be him of course – there are a lot of Elvis impersonators around. Of course he’s popular with drag kings – he is the King!”

Lenna’s tips for becoming a drag king

Would you be a smooth ladies’ man, a seedy second-hand car salesman or even the King himself – Mr Elvis Presley? Pick up some tips with help from drag king expert, Lenna Cumberbatch.

I’m big busted, so I have to strap. It can sometimes be painful, but if you’re going to be moving then it needs to be loose enough that you can still breathe. I use a binder vest, which some transguys use before top surgery [breast removal]. Stockings are also really good – you put your head through a hole in the crotch and use the legs for your arms. Sports bras are the easiest option – get a size smaller than you’d usually wear.”

“For facial hair, I use crepe hair – also called costume hair – which is applied with stuff called spirit gum. You can get both from most costume shops. Generally I use an eyeliner pencil to draw in the moustache or beard that I want first and then cover in spirit gum and the hair. Less hair is better if you want a natural look. You can also use clippings of your own hair but if you have light hair remember that it will be darker on application. I like a simple goatee or just plain moustache, depending on my character. I also use the pencil to fill in my eyebrows as men tend to have heavier eyebrows.

“Look at how men walk and stand – it’s not just about having facial hair. There are subtle differences between how men and women act. To generalise, men tend to stand more upright, and they walk leading with the pelvis; women lead with their chests. When they wave, women wave their fingers, and men just put a hand in the air. Women tend to sit quite neatly on public transport, but men take up a lot of space.”

“Some drag kings pack [wear something to represent a penis] all the time, and for them if they’re not packing, they’re not dragging. For me, dragging is all about not knowing or caring what’s in your trousers, so packing doesn’t matter so much.”

Tempted to find the drag king in you?

Lenna is hosting a special Drag King Competition in London on Sunday 4 May. The theme of the competition is ‘Return of the King’ which could be anything from Elvis to Lord of the Rings.

There are three heats: evening/clubwear, performance and sleep/swimwear. The overall winner will receive a King of the Castle trophy and crown, and other prizes include Beautiful and Dammed leatherwear and a photoshoot with Elly Clarke Photography. A special prize will go to whoever the audience decides is the night’s ‘dirty rascal’.

To take part with your own manly alter-ego register in advance on the King of the Castle website, or turn up the night if you just want to be part of the audience. After the competition there will be a club night with entertainment from resident drag king troupe the Castle Dancers and special guests the Schmooze Brothers.

King of the Castle, 7.30pm, Sunday 4 May 2008 (Bank Holiday Weekend), The Purple Turtle Bar, 61-65 Crowndale Rd, London, NW1 1TN.

30 Responses to How to: be a drag king

  1. queerunity says:

    i have some friends who make kick ass drag kings

    http://www.queersunited.blogspot.com

  2. Ingo says:

    Some of the King of the Castle dancers are doing a previewat Club Wotever Saturday 3 May!! Club Wotever is a true gender blending club and open for all genders. this night there is a special theme; Royal Wotever – so a chance to dress up for all Drag Kings, Drag Queens, Pillow Princesses and Little Princes!

    Welcome!

  3. Sandra Baker says:

    Hi there, I have tried the King of the Castle website and scanned this article and I can’t seem to find a contact email for Lenna Cumberbatch. I am on the committee for South Yorkshire Pride, happening in Sheffield on 7th June 2008 and we would really love someone to come and do a drag king workshop in our community tent.

    If someone could get back to me with contact details for Lenna I would be really grateful.

    Thanks

    Sand X

  4. Lenna says:

    Hey!

    Feel free to get in touch, the email address is at the bottom of the ‘where, when, tickets’ page, but in code!

    It was a great event:-)

  5. Lesley says:

    For anyone in the north east wanting to strut their Drag King or Queeness there will be a Drag Idol competition at The Oak in Middlesbrough on Friday 12th of September. That gives you plenty of time to start practicing!

  6. Gloria says:

    I am the promoter of the longest running LGBT Latino dance club and this saturday we are having the 3rd annual DRAG KING competition She King and we are looking for contestants. If you know anyone interested please call G on 07931 374391. Thank You.

  7. Caroline says:

    Hi!

    I’m interested in speaking to some drag kings about a documentary I’m making. Please e-mail caroline.menzies@talenttv.com if you are interested in talking to me about your performance/character. Lenna – I would really like to get in touch with you but can’t find your e-mail address! Thanks, Caroline.

  8. Nick Dolding says:

    Hi Leana
    I am an advertising photographer based in London and would really like to do a series of pictures for my portfolio of Drag King’s.
    Please would you have a look at my web site where you can see what sort of style and images I do.

    Regards Nick Dolding

  9. Hurlvis says:

    Wanna see some lovely gender-bending from Newcastle? Have a look at http://www.dawnlatimer.com and for more Drag King performances, keep your eye out for some action on a boat on The Tyne in July.

  10. Kate says:

    Hi Just wondering where to see Drag King and also Drag Queen performance / events in Midlands ? Thankyou x

  11. Manuel Hung says:

    If anyone is interested in a drag king night, we are trying to get people together in Derby. Join our facebook page for info. Search: Drag Kings of Derbyshire

  12. Alex says:

    ive never done drag before but i want to learn. any advice?

