RuPaul’s Drag Race Made Queens Famous. Now Drag Kings Deserve Some Recognition.
I have a confession: If you’ve been following my writing on drag in Outward for the past year, you’ve only gotten half of the story. Thus far, I’ve focused solely on the experiences of men who dress up in feminine attire, drag queens like myself. I’ve failed to feature the voices of women in drag—most notably women and who dress as men, or drag kings—and some of you have noticed. “I wonder, why didn’t you talk to a female drag performer?” a reader wrote in a disappointed email. “I would have been interested to know how she sees her role.”
My gut reaction is to act like a RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant and hide behind some God damn excuses. I’m not an expert on drag kings—indeed, I know very little about them at all—so how can I speak on their behalf? But, after a little reflection, I’ve realized that my oversight is symptomatic of a much larger problem: Through interviews with working drag kings, l learned how many of us queens are blind to our female counterparts—and how that blindness has divided the drag community, especially in my own New York scene.
My first encounter with the divide between kings and queens came a few weeks ago when I co-hosted a drag competition on the Upper Upper West Side. Male performers dominated the night; about five drag queens from all over the city received standing ovations throughout the competition. But the sole drag king, Gary Carmichael, received only mild applause. And though Carmichael served an epic lip synch of “Wake Up, Everybody” by Teddy Pendergrass, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the prize went to a petite queen who delighted everyone with an unexpected costume change. After the show, I was backstage fussing with my ten-dollar wig when Carmichael walked in. “It’s hard to be the only one trying to break down barriers,” he said, half to me and my co-hostess, half to himself. Then he threw his bags together and left.