July 15, 2010 at 5:12 pm EDT | by Juliette Ebner
DC Kings find community on stage

The DC Kings have been around for 10 years and perform monthly at Apex. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The DC Kings are a diverse group of entertainers and gender variant performers that do more than just male impersonation and lip-syncing.

Started as a drag king troupe in 2000 by Ken Vegas, the Kings have expanded the scope of their performances, bringing in other styles that are considered empowering, including live singing and burlesque.

“I liked the fact that they were more than just a drag king troupe,” said Aaliyah Tensley, a drag king, also known as Enigma (formally Vicious) and Ruben Esque Foxx, who has been performing with the Kings since about 2007. “I liked the fact that they had diversity.”

The Kings performed monthly at Club Chaos until it closed in 2007. That monthly performance led to another monthly show at Apex as well as Phase 1 where they perform on the second Sunday of every month.

“I started in earnest with the Kings here. I did drag once in college,” said Jill Raney, also known as Shawn McPenis, who celebrated her two-year anniversary with the Kings at Sunday’s show at Phase 1. “It wasn’t quite the right fit for me at the time.”

Cameron Obscura is another king who had some drag experience before joining DC Kings.

“I was kind of forced upon it,” said Obscura on why she first started drag. “I was the only person with a low enough voice to play the wolf from ‘Into the Woods.’”

She played other male roles including Tybalt from “Romeo and Juliet” and the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.”

Rachael Harris, also known as Bona Fyde, didn’t know about drag kings before being introduced to the DC Kings.

“One of my friends was obsessed with Ken Vegas,” said Harris. “She kept talking about him and we went to a show and I was like, ‘that could really be something I would be interested in.’”

Drag kings haven’t yet had the mainstream media exposure of drag queens.

“Drag queens are more publicized,” said Tensley. “It’s a form of entertainment. It’s an art that we put our hearts into and a lot of creativity into, just as much as drag queens.”

“I think queer media can do a better job,” said Raney. “I don’t honestly trust mainstream ‘hetero’ media to treat us in a respectful way at this point.”

“It’s unfortunate that not a lot of people are really as aware of drag kings as they are drag queens. I think [drag kings] have been jilted,” said Obscura.

Raney said one contributing factor to this problem is the small number of lesbian bars and clubs that can accommodate a stage performance.

Performing in drag has helped some kings in their everyday life and members say the DC Kings offer a sense of community.

“I’m a photography student,” said Obscura. “I started a book on gender performance two years ago. I noticed that it started to get a little tilted. I was feeling it was very one dimensional.”

Performing in drag seemed like the most reasonable solution.

“The only way that I could actually bring an extra dimension is if I join a drag show and performed regularly so I could bring my insight as a regular drag performer into my book,” said Obscura.

The experiences have brought about some more personal changes as well.

“It helped me build a sense of confidence,” said Raney.

Harris has observed new members who come into DC Kings quiet and shy, but after performing, they start becoming more comfortable with themselves.

Obscura became more confident about her sexuality and gender identity.

“I’ve always [ridden] a line,” said Obscura. “I was the most femme of my butch friends and the most butch of my femme friends.”

When developing their drag persona, the kings say they look to celebrities and other prominent males in their lives.

“For my character, I try to model him after Frank Sinatra and Clark Gable, and surprisingly Lil Wayne.” said Harris. “I love Lil Wayne, but I don’t have the guts to actually perform as him.”

“Drag kings should be able to be as fabulous as queens,” said Obscura, whose character is one half Oscar Wilde and one half Danny Elfman. “I’m definitely into the showmanship of Oscar Wilde.”

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