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The Cake Boys: Return Of The Drag Kings

THE MIXER | NIGHTLIFE

The Cake Boys:

Return Of The Drag Kings

A bourgeoning queer scene hailed the drag kings and queens taking to the stages of lower Manhattan in the early nineties. Kings were on the rise – the likes of Buster Hymen, Justin Kase, Mo B. Dick, Labio, Dred, and Murray Hill were just a few performing regularly and with a strong following. They ruled the night, offering up weekly dance parties, drag king competitions, and performances at venues like the Pyramid Club, Her-She Bar, and Club Casanova, which held a weekly drag king party up until the city’s crackdown on nightlife and clubs. This crackdown seems to have, in part, brought a halt to the momentum of drag king performances and what surely would have been the continuous rise of a drag king scene.

The Bachelorex Show. Richard, DJ Gay Panic & Jack Rabbit Slims

Fast-forward to now and drag queens have persevered and are even the belles of all the balls, while their royal counterparts have seen little to no representation, support, or notoriety. The question then is, why have drag queens moved into the mainstream but drag kings seem to have been left out?

An article in GQ magazine from this past summer talked about just this subject in conjunction with the MET Gala and it’s theme of “Camp.” Interviewed, within the article, is renowned drag star Sasha Velour.

She states, in response to going to the Gala in drag … as a king, that this is

“who I think are just as responsible for the camp sensibility as us queens!”

And also points out

“… masculinity is so inherently ridiculous and over the top camp … I think about facial hair, which is a kind of decorative adornment, or the tuxedo, which is one of the most complicated and status-shifting garments in the world. Drag kings taught me to see the construction of the male image … I think it’s a lesson the world needs right now, but we are lacking an appreciation for the artists pursuing it.” 

Enter The Cake Boys, a new drag king collective in Brooklyn, NY.

They explained to me that they were

“born out of frustration. There was a huge lack of representation of drag kings on the NYC drag scene. At one point we could count all the drag kings there are on one hand. On top of being so few and far in between we were also excluded in many events, paid less than half of what queens do for gigs, we were tipped less, and our voices have been drowned out by drag queens.”

Artists and performers needed to have a voice that is heard, and to be recognized and supported within their creative community. I am truly inspired by people who not only create a space of their own, but then open it up to support others. The Cake Boys do just that and do it with so much love and encouragement. This collective not only supports each other but they open up their arms and stage – by opening up their collective space they are creating a much-needed platform for new kings and nonbinary performers to have a safe, positive space to come out and express themselves. I am so grateful to have connected and collaborated with them! 

Benoit Dubois

Skid Caesar

Richard

The Cake Boys have put on two scripted shows that I was able to photograph. Each show has been made up of their core collective with guest drag kings and nonbinary performers to round out the show. The first was The Bachelorex and took place at The Vault in Brooklyn. In classic reality TV style, it was a show full of drama, potential love connections, lust connections, the love of a mother, an impromptu proposal and wedding, and a surprise ending that elicited gasps aplenty from the audience. All roses aside, love was felt by everyone. It was sultry, sassy, sexy, a little camp, and a lot of fun! Technically speaking I was shooting with 35mm Cinestill film, a still type of cinematographer’s film, which lent a very saturated color story to the photographs. I really love the moody, blue velvet, cabaret feel to the shots, while the show itself was light and comedic. 

Sweaty Eddie

dismas!

Sam Bam Thankyoumaam

Desmond Doo Doo

The second show, The Dood Network, took place at The Footlight Bar in Queens and was an equally light and comedic show. A take on The Food Network with two of its most infamous chefs as hosts, Gay Fageri and Emril LaGassy. They took us on a fantastical culinary tour. It was a plentiful feast of flagellation, self-love, fresh juice, an epic French fry off, salad tossing, hot, savory, sausages, ornery chef rants, and eggs, eggs, eggs galore! All for the love of good food and friends. The performances were incredibly creative, campy, and wildly entertaining. I shot this show on classic 35mm Kodak Portra film. The results were warm tones and soft lines which I feel fit with the performances and the space. 

At the end of each show the stage opened up for new artists, even some first-time performers to the stage, to strut their stuff. These artists were incredibly talented, passionate, and brave. One of my favorite things about this collective is the care and support they show the community.

”We wanted to provide a platform to drag kings and nonbinary performers … We’ve also loved that more and more kings have been coming out of the woodwork. Each open set we have, we get a bunch of new performers that always blow our minds.”

