STYLE & BEAUTY
11/12/2019 05:45 EST | Updated 11/13/2019 09:53 EST

The Many Styles Of Drag Kings, Photographed In And Out Of Drag

HuffPost spoke with five drag king performers about their daily style, performance style and life experiences, both in and out of drag.

As gender becomes understood more as a spectrum rather than a binary, the art of drag is evolving right alongside.

A drag queen is typically (though not always) an AMAB (assigned male at birth) performer dressing and creatively expressing themselves in an exaggerated feminine style. A drag king is typically (though not always) an AFAB (assigned female at birth) performer dressing and creatively expressing themselves in an exaggerated masculine style. But there is a great deal of fluidity in terms of how drag performance is defined and how performers define themselves.

For example, the rising movement of hyper (sometimes known as “faux” or “bio”) queens and kings is a style of drag in which the performers dress and act as an exaggerated version of the gender they were assigned at birth. Additionally, there are many trans performers who identify as the gender they perform. For a long time, drag queens have had a place in the spotlight while drag kings and nonbinary performers have not been given equal recognition.

Martin Schoeller
Dr. Wang Newton in drag.

One force responsible for this is “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Beginning with its premiere in 2009, the reality competition began paving the road for drag(specifically with AMAB performers) to make its way into mainstream consciousness. The focus on pageantry and showiness, however, is a distinct form of drag, and not all drag performers fit into such a narrow category. Further, RuPaul has said, “Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it.”

It seems unlikely that RuPaul will ever cast an AFAB performer on the show. As is the case with most subcultures pertaining to performance art, there is still a sense of division and exclusion among those who already find themselves excluded. With much respect and gratitude to “Drag Race” for its pioneering efforts in celebrating the art of drag, there are new and more innovative outlets for all types of drag performers to find their seat at the table.

For example, the Amazon Prime show The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula” is currently in its third season. This season’s winner was Landon Cider, the show’s very first drag king (who previously auditioned for Season 9 of “Drag Race”), and this season also featured competitor Hollow Eve, a “Post Binary Drag Socialist with a penchant for anarchy.” Both of them are AFAB performers.

The world of drag contains multitudes of unique personalities and performance styles that extend far beyond the confines of your TV screen. Many drag performers are members of the LGBTIQA+ community and, as such, are no strangers to being judged and discriminated against for presentations both in and out of drag. When one is in a queer space, surrounded by supportive peers, there is a sense of safety that isn’t always present in the default day-to-day world. As brave as it is to take the stage and give a rousing performance, it takes just as much ― if not more ― courage for marginalized individuals to simply go about their daily lives, risking ridicule and violence for simply existing.

Drag performers come from all walks of life, gender presentations, shapes, sizes, abilities, sexual orientations and more. As audiences are exposed to the vast and varied styles of drag, acceptance will grow not only within the performance community but outside of it as well. The emergence in popularity and visibility of drag king troupes such as Los Angeles’ Man Candy, Austin, Texas’ Boiz of Austin, New York’s Switch N’ Play and more serve to validate and showcase the fact that drag kings are an important part of drag culture.

HuffPost spoke with five drag king performers about their daily style, performance style and life experiences, both in and out of drag.

Valeri Abrego/Papi Churro

Kianna Aether/Javier Gonzalez
Valeri Abrego out of drag (left), Papi Churro in drag (right).

Stage Name: Papi Churro

Name Out Of Drag: Valeri Abrego

Location: Austin, Texas 

Pronouns: They/them

Gender Identity: Two-spirit

Sexual Orientation: Demisexual

Age: 41

Describe your personal, daily style. 

A little nerdy, a little gothy, a little punk rock, mainly how I’m feeling. Always pretty gender fluid. I’ve always been the weirdo with bright-colored hair and the weird clothes. Band shirts, shorts with tights or leggings with sugar skulls on them. I haven’t had my natural hair color since I was 15.

Have you ever faced hardships or judgment for the way you regularly dress?

Always. When I was little, I hated wearing dresses and everyone would make fun of me for dressing like a boy. My mom really wanted me to be real girly, but it just wouldn’t stick. In the second grade, she dressed me up for Valentine’s Day in a dress, frilly socks, patent Mary Janes, the works. I cried so bad that day, they had to pick me up from school. I felt humiliated.

When I was a teen growing up in the west side of San Antonio, I used to get into lots of fights because of the way I was dressed. I remember my grandma telling me to just dress like [everyone else] and I would be left alone. I couldn’t. I was too stubborn and I knew dressing like them would only let them know they had the best of me. So I fought back, a lot, and in the end I got my way and thicker skin. Now no one bothers me about it, not if I can help it.

