Long live the drag kings

For years the world of drag has been spearheaded by queens like RuPaul and his show’s alumnae but the tide is turning and the age of the drag king is upon us. Dissecting stereotypes and exploring the nuances of manhood, nine kings tell HUNGER’s Ry Gavin about their journeys, political performances and what needs to be done to level the drag playing field.

Prinx Silver

“Getting into drag was part revelation and part liberation for my own queer and trans identity,” says London-based Prinx Silver. Having grown up in Malaga, Spain, his first forays into drag didn’t come until his early thirties, when he started to carve his own path through his nuanced depictions of personalities like Freddie Mercury, Elton John and Village People.

In 2017, Silver attended Man Up!, a drag competition at The Glory pub in east London and a year later, his journey began as part of a Queerlesque course with Rubyyy Jones. Now he’s part of the beating heart of the capital’s drag king scene.

“I host and curate Lèse Majesté, an all-drag king cabaret that centres trans and non-binary people. We’ve built a really beautiful community of people who follow and support us.”

While Silver’s success has come a long way in just a few years, it’s his commitment to making the scene fairer and safer that shines through. Recently, he exposed the inappropriate behaviour of “entitled women who touch drag kings during boozy brunches”.

Chiyo

“I was at university having a sexuality crisis, a racial identity crisis and a gender crisis,” says north Londoner Chiyo, who delved into drag at the age of 20. “It was like a trio of trauma. I also used to engage in a lot of sex work on the side.

“One day I woke up, decided to play with make-up and logged into one of my camming sites. I wanted to see the reaction of these predominantly white cishet men who were used to seeing me log in ultra femme and sexual. I was painting myself to look like something I knew wasn’t their type. But something about that soothed me – the idea of making people uncomfortable through merely existing felt quite powerful.”

And Chiyo is calling for equality. “I just want us to have the same job opportunities as queens, and to minimise the financial disparity. I would like to see more blue tick drag queens actively platforming kings.”

Shardeazy Afrodesiak

“Shardeazy is the embodiment of my gender fluidity, something that I’ve never felt able to be or express,” says Shardeazy Afrodesiak of southwest London, whose career started during lockdown in 2021.

Drag has opened up so many doors for this part-time performer slash full-time journalist, but it’s also a regular reminder of the systemic issues at the heart of the community.

“My career low was the realisation that it doesn’t matter who you are or what your talent is, the odds are still stacked against you because you’re a king,” they say. “I’d love for drag to be my entire world but the sobering truth is that it’s not an option.”

But there is some hope for the future. “Things are changing, slowly but surely,” they say. “And kings are going to be fighting for their space and will continue to thrive!”

Manly Mannington

“We are not given the same opportunities or platforms as drag queens, we are othered,” says Leeds-raised Manly Mannington, who began their drag career on the back of musical pursuits such as touring Italy as a violinist in an orchestra. Having been on the scene for almost six years, Manly explores cosplay, “blerd” (Black nerd) culture and movements like Afrofuturism and Afropunk. And despite being booked and busy, the drag artist has faced obstacles along the way.

“Being Black, being a woman and being a drag king was almost a triple burden. I had so many hurdles put in my way – people purposefully excluding kings and some kings excluding Black and POC people from getting opportunities. It was difficult.”

Mannington continues: “Freedom to me is being able to be given the same opportunities. Freedom to me is being able to explore and do anything we want without fear of judgment and ostracism, and to be able to be accepted in a safe space.”

Sigi Moonlight

“Just like Ziggy Stardust, Sigi is an extrater- restrial being brought to Earth, an empty vessel who embodies different forms of masculinity in an attempt to shine a light on the weird and terrifying extremes it has reached.”

When they first saw the drag king johnsmith in 2017, something clicked. “I loved performing – I used to play male roles in school productions, but never felt like any of the parts on stage suited my gender identity.”

And since that moment, being a drag king hasn’t been just a job, it’s a force for change in the community and beyond.

