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 Bachelores 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.”
The Dood Network. Top left, clockwise: Desmond Doo Doo, Senerio, Poly Ester, Chartruice, Geminemesis, Swety Eddie, Muscle Monty, Richard & Juniper Juicy
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!
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.
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.
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?