Cleverly drawn mustaches, a three-piece suit, a rounded torso and hands in pockets: the scene exudes testosterone. From the impeccably dressed gentleman to the athletic bodybuilder and the macho fan of tuning, attending a drag-kings show is the guarantee of seeing various more or less clichéd male figures.
“We take the attributes of a genre to caricature it, explore its codes, make fun of it for stage performances” adds Jesus La Vidange, drag-kings and musician. While drag queens are increasingly present in traditional media, their fellow drag kings suffer from less visibility.
Putting on masculine faces is not, however, a new practice: like drag queens, we find traces of it in the 19th century with the ” male impersonators (male impersonators in French), a term for women who dressed as men. Figures like Annie Hindle or Hetty King, nicknamed “Queen of the kings” [«la reine des rois »] made the success of the theaters and music halls of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
It was in the early 1990s that the practice of drag-kings became popular in underground bars in New York and London. From now on, when we talk about drag-kings, we are talking about a “person who will embody the male gender on stage”, as Thomas Occhio points out, drag-kings: gender identity or sexual orientation have no nothing to do with this practice and we find performers from all walks of life.
“I realized that if I wanted my place, I had to do it myself”
Jesus La Vidange started drag-kings nine years ago, frequenting the burlesque scene and inspired by RuPaul’s Drag Race. “I realized everything you could do with it, that it can encompass a lot of things,” he recalls. Thomas Occhio, for his part, came to drag seven years ago through burlesque and stripping. “I had a solo number where I arrived as a man on stage, where I undressed to get dressed in a feminine way. It was a militant and feminist speech to go against the idea that if you wanted to succeed as a woman, you had to behave like a guy, ”he underlines.
Jesus La Vidange and Thomas Occhio try to gather around them. “Nine years ago, there weren’t many drag-king parties, and I realized that if I wanted my place, I had to do it myself,” says the first. In 2019, the two artists created the Kings Factory bringing together workshops to learn the king and open stages for beginners in Paris. “Me, it gave me the confidence that I don’t necessarily have in my personal life! I don’t like big parties where there are a lot of people: by being on stage, you can participate without being in the crowd” adds Jesus La Vidange.
With the Kings Factory, Thomas Occhio claims to have “really seen the difference”: “It allowed a lot of people who didn’t dare to get started to try things out. It’s a real space for expression, and once we opened the floodgates, we saw a lot of baby kings arrive [des personnes faisant leurs premiers pas dans la discipline] “.
Political shows in the face of invisibilization
In their shows, the drag kings explore, through the caricature of masculinities, political issues: the fight against patriarchy, gender inequalities, misogyny, transphobia… “We are going to go and tap on more political subjects, which are little discussed in entertainment”, explains Thomas Occhio. “We have an image that is less smooth, less glittery than drag queens”, smiles Jesus La Vidange, who embodies a character of “rocker landed from his countryside, a little macho, but who tries to question himself”. Via his scenic double, Thomas “plays on ambiguity”, so that the public “asks the question of what is masculine and feminine”. A way to push the reflection on our gender stereotypes.
Of the gender stereotypes that make drag-kings more invisible on the drag scene. “Most of the drag kings were assigned female at birth, and there’s a patriarchal pattern that goes into that. And then, we have the impression that it is more politically correct to make fun of women than of men, ”says Thomas Occhio.
Women, trans people and non-binary people who play king therefore find themselves more often in the shadow of drag queens. “We suffer from a lack of means to become visible: it requires investment, and despite the visibility, we have fewer bookings, testifies Jesus La Vidange. Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s best to make your own evenings, even if it’s nice to have support. »
Drag kings in “Drag Race France”
Despite everything, more and more links are being made between kings and queens: the number of drag-kings is increasing, collectives and scenes are being created in the six corners of France. At the last Paris Pride March, drag queens and kings mingled on the floats and on the podium of the Place de la République. “We all have to gain, to help each other in our communities, and to mix”, insists Thomas Occhio.
Thursday, the second episode of Drag Race France, invited three kings, including Jesus La Vidange, to surround the candidates on the rock stage of the mini-challenge. A first in franchise history. A sign of democratization?
“I think it’s a good signal, but I don’t have too many illusions either. It’s good to have thought of us, but it has to be followed by facts: it would be nice if the organizers of parties, the agents, the managers take care of us! “says Jesus La Vidange.
For Thomas, the presence of drag kings on this show is a good thing, but he feared “the return of the networks”: “For some, it’s not really drag, people are less used to seeing this type of program . “Unless this second episode has provoked desires… And vocations.