It is that sense of paying it forward and lifting each other up that makes The Cake Boys so wonderful, making a space where new drag performers feel supported and encouraged. The energy at a Cake Boys show is nothing short of the best, warm, supportive, hilarious hug.

When I asked them how it felt to be part of such an amazing creative community, they said,

”Being part of this community now and seeing all the folks who come out to our shows is incredible. Each show I’m surprised by the excitement in the audience and the compliments we receive after the shows.”

A Cake Boys show is an experience. I always leave feeling lighter, more positive, and hopeful for the quirky, the creative, and the sensitive, the brazen, and the shy.

For me the most amazing part of being a photographer is the ability to shoot subjects I am attracted to. I feel a strong pull towards performers due to their creativity, bravery, vulnerability, and how that translates to photographs. I am forever in awe of people that can be so fearless in their expression. I truly love the fluidity of gender, and character roles and the freedom with which individuals express their identities. I would say that I feel a connection to drag kings because, while I am not brave enough to be a performer, in my everyday life I feel a strength and confidence dressing in a more traditionally masculine style.

Juniper Juicy

As simple as always preferring pants to skirts and dresses, sneakers to heels, and continuously searching for the perfect suit. 

As Murray Hill would say,

“For me it’s all about the suit, professionally and personally. A suit has always been armor, a shield, and a superhero cape.” And who doesn’t want to feel like being comfortable in their own skin makes them a superhero? 

And who doesn’t want to feel like being comfortable in their own skin makes them a superhero? 

NOTE: Photo library below is a mix between The Bachelorex at The Vault (blue photos) and The Dood Network at The Footlight (warm tone photos). Both venues have been permanently closed post-pandemic.

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Erin Teresa

Photographer

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EDITORIAL Timeline

The New Normal, Or How Creatives Stay Creative

EDITORIAL

The New Normal,

or How Creatives Stay Creative

Coronavirus kills, but life streams.

03-30-22

According to a March 24 article in The Guardian, around 20% of the world’s population is currently under some form of a lockdown due to COVID-19, or coronavirus. With the disease quickly spreading and affecting the entire world, as of March 25, 2020, around 2.6 billion people (about one-third of the world’s population) are under government-mandated lockdowns and quarantines, with half of those people being in India, according to data provided by Statista. Some countries are implementing stricter lockdown laws than others: Jordan’s residents are not allowed to take walks or even grocery shop – anyone caught outside could face a jail term of up to one year; while in Italy, which quickly became the epicenter of the pandemic after China and currently has the highest death toll from the virus, people are still allowed outside for a limited time and only when necessary; Puerto Rico, one of the unincorporated US territories, implemented a mandatory curfew until April 12, from 9 PM–5 AM – certain professionals are excluded from the curfew, and others can only leave their home during that time for emergency purposes only; anyone who breaks the curfew and doesn’t meet the mandated criteria will face a fine of $5,000.

While the US was ranked #1 in Global Pandemic Preparedness, according to a pre-COVID-19 report, the 2019 Global Health Security Index, the Trump administration’s dismantling of the team in charge of pandemic responses in early 2018, and downplaying the coronavirus threat from the very beginning, didn’t do us any favors. WHO’s morbid prediction on March 24 about the United States possibly becoming the next coronavirus hot spot has now in a matter of days become the reality – as of today (March 31), the number of COVID-19 infections in the United States has surpassed China and Italy, with over 171,684 confirmed cases (live numbers here) and counting, with the death toll quickly approaching ,4000.

With over 172 million people currently under an at least partly enforced lockdown within the US, and with the virus that is well on its way to 1 million officially confirmed infections all over the world, Trump’s initial plan to get back to usual business by Easter was very ambitious, if not laughable. On Sunday, March 29, Trump announced extension of federal guidance on social distancing through April, with the peak death toll still two weeks away. In their turn, infectious-disease researchers recommend that the public continue to practice social distancing until some genius invents a vaccine, which could take 18 months.

A large number of people who have been laid off or simply not allowed to go to work due to closures of all non-essential businesses have found themselves wondering how the fuck they can afford to live another day. The recently approved unprecedented $2 trillion relief package aimed to help affected individuals with a one-time payment of $1,200 at most (based on a sliding scale) will also be used to expand unemployment benefits and help small businesses stay afloat. Even though the stimulus package can greatly help a certain chunk of the population (good luck getting through the unemployment call center), many freelancers and artists who depend on odd jobs are left in the dark about their own future. For many creatives, $1,200 can only go so far (forget about seeing this money if you are an immigrant without a social security number); with many businesses closed indefinitely and with the US stock market almost failing every other day, there is no telling when freelancers will get any commissioned jobs even when we are past the days of quarantine.

