In the light of RuPaul’s recent comments in the Guardian that drag is daring only when men perform it, we explore drag as an art-form to explore gender, with drag performers that apparently aren’t ‘punk’ enough for RuPaul.
Drag has never been so internationally recognised as it is today, as the tenth season of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ brings the art, culture, and drama of American drag queens to our television screens. But, as we should probably expect when one person is put on a pedestal to speak for a whole community, RuPaul has recently experienced backlash for his comments that ‘drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it’. Ironic enough, given his frequent references to Marsha P. Johnson, one of the trans drag queens who started the Stonewall riots, and ‘Paris is Burning’, which featured trans and gender-non-conforming drag performers. So, let us remember that, as more and more drag queens are launched into global stardom, the drag ball scene that started it all was created as a space for people who were excluded from society, rejected, and hated. Let us not stagnate by limiting our understanding of drag to RuPaul’s; the cis man’s expression of hyper-femininity.
The drag king has not enjoyed the same huge boost of popularity ‘Drag Race’ gifted the world’s drag queens, but the rise of Instagram has made a number of them into micro-celebrities of the web through the virtue of their own artistry. If you’ve ever Googled the words ‘drag king’, you’ll likely know the icon Spikey van Dikey, who took the King tradition of taping the chest and transformed it into art, all part of the Dikey look. Ever colourful, and rarely without a beard full of glitter, Dikey is one King who brings glam into hyper-masculinity. I take the boldly-painted six pack as an illustration of masculinity as a performative image – with some paint in the right place, you read him as more masculine.
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That one time I shot with @elleusa About Face series and got to hang with this handsome stud muffin ☺️💖🤘🏻 #Repost @tres_vis with @get_repost ・・・ One bad ass, and me attempting to look like a bad ass. Thanks @spikeyvandykey_official you rock! #spikeyvandykey #dragkingproject #dragkingsofinstagram #dragking
Chicago King Tenderoni showcases another brand of masculinity, with his recognisable, sharply-contoured features and painted goatee – as well as high-energy pop performances. This King highlights the general direction drag seems to be taking towards a non-binary interpretation of gender,
“maybe you can’t tell if I’m a man, maybe you can’t tell if I’m a woman, but I want you to be like that performance was good, that performance was entertaining”.
Miami-based King Femme plays with fashion and performance rather than makeup, and you need only to watch their gig at this year’s Pride to see the passion and emotion that makes them loved. This particular performance exudes a proud overlap of being a Drag King and a trans person – not a hindrance, cheat, or contradiction in any way, as RuPaul as the mediatised face of drag told cis audiences and gender-non-conforming and trans performers.
Our next drag king is Mr. Maxxx Pleasure, who last year was nominated for best Brooklyn King is the BNA awards. With big eyes that remind of Alyson Tabbitha, and a rugged style reminiscent of Russel Brand, Maxxx’s beauty is captivating. His performances are usually part glam, part dramatic comedy.
Our fifth drag performer is Axel Andrews, whose looks often feature an exaggerated, solid-black beard beside huge cat-eyes and graphic brows. Self-described as ‘androgynous‘, Axel stated that his drag is often misconceived as ‘people tend to think [I’m] a queen with a beard. When in reality [I’m] a mix between a drag queen and a male entertainer’.
Our last featured king is Andro Gin of Miami, pictured below with the gorgeous queen, Jupiter Velvet. Andro often describes himself both as a Drag King and a ‘Drag Creature’, expressing that drag,
‘was always us questioning what gender even meant and breaking down those walls of the gender binary and gender roles’.
His looks are highly graphic and detailed, with bold lines marking out contours and styled moustaches reminiscent of comic book art styles emulated in games like ‘The Wolf Among Us’. Beyond the traditional concept of ‘male fantasy’, Andro takes his drag to transform into goblins, devils, zombies, clowns, or some strange mix of them all.
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The Evil Monarch of Candy Kingdom 🍭🍬 I used my normal jush plus these new neon pigments and glitters I got from @givefacecos ! TOO good!! 💞 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . #drag #dragking #dragkings #dragkingsofinstagram #miamidrag #dragcreature #dragmonster #rpdr #dragrace #dragula #lgbtq #queerwomen #wlw #givefacecosmetics
Andro’s concept of the ‘drag creature’ touches upon another subset of drag: that which goes so beyond traditional beauty, or recognisable facial features, that it elevates not just beyond binary gender, but beyond what is human – perhaps to a new, genderless future. We cannot talk about drag ‘alien glamour’ without featuring Salvia.
To Salvia, drag is a door to ‘infinite possibilities of who you want to be‘. Where the popular conception of drag tends to push the gendered image so far that its audience is confronted with their own performance of gender, Salvia’s drag transcends so beyond beauty standards that she sometimes starts to delve into the uncanny valley. Personally I love that many of Salvia’s photos for Instagram are taken in drab or ordinary locations; they give the impression that Salvia constantly looks like a strange, ethereal being, that you could accidentally happen upon if you walked down some particular alley.
isshehungry shows the world drag’s capacity for surrealism – what she calls ‘distorted drag‘ with the Hungry look often being distinctly insectile despite maintaining many humanoid markers like the natural brows, and marked cheekbones. Hungry has enjoyed global renown, and has even recently worked with Björk to create orchid-flute-creature looks for an album cover and music video.
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gerascophobia. Hungry by @robertbartholot Second look of my @misty_couture takeover! underbust corset by @misty_couture lashes by @beautyandthebartsch nail gloves by @vie.lette liner and shadows by @makeupdesignoryeu digital print, hood, jockstrap, leg shields by me #isshehungry
Vander von Odd is best known for being the Season 1 winner of the Boulet Brothers’ Dragula, crowned the world’s first Drag Supermonster. As a teen goth, Vander’s look has always had some horror aspects to it, sometimes more Tim Burton-esque, and sometimes more Morticia Addams. She’s said that performing Vander has helped her unlearn ‘‘rules’ about gender’, and that that freedom became ‘very empowering’.
Our final drag artiste is home-grown Cheddar Gorgeous, who can be seen bearing a giant golden version of Manchester’s bee symbol in their quintessential and stunning Elizabethan look below. Cheddar’s signature lack of brows with black sclera contacts gives a certain haunting, alien quality to their beautiful creations. Plus, they do an amazing recreation of Bowie’s Goblin King.
In the age of increasing visibility for drag performers and trans folks, amazing performers and artists such as these show us just how creative and free self-expression can be – and that drag is, as all things are, for all people, of all genders.
So, perhaps we are slowly on our way to ‘a gender chill future’, as Hari Nef once said.