All around the UK Drag Kings are gaining followers by the 1000’s. 5 years ago there were only a handful of Drag Kings in the UK getting regular work in the performance world. Now, there are around 60 getting gigs on a weekly basis.
There are some venues in the UK that are now offering special Drag King nights. In She Bar, Soho, they have a night once a month called Boi Box. In Glory Bar, East London, they hold a weekly Drag King contest with a prize of 1000 pounds and they get up to 12 acts performing a week.
The Marlborough Theatre in Brighton holds an annual Drag King competition and in Blackpool they have the UK’s first ever Drag King Karaoke Bar.
Dr Meagan Tyler, an expert in gender and feminist theory believes the reason Drag Kings are getting so popular is because:
The current growth is born out of younger generations of women,” They are less bound by traditional paradigms of gender conduct in the wake of various feminist movements. Social attitudes in this country are undergoing tremendous changes when it comes to acceptance of otherness.”
Also there are a number of celebrities talking about being gender fluid – such as Ruby Rose, and Lady Gaga’s drag alter ego, Jo Calderone – or even trans gender’s, and it’s not hard to see why drag kings are gaining popularity. Some acts are accumulating more than 50,000 hits on YouTube which proves how popular they are becoming.
Stylist Magazine spoke to Benjamin Butch (real name Bethan Rainforth), a 22-year-old sales assistant originally from Lincoln, to discuss a Drag King’s typical stage dress and preparing for a show. Benjamin said:
“Being in drag on public transport is not a pleasant experience. I start with make-up, which my fiancée does for me, then hair (it’s short, though some people use wigs), then body – binding [to strap down the chest] before contouring my abs with make-up, though some people use Sharpies for darker lines. I find binders annoying, so I use sports tape on my chest; it’s comfier. And then it’s the package – a prosthetic penis – and the right outfit. Because, of course, the clothes maketh the man…”
Most of the acts consist of a combination of lip synching, dancing and singing as well as some comedy. Stylist magazine asked Adam All (real name Jen Powell) who also runs Boi Box, how it feels when she performs:
“When I’m Adam, I feel powerful and liberated. The first time I dressed in drag I was 17, and my first public appearance on stage was at 19. It was quite nerve-wracking; I didn’t know how people would react. Yet the audience loved it. It felt so free to be appreciated for myself, or the part of myself that I previously had to keep hidden away all the time. People mistook my gender from as young as four-years-old. I never fitted the typically feminine stereotype and I found it really hurtful. I struggled with gender identity between the age of 18 and 22, and considered transitioning to male at one point, but in the end it didn’t feel like the right thing to do.”
The drag scene seems fun, explorative and exciting. It’s inclusive. Underneath the sports tape and cartons full of fake chest and beard hair, every drag king seems to have one thing in common. Whether they were gay, straight, bi, non-binary, black or white they had found a movement where they finally belong. And as the public are embracing the scene with so much vigour and attending the performances on a regular basis, let’s hope the scene grows from strength to strength all around the country.