Rise! Men of the Drag Revolution
After a decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag kings are finally getting their chance to shine on the small screen. King Me: Rise of a Drag King launched earlier this month, with Shanghai’s reigning monarch Ennis FW competing for the crown. With a fraction of the budget of its glitzy older sister, King Me is still a landmark event for the community, as Ennis explains in part one of our series on drag.
Any male impersonator will tell you that drag king-ing is a niche art form. It’s obscure and often misunderstood. Drag kings like me work hard to prove their worth. So do queens. But somehow, after spending hours on costumes and choreography, kings still aren’t recognised as equal.
January 25 was the day that changed my life...
It's at the point where I'm like, just announce it so I can think about something else, I typed to my friend, London-based king Sammy Silver. King Me: Rise of a Drag King had invited kings from all over the world to submit an audition video explaining why they were a world-class drag artist. Announcements were slated to go out on January 24th, my birthday, and the day came and went without any word.
Sammy started to reply. Dude. They’ve just sent an email and you’re in.
We both are.
I gasped and checked. He was right. My journey to the drag world stage had begun.
The challenge for the first episode was simple: show us your best drag. My drag is sparkly, theatrical, and tongue-in-cheek. I knew I wanted to do something that showcased my strengths as an actor and a costumer. I decided to revive the look that won me ShanghaiLGBT’s Best Drag King 2016 - a Jareth the Goblin King-inspired lion look featuring a grass headdress that I painstakingly curled by hand.
With contestants around the world, and no budget to fly them to a Hollywood studio, we were asked to shoot our own challenge tapes. I filmed at Harley’s Underground in Shanghai. I had assumed the space was going to be empty, but walked in to a scattered group of customers. Alright then! Time to be a real entertainer. We shot three takes on a handheld camera - two for wide shots and one for close-ups - and my friends and I riffed a bit on camera to provide some interesting extras.
“You like it a little to the side, right?” my drag sister, Mint, asked me, pinning my crown in place. I nodded. “Hers tilts a little to the left,” she announced to the crowd. I shrugged. She wasn’t wrong.
I didn’t land in the top three for the week, but was praised in the judges’ critique for the cohesiveness of my piece and the expressiveness with which I performed. I live to fight another day!
Shanghai gave my drag new life. Provocative drag is happening all over the world, including in our own weird and wonderful city. It has given me opportunities to host parties, competitions, and drag and burlesque shows. It has elevated my costuming to new heights (#House of Tao Bao Drag). From mentors to drag children, it has thrust me into the center of a fast-growing drag scene.
I want to show the world that Shanghai makes it werk. We may not be London or New York, but our performers would give anyone from those cities a run for their money. I want to stick it to the tai-tais who watch drag numbers with tight lips and stony expressions (Pardon me, madam, but have I disturbed your facade of heterosexuality…?) and venues who have tell me straight audiences won’t get drag kings. I’ve had it!
Every super queero needs his theme music. Brb Sammy, I wrote on that day in January. Time for a Kanye West Dance Party in my underwear.
“Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it…”
I’m here, I’m queer, and this glitter moustache isn’t going anywhere.
King Me: Rise of a Drag King is broadcast on Youtube, and is also available on Youku. You can catch Ennis FW and his drag family House of TBD performing in Shanghai, see local listings for information.
CINEMQ is a queer short film screening + party series. It is run by a group of queers with too much on their mind to sit still for long. We’re publishing articles on queer cinema and screen culture every week. Want to contribute? Message our account.