Photo Credit: Jennifer Hogan
The drag queen community seems to have reached a new high with its mainstream media breakthrough, thanks largely to drag long-time celebrity figures such as RuPaul and the attention her Logo shows have brought to the art form. Their drag king counterparts are still in the early stages of breaking into the forefront of the community. Despite their lack of mainstream presence, the drag king community can be found everywhere with a lot of local talent here in the Carolinas, as well as a rich history both abroad and here in the U.S.
Charlotte artist Kit Thomas is known for both her colorful punk style art, as well as her alter ego, Hunter Down. The New York native is an Iroquois of the St. Regis Mohawk tribe located partly in upstate New York and Canada. In the past two years, along with delving further into her artistic interests, Kit has also discovered a love of being a drag king performer.
Thomas had not considered drag before until she was asked to fill in a spot for Men of Petra’s, a local annual amateur drag competition which is held at Petra’s Piano Bar in Charlotte. During her initial performance as Hunter Down, Thomas says she got into the energy and excitement of performing in front of crowds and liked getting into the character.
Drag queens seek to emulate the beauty and grace of the fairer sex while drag kings draw upon machismo and masculine energy to create their personas. According to Thomas, Hunter Down is “the dirty, dark, mysterious, ‘sexy-Mexi’, rock lovin’, lady lovin’, motorcycle ridin’, uber male side” of herself. When channeling Hunter Down, she draws inspiration from rock music, especially classic rockabilly style. “Rock has always crossed into that boundary of raw sexuality.”
While a new or aspiring drag queen has a plethora of resources to choose from to get tips and advice for developing a drag persona and breaking into the community, there is less out there for novice drag kings. Unlike many up and coming queens who find support from local mentors, Thomas had to do her own research and create her identity from scratch.
When first looking for guidance, she searched the internet and watched other drag king performances online. “I was looking for something I just couldn’t find,” says Thomas. “Nothing stuck out and then it hit me; I’m going to just do my own thing. What do I want to see when I go to a show? I want to be entertained. I want loud rock music, people having fun, sexuality and to be taken away from the reality of stereotypes and gender.”
According to Thomas, there are several performers from the Charlotte, Rock Hill and Gastonia areas who make up the local drag king community. “It’s a small community and sometimes it’s overlooked, but there is some really great talent out there.”
While Hunter Down typically performs alone, the drag king collaborated with local talents Landon Haze, Justin Durango and Tyson Mack for last year’s Pride Charlotte festival. The four formed to create the Hartigan’s Harti Dolls and entertained during the festivities. “Our New Kids on the Block dance steps really wooed the ladies,” recalls Thomas.
The drag king phenomenon is not as new of one as it may seem. Instances of women entertaining as male performers in popular culture have been documented since the 1800’s. Annie Hindle was a London native born in 1847 who adopted a male costume and style as her primary look when entertaining. She appeared in New York in 1867 as the “first out-and-out male impersonator New York’s stage had ever seen.” Vesta Tilley was also a male impersonator in the late 19th century and was British music hall performer.
In the U.S., blues singer Gladys Bentley performed as a man across the country as early as the 1920s. Storm DeLarverie was breaking racial and gender boundaries as early as the 1950’s, performing in the Jewel Box Revue as their only drag king. The Jewel Box Revue is noted as being the first racially integrated female impersonation showcase. DeLarverie was also a veteran of the Stonewall Riots and her story has been documented in the film “Storme: The Lady of the Jewel Box.” : :