If you’ve ever been to a drag show in the Denver-Boulder area, it’s likely that you didn’t see any men. That’s because there aren’t enough women.
Earlier this year, famous drag queen RuPaul Charles stirred up controversy when he hesitated about allowing women to compete on his show, RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f-you to male-dominated culture,” Charles said. “So for men to do it, it’s really punk rock, because it’s a real rejection of masculinity.”
Not only did this comment invalidate drag queens who are women, like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, but it disregarded the other side of the coin: drag kings, or women performing as men.
This past Monday, on CU Boulder’s student-run radio station Radio 1190, I had the opportunity to interview two women with extensive knowledge about the drag king world: Robin MacKinnon, founder and manager of drag king group Mile High KINGdom, and Justin Time, one of the group’s new members.
MacKinnon, who founded Mile High KINGdom three years ago, said that RuPaul’s comment “was really invalidating and really erased us completely, and there are some incredible drag kings in the world.”
RuPaul has since apologized, but his mistake was reflective of a much larger problem of underrepresentation in the drag community.
“I had been to a hundred drag shows and I had only seen drag queens,” MacKinnon said. After discovering the presence of drag kings in other cities, she founded Mile High KINGdom.
Fortunately, Mile High KINGdom has quickly been gaining momentum.
Earlier this year, the group was invited to the Austin International Drag Festival to perform alongside big drag names like Spikey Van Dykey. The first day of the fest on Nov. 15 is KingFest, a day dedicated solely to drag kings.
“That’s a rarity,” MacKinnon said. “Not every drag event allows for that and accommodates for that.”
However, with exposure comes competition.
“I knew that in order for us to be worthy of the same stage as some of the greatest drag artists in the world, that we really had to raise our level of drag, and so I started a school for drag,” MacKinnon said.
Every Tuesday at 8 p.m., Mile High KINGdom hosts a drag show and mentor session at Denver gay bar Pride and Swagger. The event involves a mentoring session from a drag performer, as well as a Mile High KINGdom performance. The event is free and open to everyone.
“From that show, we’ve started getting booked a lot and I’m super excited,” MacKinnon said.
“Now my goal is that they’re booked and paid,” MacKinnon said, noting that many spots occupied by drag kings are still reliant on tips alone. “Artists [assigned female at birth] are paid 13 cents to the dollar.”
Justin Time, a king who just recently joined Mile High KINGdom, has been performing in drag for four months and has yet to be faced with any significant challenges.
“Everybody’s welcoming and open. I don’t think there’s too much drama or anything,” she said.
While the drag scene may be warming up to kings, it certainly isn’t perfect, MacKinnon pointed out.
“There is definitely a big sector that is super welcoming to us, but then there is a big sector that is not very welcoming to us,” she said. “In the history of Mile High Kingdom, I’ve been shoved up against a wall in a dressing room and we’ve been mocked on a stage. So, it goes both ways.”
Aside from the blatant hostility, the general population has also developed a plethora of misconceptions about drag.
“When [my coworkers] found out I was doing drag, they were like ‘Wait a minute, you’re a chick, you can’t be a drag queen,’ and I’m like, ‘No, it’s drag kings.’ And so I had to explain to them what that means,” Time said. “People aren’t educated on it yet, because it’s still pretty new and everything, but I think the more people experience it, it will be second nature.”
So, the next time you go to a drag show, give the kings some extra love. It’s likely that they’re underbooked, underpaid and victims of significant scrutiny. In the world of drag — and only in the world of drag — a queen is nothing without her king.
You can keep up with Mile High KINGdom at their Facebook page.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Anna Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org.