Describe your personal drag style. 

Much like my regular style, my drag style tends to be varied. I tend to lean on the scary and funny mixed with sexy. I like to play out past traumas, confront my fears and become acquainted with my sexy side. So if you see me dressed scary, it’s always a character I was afraid of or a demon I’m releasing or someone I want to be, but just don’t have the confidence to be in real life. 

Have you ever faced hardships or judgment for your style of drag?

When I first started [drag], I used to get a lot of crap about my body. I had a 38E chest and a I had stomach overhang from having four kids. Whatever body dysmorphia I had was amplified by 10 after doing drag. As I continued performing, dancing more, working out more, I eventually got gender affirming surgeries to help me become more comfortable with myself. I also found inspiration and acceptance from my Indigenous heritage ― I learned about my ancestors and that in my culture there were sometimes up to seven genders and that I was in fact two-spirit. Things began to make sense. Every now and then I hear that I’m not masculine enough, but I’m breaking down binaries. ... I’d like to think it helps someone out there who’s too afraid to be who they want to be in life.

Audra/Klaus

Rafael Ledesma/Abraham Ramos
Audra out of drag (left), Klaus in drag (right).

Stage Name: Klaus

Name Out Of Drag: Audra (this performer’s last name has been omitted to protect their privacy)


Location: Los Angeles


Pronouns: She/her
 

Gender Identity: Female


Sexual Orientation: Queer/pan


Age: 31

Describe your personal, daily style.

My personal style is fun and colorful, with a lot of retro references, specifically from the ’80s. My mom and grandma were major fashion plates, and I cherish the items I have of theirs in my closet. I am passionate about accessories as well and sometimes build an entire outfit based off of a single pair of earrings. I get excited mixing patterns and creating a color palette. My style is absolutely an expression of myself.



Have you ever faced hardships or judgment for the way you regularly dress?


Not that I know of. I try to spread joy and inspire others to be themselves through my style.

Describe your personal drag style.

Klaus is a fashion king. He gets his inspiration from people such as Jimi Hendrix, the boys of the New York Dolls and of course, David Bowie and Marc Bolan. Klaus is a glam rocker and his style reflects it. He’s not afraid of his femininity, and is often seen in women’s clothes. He is also well traveled and his wardrobe contains an array of textiles from around the globe.

Have you ever faced hardships or judgment for your style of drag?

I think sometimes Klaus gets judged for his DIY ways. He’s not a huge makeup king. He’s true to his rocker roots; the just-rolled-out-of-bed look, with a sick wardrobe.


Dr. Wang Newton

@pixeljournalism/Martin Schoeller
Out of drag (left), Dr. Wang Newton in drag (right).

Stage Name: Dr. Wang Newton (this performer’s out-of-drag name has been omitted to protect their privacy)

Location: New York City

Pronouns: Any pronoun; he/him in drag

Gender Identity: AFAB genderfluid; two-spirited

Sexual Orientation: Wangsexual

Describe your personal, daily style.

My style has changed over the years ― it was the first mode of expression for me before discovering drag. I used to change my look constantly as a former club promoter. I’ve had a vintage femme phase for example, a semibutch moment, executive lesbian and now ... variants of dapper lad/femdom vibes/K-pop star.  

Have you ever faced hardships or judgment for the way you regularly dress?

Not necessarily ... just from my own parents, who think my wild changing hair and dress is odd.

Describe your personal drag style.

Wang definitely was not created to be an impersonation of Wayne Newton. However, the “Wang” Chinese-vibed Vegas style was hilarious to me and so this Halloween costume took to life. The East Coast barely has any of these dressy Hollywood types ― it’s a fun throwback but also oddly out of place. That gives permission to stand out, be cheesy, classy yet sassy, and interact with people (who can say no when you’re dressed handsomely?). I feel powerful, like The Man of the moment. As Wang, I get to say and do whatever I want.

Have you ever faced hardships or judgment for your style of drag?

No. Not to my face, anyway. The main hardship for Wang is when drag queen producers ask if I do numbers, to which I say no and their response is, “Well let me know when you do.” I am a documentarian disguised as an emcee and crowd activator ― a cheeky persona to troll and bring joy to the event. If that is not seen as valuable, then you’re not a match for my gifts. I try to never extract from a dry well.

Brandi/Ennis F.W.

Jinghuayuan Photo/@RoccoFields.Digital
Brandi out of drag (left), Ennis F.W. in drag (right).

Stage Name: Ennis F.W.