  13. Amanda says:

    Hi, I run a Gay Girls of Gloucestershire group and am looking to find someone to put on a drag king night for us but dont know of any drag kings near Gloucestershire? Can anyone help?

    Cheers

    Amanda

  14. Caroline Menzies says:

    Hi everyone, I’m currently working on a BBC3 programme about unusual obsessions and quirky habits. If you would like to share your habit or obsession with me, please e-mail caroline.menzies@endemoluk.com.

    Whether you bite your nails obsessively or compulsively tidy your flat – I’d love to hear from you!

    x

  15. Loren Bundy says:

    Hello folks… i am full deaf butch lesbian… i am look for try out to joing drag king!!! so if you have any ideas??? pls email me ! winkz! take care…

  16. Loren Bundy says:

    oops my bad…. email me at lezodie08@aol.com… CIAO!! and also look for friends and maybe into dating too. if it interested ya ! take care.. sorry forgetten! heh

  17. Valentino King says:

    In answer to many comments above.I am a Drag King who performs all over the uk.I have a self contained live show and am also available for promotional advertising,party and show host.
    Contact me via email:valentino.king@hotmail.com or facebook:valentino king

  18. flo says:

    i am really interested in performing as a drag king but i need some help please help me i have wanted to do this for a really long time and never did anything about it but now is the time thank you flo

  19. JTL says:

    Hi,
    My fellow king and I are in our late 20′s and are looking for somewhere we can expose our Kingly side as there are no events in our area (Manchester) where we can strut our alter-ego. We are looking to may be come down to London, so if there are any upcoming evenings or events that cater for kings such as ourselves, please drop me an email. Thanks in advance.

  20. JTL says:

    apologies, my email address didn’t come up in my post. It’s: kaz_eebo@yahoo.com

  21. Paul Deboinair says:

    I would just like to add, I have been a professional Drag King for over 35 years now, toured the world doing what I love the best… I am totally ecstatic to see Drag Kinging really starting to take off in the UK… I shall be returning to the UK this year, after my gigs are over in the USA and would love to chat will all UK Drag Kings… my email address is pauldeboinair@hotmail.com if anyone would like to contact me for perhaps a meet up…

  22. C.baby says:

    my name is c.baby and im a stud and im lookin to model for the lgbt community im open to anything that has to do with stud modeling if anyone knows of any please hit me up hchelsea49@yahoo.com
    thanks

  23. Den Taldam says:

    Drag Kings in Norwich are having their very first get-together at The Catherine Wheel, St Augustines St, Norwich on 15th june 2010. All welcome :-)

    More info on here: http://www.facebook.com/posted.php?id=383719455019&share_id=114201551958411&comments=1#!/event.php?eid=119852331389122&ref=ts

  24. lala says:

    hey im the proud gf of a drag and i have to say he is the best

  25. Amanda says:

    Gay Girls of Gloucestershire are holding their first ever charity Drag King Night on Nov 27th 2010 at EXS Nightclub in Cheltenham. 9pm start.

    Drag King Performances, Raffle and a sponsored head shave!

    Please come along!!

  26. Harry Nova says:

    Hi all, I’m new to the Drag scene. Looking to make some friends and perhaps do some performances or form a troupe.
    If anyone has any advice for me that’d be greatly appreciated :)

    My email: lynnbirrell@live.co.uk

    Thanks x

  27. nat says:

    hi there!
    I found your article very interesting and helpful.
    I am going to do a drag king performance soon but I am unsure about how to do my make up and facial hair as I have red hair and so it is not as easy as a woman with dark hair.
    Just wondering if you have any tips!
    Thank you!
    Nat. x

  28. Maximus says:

    Thanx 4 the advice but where can I buy a binder vest or can you recommend any good surgeons in the Uk? Also any drag bars in Cambridgeshire? Thanx 4 your time Lenna All the best!x

  29. Ruth.Pearce says:

    Hi Maximus,

    There is lots of good advice on binding from Hudson’s Guide:

    http://www.ftmguide.org/binding.html

  30. Laurent Del Lago says:

    This would’ve been a good article without this eye-rolling line: “It’s a fact of life in our sexist society that when men look at other men they’re challenging them, but women are used to being constantly scrutinised.”

    At that moment, this goes from being an interesting and informative article to something that’s pure gossip column. It’s not a fact of life, no matter how much you’d like to claim to be the victim. Women can get away with so much more than men can in every day life, be it more outrageous or unorthodox behaviour in public or, indeed, walking down the street dressed as a man. And the writer of this article has the gall to say women are constantly scrutinised?

    There’s also another odd point; the article didn’t mention just how they feel women are scrutinised when they’re being looked at. Not to mention men “challenging” other men by looking at them — not true — is apparently fine rather than sexist, since society has forced men to feel like they have to be macho and tough.

    I say all this as a drag king, incidentally (or a “wannabe” drag king, you might say) and I do it to celebrate masculinity. I associate myself with more males than females — my flatmate, my close friends and I spent several years in a serious relationship with a man — and crossdress to understand and appreciate them, not tear them down or try to “claim back some of [their] freedoms” for women.

Milly Shaw

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