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Drag kings are mostly female performance artists who dress in masculine drag and personify male gender stereotypes as part of an individual or group routine. They are often lesbian, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, or otherwise part of the LGBT community. They may also be straight. A typical drag show may incorporate dancing, acting, stand-up comedy, and singing, either live or lip-synching to pre-recorded tracks. Drag kings often perform as exaggeratedly macho male characters, portray marginalized masculinities such as construction workers, rappers, or they will impersonate male celebrities like Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Tim McGraw.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, several drag kings became British music hall stars, and British pantomime has preserved the tradition of women performing in male roles. Starting in the mid-1990s, drag kings started to gain some of the fame and attention that drag queens have known.
While the term drag king was first cited in print in 1972, there is a longer history of female performers dressing in male attire. In theatre and opera there was a tradition of breeches roles and en travesti. Actress and playwright Susanna Centlivre appeared in breeches roles around 1700. The first popular male impersonator in U.S. theater was Annie Hindle, who started performing in New York in 1867; in 1886 she married her dresser, Annie Ryan. British music hall performer Vesta Tilley was active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a male impersonator. Other male impersonators on the British stage were Ella Shields and Hetty King. Blues singer Gladys Bentley performed in male attire in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco from the 1920s through 1940s. Stormé DeLarverie performed in male drag along with female impersonators at the Jewel Box Revue in the 1950s and 1960s, as documented in the film Storme: The Lady of the Jewel Box; DeLarverie was also a veteran of the Stonewall riots.
The term drag king is sometimes used in a broader sense, to include female-bodied people who dress in traditionally masculine clothing for other reasons. This usage includes women temporarily attempting to pass as men and women who wish to present themselves in a masculine gender role without identifying as a man. Diane Torr began leading Drag King Workshops in 1989 that offer women a lesson in passing as men. Torr was featured in the 2002 film on drag kings Venus Boyz.
A British lesbian cabaret organization called Lesburlesque made it part of their mission to promote drag kings on the wider British cabaret circuit. Their founder Pixie Truffle gave an interview to the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom on her desire for drag kings to close the gap with queens and with male stand-up comedians.
Similar to some drag queens who prefer to be seen as actors—like Justin Bond and Lypsinka—some drag kings prefer not to be pigeon-holed by the drag king label. "I think when people assume that somebody is queer, or different, or trans, they always want to put something before their name," said Murray Hill in an interview. "And that is what drag king has been. Why can not you just call me a comedian like Jerry Seinfeld is called a comedian?"[better source needed]
In recent years, some drag king performers have adopted other terms to describe their own performance styles, particularly if they deviate from the more traditional forms of "kinging". Common names include "gender blurring" acknowledge[clarification needed] the merging of both male and female traits in the performances while Vancouver performer Rose Butch adopted the ambiguous label "drag thing". Long-time performer Flare called the stage of drag king styles that emerged in Toronto's scene in the mid-2010s as "unicorn drag".
|Wikinews has related news: Murray Hill on the life and versatility of a New York drag king|