Dear Drag Race: It's Time to Let Kings Compete

LANDON CIDER

Let me introduce myself. My name is Kristine Bellaluna, and I perform full-time as Landon Cider. I make my living as a male impersonator, also known as a drag king. Yup. A drag king.

Some of you are familiar with us, but for those who aren't, welcome to the party! Basically, we’re the opposite of a drag queen. We've got vaginas (whether we want them or not), and we perform onstage as dudes. We're inside that Google search bar, and you can find us on Instagram too (see: #dragking). Your search will introduce you to a diverse collection of styles, theatrical makeup, male-contoured faces, perfectly applied facial hair, abs created with makeup that look like they belong in Men's Fitness, detailed cosplay, celebrity impersonations, and custom-made costumes. There’s an endless array of artistic, creative, and gender-bending goodness.

Although the king community has had a recent burst of growth over the last decade, we're still leaps and bounds behind the visibility that drag queens enjoy with RuPaul’s Drag Race, Logo’s reality competition, which is the world’s most prominent stage for drag performers. You haven’t seen drag kings on Drag Race, but trust me, we exist. And it’s past time we get the opportunity to lip-synch for our lives alongside our equally talented sisters.

Having drag kings on Drag Race would not only make the show more entertaining. It would also create models for a younger generation. Now more than ever, LGBT youth are tuning in to find inspiration in drag idols. However, half of our LGBT culture may not identify with predominantly gay male contestants they see every week. Little boys now have over 100 contestants to inspire their own gender-bending transformations. But little girls don’t have the equivalent role models. They could definitely use someone inside their TV saying, "Hey! I have a vagina like you, and this is how we can make this kind of art!"

 

 

 

Last week, RuPaul spoke with The Advocate in a wide-ranging interview, which solidified why the world’s most famous drag queen remains an icon and inspiration to so many of us. However, with all due respect to Ru, I beg to differ on one response, which casually dismissed my life’s passion by shooting down the possibility of drag kings on future seasons.

“The idea of drag and why drag resonates so much in our male-dominated culture is there is irony in a man dressing up in the synthetic version of being a female,” RuPaul said. “What we do is a synthetic idea of what a female is, but it’s not a female, and there’s irony in it, especially in a male-dominated culture. It has power, because we’re not only mocking synthetic version of a female, we’re also mocking this revered idea of what masculinity is, because we’re men.”

“If a female were to do drag, it loses the irony,” RuPaul concluded.

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As Ru points out, we do live in a "male-dominated culture," but how is there a lack of irony if women impersonate the very men who dominate them? I personally find it even more ironic and subversive if a woman challenges that patriarchy and the “revered idea of what masculinity is” — especially when it's done with the same Creativity, Uniqueness, Nerve, Talent (RuPaul’s criteria for his Drag Race champions) and Synthetic-ness.

It doesn't sit well with me to hear one of my idols, who has created a respectable career impersonating women like myself, pointing out the dominance that I face daily just walking down the street as the only thing that makes his art form work, while making mine not. There is a certain irony in using the patriarchy as a reason to justify a policy that excludes women from competing.

In regard to kings versus queens, the flow between masculinity and femininity may travel in a different direction, but it exists on the same spectrum. We also share a proud place in the history of LGBT rights. As Ru recently noted to The Washington Post, "Drag queens have always been at the forefront. … We threw the first brick at Stonewall, and this show gives us the chance to not only tell our history, but to inform young people about the rich cultural heritage that their brothers and sisters before them have created.”

Please forgive me, but: YAAAAASSSS! This show does do all these things, and I'm filled with pride for the bravery of our forebears. But LGBT young people deserve to know that this history was made by more than drag queens. A queen may have thrown the first brick, but did you know a lesbian threw the first punch? Not just a lesbian, but a drag king. Many historians have spoken of the "tough cross-dressing lesbian" who was clubbed in the face by the New York police. According to accounts, she returned a punch, and it was that moment that sparked the crowd to action. That king was the late Storme Delarverie, the live-singing emcee of the famed Jewel Box Revue, America's first racially integrated drag revue, where she was the only king.

Despite this heritage, RuPaul thinks drag queens and kings are different animals. When asked why drag kings would not be cast in the future, Ru explained, "If you mix it up it's like trying to make a Mac computer compatible with a PC. … They don’t really mix.”

Thank you to Ru for saying neither is better than the other because, after all, drag is in the eye of the duct-tape holder. However, "they don’t really mix" got me all fired up. I have worked extremely hard to enjoy the respect I've earned from my queen sisters, show directors, venues, and audiences across Southern California and beyond. I am touched by the personal messages I receive from kings and queens alike who are fans of my work and follow me on various social media platforms. So when I hear that we don’t "mix,” it baffles me! I've built my career around mixing.  Throughout history we've mixed! Queens just stand out more. A six-foot-tall man in six-inch heels and a huge curly wig literally stands out in the crowd!

I refuse to believe Ru meant to offend my brothers who have worked so hard to be treated equally in the drag community. But I do invite him to consider that a king has yet to be cast, because he simply thinks he has yet to find a king ready for the challenge. Perhaps the show itself has yet to figure out how to make kings and queens "mix" to be judged fairly. (I have some ideas for that, by the way.) But I strongly believe that a king presence would allow more viewers — especially the female viewers from the LGBT community and beyond — to relate to the show.

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I've never believed a separate "King Race" is the answer. Not only does that feel like a consolation prize, it also encourages venues across the country to segregate us more, dividing what should be a unified community of gender-bending artists. As I often say: Kings can reign just as fierce as queens! So let them.

LANDON CIDER is a drag king who regularly performs at Hamburger Mary's and Velvet Lounge as well as in The Brunchettes and Dreamgirls revues in Southern California. Follow Landon on Instagram @LandonCider.

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