Image: Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria (1982)
Johnny Jupiter aka Ar Booth is a trainee History teacher from Bradford. They studied History and Politics at University of Birmingham and did their undergraduate dissertation on the political subversiveness of drag kings while their MA dissertation was on the political subversiveness of female stand up comics. Johnny has performed drag for a year now but has been putting on workshops and dragging for parties and fun for around five years. They first got interested in drag at 18 when they stumbled into a workshop and thought it was the coolest thing ever. They are available for workshops and shows.
This article first appeared in Issue 2 of Womanifesto.
The Loneliest Drag King
RuPaul’s Drag Race has sashayed its way into popular culture over the past few years. With its fabulous outfits and larger than life characters, it is little wonder that ratings have soared. Ten years ago it would have been inconceivable for such gender-bending antics to have made prime-time viewing; you had to go to a local gay bar to get your dose of such fabulousness and if there wasn’t a bar in your local area, then you were stranded. What RuPaul has done is opened up a small window into the LGBTQ community, popularising drag and helping people love themselves because “if you don’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?”
Drag, on the whole, highlights the artificiality of femininity and masculinity. The body you were born in means nothing to the character which you create through drag. This can have subversive qualities; by donning 6 inch heels and even bigger hair, you are casting aside the presentation people expect. Further to this, drag is about the hyper-feminine or hyper-masculine. Not only do drag queens highlight how anyone can perform femininity but by taking hair to new heights they show that it doesn’t really exist in the first place. Essentially saying, wear what the heck you want and you do you.
When I tell people I do drag, people look at me with confusion. But, but… you’re a woman… isn’t drag men as women? Certainly not! We can’t let men have all the fun now can we? I am a drag king. A sweet, gentle prince of the night. This is someone who is generally (but not always!) female bodied performing hyper-masculinity. This essentially involves me drawing on a moustache and stuffing my undies with a banana or whatever prop is funniest and close to hand. It’s super duper fun but unfortunately, we drag kings are a bit unicorn-like in rarity.
Drag kings have existed pretty much the same amount of time as drag queens. We are siblings in arms, glitter and sass. What unites us is our inability to conform to social norms and our incessant need to mess with them. However, due to historical constraints, the lesbian scene did not develop at the same rate as the gay scene. This, in some ways explains why there are fewer drag kings today. As women had to stay married in order to retain financial security, we couldn’t afford to develop a scene in the same way. Of course a lesbian scene still exists (what a boring world it would be without it) but it is much smaller and with fewer self-owned clubs and spaces. Therefore, if the lesbian scene isn’t as visible to society, drag kings cannot possibly have the same space as drag queens..
RuPaul’s Drag Race is yet to have a drag king contestant; it is still very much drag as the sphere of men. Maybe the world isn’t ready yet for masculinity to be dismantled? Kinging is highly subversive as it essentially shows that men aren’t naturally confident and swagilicious but are socially constructed to be so. However, through drag we can take back that power. I do have some amazing drag sisters who see drag as a form of expression. It is not about pretending to be a man or a woman but an abstract deconstruction of what those terms mean in the first place.
However, my drag sisters are way more progressive than most people. For some drag queens the idea of a king is laughable. Some don’t even know I exist. I have on a handful of occasions been told that I would not be allowed to perform at their venue as lesbians are gross. Ironic, an art form which is supposed to be liberating, excluding people. Rather than being accepted, we are being shut out of our community. There is some hope however, in recent years a drag king bar has opened in Blackpool as well as regular nights in Manchester and London. Watch this space for future Birmingham events. My dream is for drag kings to be just as well known as drag queens.*
So why do I love drag so much? For me drag is inherently liberating. As a butch woman, society chastises me for not performing femininity. To society I am ugly. I am wrong. I am a deviant. Drag allows me to express my masculine side in a setting which is my domain and feels safe. Playing a ‘man’ allows me the experience of being allowed to feel confident in my gender expression. I don’t have to feel ashamed for wearing a three-piece suit. In fact, I feel shit hot. Being able to play with my gender expression in a safer place gave me the confidence to wear suits in the rest of my life.
Though I still feel on edge being a butch woman on the street, I no longer feel ashamed. Drag has increased my confidence a million fold. My character is Johnny Jupiter. He is a cross between Freddie Mercury and the parts of myself which society forces me to keep hidden. When I put on my moustache and strut the stage, I feel free for a small time from the burdens of being a woman and living up to those expectations.
This idea of taking power away from men through drag gives kinging a subversive edge for people of all genders and sexualities. The most important part of the King is not the makeup or outfit but the attitude. You get to walk and talk like you own the place.Through practising this performance, women are also able learn these tactics. I often strut when I am walking alone at night. It gives me confidence. I feel like I do own the street rather than rent it from men. These are things which can give even the most feminine person confidence. It is also really fun to be able to create characters who stick two fingers up at all the men who may have ever hurt us or held us back. My character’s laddish persona doesn’t represent a desire to be a lad. Not in the slightest. It is a tongue-in-cheek dismantling of lad culture. Of course, this has to be done in an obvious way as to not perpetuate the culture… but it is possible.
So, come join me in the drag revolution. If you want to be a drag king or queen your gender does not matter. Just bring your attitude and the party. To the badass queens I salute you to the killer kings, I thank you for giving me the confidence to be where I am today. Now RuPaul, give us the King action we all want and deserve!
We’re all born naked, the rest is drag.
*Johnny has since set up a Drag King Night in Birmingham called ‘Peaky Binders’