But leave it up to the artistic community to make the best out of a shitty situation, keep themselves busy and, hopefully, paid. Livestreamed shows have become as ubiquitous as the absence of toilet paper in supermarkets. These days it’s impossible to turn on your Instagram and not see at least half a dozen livestreams happening at the same moment. After only a matter of a few days into quarantine, people figured out that they could use the very available livestreaming services that a myriad of platforms offer for free to share their art with digital fans and, in some cases, earn a coin.

Amongst the first few live shows that we were able to catch were Charlene Incarnate and Tyler Ashleys Baby Tea Brunch that was livestreamed from a rooftop in Brooklyn instead of from its usual site, lesbian-owned farm-to-table Superfine restaurant; Miami’s Counter Corner party that was hosted by the Ultimate Miami Drag Queen 2019 Karla Croqueta from the comfort of her home; and The Rosemont’s Oops! that was livestreamed right from the living rooms of the party’s creators, Juku and West Dakota.

Just before Juku’s and West Dakota’s first number, the pair expressed how this was already their biggest Oops! showing, with around 300 people tuning in to what the girls had in store for the night. The girls, known for their sharp wit and out-of-the-box creative performances, kept the viewers captivated, and the performance garnered a write-up in Vice magazine.

Biqtch Puddiń, the winner of Dragula Season 2, came up with the very first Digital Drag show, livestreamed on Twitch, the world’s leading platform for gamers. During the streaming of the show’s first installment, at some point during the night the viewership went up as high as 10,000 people watching the stream at the same time. During the broadcast Biqtch Puddiń confessed that she didn’t expect her Digital Drag show to gain such momentum on social media.

During these digital drag shows, a performer’s preferred payment information is displayed and the viewers are free to tip if they wish to support. It seems that for many drag performers, this has become their livelihood now that no more bar and club appearances are being booked. Biqtch Puddiń stated that the reason she wanted to do the Digital Drag show was to help out performers in trouble. All of the tips donated to the general account were promised to be distributed evenly between the performers, but everyone was encouraged to tip their favorites personally as well.

Within the first week of the closure of all non-essential businesses, Sidewalkkilla started a fundraiser on its Instagram page, inspired by queer writer and speaker Fran Tirado’s tweet. After receiving a few donations, we decided to split the total donated amount into $50 payments to people who have provided their payment info in the comments under our Instagram post. To our surprise, one of the randomly chosen benefactors, Laurel Charleston, passed up the donation in favor of another trans performer. She expressed that she received a good amount of donations from performing on Biqtch Puddiń’s first airing of the Digital Drag show, which helped her get out of a “fucked” situation. In turn, Laurel was inspired to give back to the community herself and is hosting her own first livestream drag brunch show on Sunday, March 29.

MTHR TRSAs Hole Pics made its digital debut on Saturday, March 21, with an almost half-hour long opening performance that involved a lot of weed, drama, and clever camera work.

“What happens when we get back to actual clubs, like it’s gonna be live, but not on our phones, it’s gonna be so weird,”

MTHR TRSA, also known as New York-based artist Dylan Thomas, exclaimed at the end of the 2-hour livestream.

Not all creatives use livestreaming for drag shows. There are makeup tutorials, gossip, DJing, games, Q&As, yoga, workouts, and meditation – you name it, you will find it.

One of NYC’s drag staples CT Hedden started a live show called Makeup Hour, inviting all the high-profile people he knows for a quick beat and tea-spilling. His guests so far have been supermodel Winnie Harlow, actress-turned-activist Rose McGowan, American Ballet Theater prima ballerina Misty Copeland, and an indie pop star Allie X.

CT Hedden with Rose McGowan during Makeup Hour

“I think it’s gonna last a lot longer than people think,”

said Rose McGowan during her Makeup Hour with CT.

At the time of the stream Rose was quarantined at her friend’s place in Atlanta, saying that she would be leaving soon to wait out the pandemic in Mexico.

“A couple of days ago DOJ was seeking to suspend constitutional rights. I’m not staying in this country during a military coup,”

Rose went on,

“this is like a cultural reset, a lot more people will understand what refugees go through.”

Miley Cyrus during Bright Minded IG show with Alicia Keys

MTHR TRSA drowning in weed during

Hole Pics

Juku as a top and West Dakota as a bottom during Oops!

