Drag kings don’t get no respect (with bonus gratuitous sideswipe at Sarah Palin)

Drag kings don’t get no respect (with bonus gratuitous sideswipe at Sarah Palin)

But during a recent interview, [drag king “Gary Carmichael”] explained the history behind his anger. “I should take a survey of every audience I perform for: How many of you know what a drag king is? How many of you have seen one perform?” Carmichael told me. “Because RuPaul’s Drag Race has put queens into the mainstream, but most people still don’t understand kings.”

Before talking to Carmichael and other kings, I was one of those people. I saw the drag king community as a foot note in drag culture, comprising performers who lip-synched to Elvis while wearing Hanes tees.  But the more I learned about the craft of king drag, the more I came to see it as a perfect companion to the world of queens—a creative, irreverent group of performers dedicated to exploring and parodying notions of gender through art. …

And yet the mainstream queen scene (at least in New York) remains blissfully ignorant of kings. In the past year, I myself have participated in at least fiveinterviews where I was asked about the drag king community, and every time I was content to offer a Palin-esque, “Oh gosh, I don’t know about all that.” In retrospect, this is inexcusable behavior, especially for someone branding herself as a spokesperson for the drag community. But as cathartic as it would be to offer amea culpa, I have to acknowledge that my attitude has been shaped in part by New York’s very insular queen subculture. …

Carmichael explained that audiences at male drag venues are so conditioned to cheer for queens that they sit in baffled silence through even the best king’s performance. And queens do little to help audiences engage, because they too are often ignorant about kings—or worse yet, disdainful of them. “I’ve had to explain to a queen what a drag king is, because she’d never heard of the term,” Carmichael said.

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