“Playing around with expectations of gender is political,” Bromley native Moonlight says. “Apart from that, there’s a bigger message about performing as a king versus a queen. The fact I usually have to explain what a drag king is to people who consider themselves drag queen experts proves the point.”

Beau Jangles

Pulling inspiration from the worlds of Cab Calloway, Anderson .Paak and Stonewall icon Stormé DeLarverie, drag king Beau Jangles is modelling his persona on the cis men who inspire him and the civil rights activists who have paved the way.

“The first iteration of Beau was an awkward, almost grubby-looking fellow. But it still felt thrilling to morph into him,” says Jangles, who spent years dreaming about the freedoms that London could offer while growing up in Norfolk.

As with most drag kings, he says that it’s near impossible to make his artistry a full-time career. With a background in mental health social work, delving into drag at the age of 24 was always going to be a world reserved for out of hours.

“I went to an overwhelmingly white girls’ school in the countryside where the homophobia was overt and unapologetic. As someone with Black heritage, I was always viewed in a more masculine manner than my white peers. To be feminine was self-protection. Drag helped me rediscover and embrace my masculine side.”

Tommy Robinson

“In 2019, I was part of a protest where we created a giant cartoon character of Donald Trump to fly in London and show him he wasn’t welcome on his visit to the UK. I did some media work around it and got hit with quite a lot of death and rape threats from angry keyboard fascists,” says the drag king Tommy Rimmerson, who grew up in a small town in the Midlands.

“For me, doing drag was partially about wanting to play with that kind of masculinity. I specifically wanted to dress as Tommy Robinson to create something that was firstly playful and stupid to bring joy to a horrible experience, but secondly to show queer resistance to fascism.”

Rimmerson sets out to dissect British culture at its worst – a journey in national identity, but with the drag artist touch.

“My drag tries to play with the working-class masculinity I grew up around and also how that’s weaponised by the political right. It’s also an opportunity to point to the masculinity in power roles that threaten queer communities,” Rimmerson says.

Saint Sinister

Saint Sinister may sound an ominous name for a drag king, but that’s not the case. Having grown up just outside Oxford, a place not so renowned for its booming drag culture, they found that delving into the art was a chance to push themselves out of their comfort zone.

“The support and encouragement I received was unmatched,” says Sinister, who started their drag career at the age of 27.

“Being so proud and so visible was what attracted me to being a drag artist. A way to love and express myself and show others they can do the same. As producers began booking me, I felt a huge sense of pressure and responsibility. Is my drag worth it? Am I good enough? Of course I am!”

Right now many might believe that the performers are eclipsed by queens, but Sinister’s vision for the future puts drag kings in the spotlight: “I feel we are definitely moving in the right direction, with the drag king scene only becoming more dynamic. I’m sure it won’t be long until we see kings causing just as much of a frenzy.”

LoUis CYfer

“Drag kings are underrepresented warriors,” says LoUis CYfer, Rotherham’s entry for UK drag king royalty. “It’s not pretty glitter all day long and tongue popping our way to the bank.”

CYfer’s drag career began when he was 22 and at university. And now what the king represents goes deeper: “I play around with the boundaries of alpha masculinity – you look at LoUis and you expect him to be a bit of a bastard but what you get is a broad-shouldered, thick and thirsty, lovable lad who couldn’t be more non-threatening if he tried.”

Drag for CYfer was a way to explore what being trans is in the safest way possible, while also navigating the feelings of shame from being born a boy. “Drag helped me find myself by allowing me to put what everyone wanted me to hide at the front and centre of a stage, and to celebrate it unapologetically.”

  • Photographer Jordan Rossi
  • Stylist Daniel Gray
  • Talent Shardeazy Afrodeziak, Prinx Chyio, Manly Mannington, Saint Sinister, Beau Jangles, Sigi Moonlight, LoUis CYfer, Tommy Rimmerson, Prinx Silver
  • Fashion Assistants Ben Carnall, Ruben Colindres
  • Photography Assistants Jed Barnes, Sam Lort, Bethan Evans

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