Just a couple of days before LA ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses and mandated social distancing by the public, Miley Cyrus started a talk show named Bright Minded with the help of her own Instagram account. From Monday to Friday, Miley hosts special (all of them obviously famous) guests to talk about “staying LIT in dark times.”

In the latest episode, Miley had a question for her special guest Alicia Keys:

“How do we come out of this? We don’t want to come back to the pre-COVID-19 world, we want to go back to a better world, one that’s more connected, one that’s more compassionate. Right now everyone is stopping everything that they got going on just to protect the vulnerable and we don’t always do that, that’s not a part of our everyday routine. So we actually might be becoming better people through the virus. Or actually even saying, ‘Hey what we got going on in our life isn’t actually worth jeopardizing someone else’s health’ and we don’t always do that – we drive in big cars and pollute the environment. . . What positive effect would you like to come out of this experience and what world do you wanna step back into?”

This was a deep question, throwing Alicia off for a minute, but undoubtedly making everyone watching contemplate on it as well.

In the current climate it seems that everything is pointing towards people spending more time inside their homes in the near future, whether because Netflix just dropped all 10 seasons of your favorite show, you are afraid of being blown up to bits at a crowded place, or simply because you are living in the current reality of World War III with the invisible and, at least for now, invincible enemy that is COVID-19.

Without a lie, this stay-at-home directive was sort of fun in the beginning, it was almost like someone let you play hookie and relieved you of all adult responsibilities, well, like going to work for example. Queef Latina, the creator and director of South Florida’s biggest queer performance festival Wigwood, expressed that she was happy to sleep and relax.

When we suggested that maybe, nowhere to spend = no need to earn, she retorted,

“Very true, except we still need to eat.”

Damn, forgot about that one…

Paris-based fashion photographer Michele Yong shared,

“I stay in so often that there is not much difference to me. We need a document to go outside just in case of police checks, but I haven’t been checked yet, because I mostly go out to walk my dog. It’s nowhere as strict as China. People are still allowed to be outside an hour a day or exercise.”

Even if we do turn into couch potatoes in the near future and have robots serving us freshly baked pizza out of their ass, most people are eager to be freed from this lockdown, if not for the love of socializing, then at least for the sake of earning money to pay the rent and buy canned tuna for their cat.

Nightlife photographer Mark Minton losing it, after moving to Tennessee and narrowly escaping the virus in NYC.

One of the questions that begs the answer is, will the livestream shows continue its momentum after the coronavirus is a thing of the past?

Dynasty, an eclectic Asian drag queen and writer for The Cut and New York Magazine, doesn’t think so:

“I don’t think streaming will continue after quarantine because they’ve sprung up out of necessity. Drag relies so much on a live audience and being with the community in real life. So I think everyone will be super excited to get back into real-life shows and being able to experience that together again.”

Dynasty’s close friend that shared the stage with her many a time, West Dakota, seems to be in the middle,

“I think that quarantine is forcing us to explore how we are connecting with our audiences and is going to open up new avenues for us to do so. Our weekly show that we’ve taken digital since the quarantine is reaching a lot more people than our physical space can accommodate. That being said I think that sharing space, intimacy, and touch are all irreplaceable parts of performing. I don’t think things will ever return to ‘normal’ but we’ll have new understandings of what it means to connect.”

“Having an audience is always nice to feed off the energy of the room. I think after quarantine the girls, myself included, will definitely consider more online shows, but I will be so excited to be back in a bar,”

says MTHR TRSA.

Even though most people are adapting to “the new normal” or the current reality, some performers seem to have a hard time imagining digital communication as humanity’s future fate.

Brooklyn-based trans self-appointed “post-drag priestess” Charlene Incarnate shared in one of her Facebook posts, just after Baby Tea’s rooftop livestream performance,

“I’m seeing the narrative being woven of the resilience and adaptability of drag queens to take their shows online, that video and streaming is ‘the future’ etc. and that happy hour with your friends on Zoom isn’t so bad. BUT I have to say that it’s a completely untenable and unsustainable practice – for my art and for me personally. I can deal with change, I have my whole life. I can deal with stock markets crashing, an impending ‘next great depression,’ the end of the world as we know it – hell, I’ve been turning nothing into something for a decade. But a world without live gathering is truly, truly not one I care to be a part of.”

Whichever way this is headed, only time will tell, but for now it looks like we will have to assimilate into the new reality and stay in contact mostly through the digital medium. As nightlife photographer and Sidewalkkilla contributor Mark Minton, who moved to Tennessee right before the shit hit the fan, simply put it,

“I just want to work without killing my parents.”

Alexey Kim

Founder