Can drag kings help us to reimagine masculinity for the 21st century?
On the weekend of Brighton Pride in the UK, non-binary drag sensation Prinx Silver explains first hand why it’s time for them to finally take the stage
Sunday 7 August 2022 By Prinx Silver Top image by Beliza Buzollo
In celebration of this year’s Pride, we're showcasing a special series – Pride Voices – to explore the many sides of LGBTQIA+ life and queer culture today, as told by people from the community.
I remember those hot summers in Spain by the beach, thinking how it’d feel if I were a boy or had a different body and gender. As a teenager I used to fantasise about dressing in my little brother’s clothes. This would never end up happening because of societal pressures in the conservative south of Spain where I grew up. I had to master the art of performing femininity for years, before being able to explore my masculinity and become a drag king.
My debut in drag was a critique and an ode to my Andalusian heritage. I dressed up as a matador who had to fight toxic masculinity and the gender binary. I still get goosebumps when I remember that first time I got on stage in 2018, when I unbuttoned my shirt and revealed my bound chest (before surgery) and my trans semi-naked body as a way of feeling empowered and seen…
I discovered the art and politics of drag after moving to London in 2017. I remember seeing drag kings for the first time at Man Up, a competition at The Glory pub in east London. It blew my mind. I couldn’t understand what was going on, but I just knew that one day I’d be performing on that stage... It was love at first sight, if you wish, a liberation for my own queer and trans identity.
My career really kicked off after winning bronze in Man Up 2019, when I performed a number about being trans… Just casually coming out in front of 700 people. Little did I know then that drag kings were still very much in the margins of the drag scene, usually looked down upon, underpaid, underbooked, and generally ignored.
Our very existence is political. We’re constantly compared to drag queens, and made to feel as if we’re second class and don’t deserve to take up space. This definitely intersects with an issue of misogyny in the queer and drag scene. Not everyone who is a drag king is a woman and others are still perceived as ‘women’, even though they may be non-binary, trans, gender non-conforming. Many producers consider our art boring, not interesting, too political, too deep. They think it’s not what the audience wants, based on archaic views from Ru Paul’s Drag Race that’s been gatekeeping drag for years.
Drag kings are not a 2022 phenomenon, nor are they the future. They have been breaking down barriers for years now. We are definitely the moment, and as someone said to me recently ‘drag kings and things are what still make drag exciting these days’, especially after seeing TV queens doing the same routines, wearing the same wigs, and being clones of each other. No shade (pun unintended).
I’ll always remember the first drag kings I saw on stage who really inspired me to get stared, like Chiyo, Benjamin Butch, Mr Wesley Dykes, and Romeo de la Cruz. I usually get inspiration from queer men like Freddie Mercury, Elton John, the Village People, or the creations of the camp cowboy designer, Nudie Cohn. I’m only interested in a type of masculinity that’s healing, kind, and empathetic. Drag helped me reshape my ideas around it and connect with other people who channel a positive and healthy version of it.
The only masculinity I’m concerned with is the one that’s trans and queer, that makes you work on your empathy, hold your friends and kiss them, that makes you want to help people and listen to people; the one that is kind, where you talk about emotions, that allows you to be sad. The one where you express yourself and reach out to people, and say that you love them – this, to me, is at the core of the masculinity of drag kings.