Name Out Of Drag: Brandi (this performer’s last name has been omitted to protect their privacy)

Location: Long Beach, California

Pronouns: She/her; he/him in drag

Gender Identity: Cis woman

Sexual Orientation: Bisexual

Age: 30

Describe your personal, daily style.

I’m a geeky, bespectacled, alt femme in the vein of my idols, Velma Dinkley and Daria Morgendorffer. I started as a thrift store goth kid and ended up circling back to the ’90s, so I’m a big fan of pencil skirts with T-shirts or dresses and Docs and big costume jewelry. I like embracing my femininity sometimes, so when I’ve got a special occasion I’ll usually go high femme in a vintage-inspired wiggle dress. It’s rare that I get an occasion to wear layers in the California heat, but when I have the opportunity I love to rock a sleek blazer or a rad jean jacket.

Have you ever faced hardships or judgment for the way you regularly dress?

I don’t think so! My friends and I were all gay art kids growing up, so in my gothiest of goth days I was just part of the normal cast of characters. I think my biggest style-related woe as a femme is when I date other femmes ― sometimes when I’m out with another woman who dresses like me, people don’t realize we’re on a date and men won’t leave us alone.

Describe your personal drag style.

Ennis was really cool in the ’90s. I like to imagine that he was a DJ at a sweet goth club, but as the spooky kids disappeared he’s just become the kind of guy who DMs really fun D&D campaigns. I’m an actor at heart, so my performances are often character-based. I’ve got acts based on the Rabbit from “Alice in Wonderland,” Peter Pan, an old-time revival preacher and the god Apollo, to name a few. I love doing drag because I get to feel like a really cool, much beloved class clown.

Have you ever faced hardships or judgment for your style of drag?

Everyone’s drag is different, you know? I am a stripping boylesque performer, so it’s been a little difficult to find where exactly I fit in the scene. I hover between both the drag and burlesque scenes, so I’m not going to be the cute Justin Bieber or Brendon Urie impersonator that you see in drag lineups, and I’m definitely not going to be the corseted burlesque bombshell that people expect at those kinds of shows.

Cassandra Kendall/Lúc Ami

Courtesy of Cassandra Kendall/Who Is She Photos
Cassandra Kendall out of drag (left), Lúc Ami in drag (right).

Stage Name: Lúc Ami

Name Out Of Drag: Cassandra Kendall

Location: Chicago

Pronouns: He/him/they/theirs

Gender Identity: Female

Sexual Orientation: Demi/pansexual

Age: 24

Describe your personal, daily style.

My personal daily style is definitely casual. I love wearing jeggings or leggings and a black top and boots. I usually accent the look with a colorful ponytail hair extension. My style really formed when I used to do more makeup artist work. I needed to wear something professional and comfortable but still always wanted to have something to still show my love for colors! I often change the ponytail to a different color based on how I’m feeling that day, so it’s also a mood indicator for people to see as well. I think I don’t always read as queer because I do think I read as a straight woman, so having this colorful hair piece always helps me feel like a step outside of a heterosexual world.

Have you ever faced hardships or judgment for the way you regularly dress?

I think my clothing is pretty neutral, but my hair is always a talking point. It’s something that is exciting to passersby on public transportation or when I’m out at night but also definitely gives me stares at times. Additionally, I’ve worked jobs that have a very subdued uniform that often find this expression too bright and distracting.

Describe your personal drag style.

I often describe my drag persona as an alien that crash-landed into Earth and is trying to fit into society. I imagine that Lúc doesn’t understand why there is a binary and as a result has a very androgynous aesthetic. I love playing with pairings like a button-up shirt and tie with a long skirt. I love using colorful hair and colorful makeup. My style is inspired by effeminate gay men like the butch queens of the ballroom scene and Billy Porter, which is definitely the vein that I want Lúc in.

I want to show that effeminate men are stunning, sexy and so fun to watch. I always try to throw in some unconventional item as well to give it a more alien influence. Out of drag, I’ve felt bogged down by feeling like I have to dress in a stereotypically female manner, and drag gives me freedom to exist outside of dressing traditionally like any gender.

Have you ever faced hardships or judgment for your style of drag?

I’m always going to get looks for being a king and having a colorful mug ― especially in front of audiences who are used to a more pageant-style femme drag or “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” They often don’t know how to receive my drag. Androgyny and nonbinary drag is much less common in the scene, and one of the biggest critiques is from people who are confused why I don’t dress either super femme or butch male. It forces me to constantly think about how I can keep pushing my aesthetic so that I can prove that androgyny, alien and makeup drag has a place in the drag scene.

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