Featured photo: Drag kings are carving out a space for themselves in the Triad despite prejudice and marginalization both inside and outside of the drag community. (photo by Quique Rodriguez-Pastor)

The room undulates from green to orange, and strands of fairy lights twinkle over the audience packed into D.O.S.E in Winston-Salem, hugging the walls of the space in anticipation as the hostess announces the entrance of the next performer. 

Drag mangénue Diego Fuego, clad in a Biggie Smalls shirt and dark jacket enters the room, the curtains swinging behind them as a mix of classic 90s hip-hop blasts over the speakers. Before even opening their lips to sync along, the crowd screams, shaking bills toward the newly minted drag king, quickly living up to the descriptors of “suave and sex” their drag grandmother, local queen Barbara Reddy hails on them.

New drag king Diego Fuego lights up the dance floor at D.O.S.E Artist Collective in Winston-Salem. (photo by Quique Rodriguez-Pastor)

As Fuego circles the room, inflicting sighs and swoons on the audience, they switch casually between choreographed dance moves and collecting tips. While only a single performer of many in the inaugural event of the monthly DRAG @ D.O.S.E, a nearly year-old art collective space with a charming location in downtown Winston-Salem, the empowering energy of the room was consistent throughout the night — an extravaganza of neons, sparkles, and crumpled cash. The first theme was “EXCELLENCE”, a dedication to Black queer culture, featuring an all-Black cast of North Carolina drag artists.

With the wildly popular show RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag queens have reached international fame with a broader understanding as a performance of femininity. Drag kings, while featured in more underground spaces, are not as widely recognized for their characterization of masculinity. Drag king Sinister Dexter cites Landon Cider, winner of horror drag competition Dragula as a significant influence on his drag as a pioneer for kings.

The event was organized in tandem with D.O.S.E Artist Collective and Ignite the Stage Productions, a Triad-based team founded by Triad drag artists Roy Fahrenheit, Thigh Fieri, and Barbara Reddy that organizes inclusive drag events . 

Ignite the Stage also rekindled DragETC at etc.gso, another artist collective space in Greensboro. The February edition was a benefit lingerie party for Ciara Kelley, a photographer and DragETC admin, to assist in their hospital bills as they battle breast cancer. The event, featuring performances of a multitude of drag artists raised over $700. Within drag, an essential thread of gathering and performing is for cultural celebration, and mutual aid; uniting the community for a common cause.

But this openness within the Triad for drag performers hasn’t always been so. On an international scale, kings are severely lacking in representation in media, and this trickles down into local scenes, leaving drag kings underappreciated and underbooked. 

Despite opposition, drag king Roy Fahrenheit has spent the last few years fighting to bring kings to the main stage of local events, but mentions how some organizers are still focused on “a certain look, and a certain set of parts.” 

Members of the Haus of Monstrosities (back, left) Kelsey Bredice, Barbara Reddy, Flint Fahrenheit, Diego Fuego, Stella Fahrenheit Reddy, Diana Grey Addams, Romancia LaMort, (front, left) Roy Fahrenheit, Thigh Fieri, and Sinister Dexter. (photo by Quique Rodriguez-Pastor)

While he scored gigs in some locations around the Triad, the pandemic crushed live shows for a while. Then, as in-person events re-entered the community, and he landed opportunities in the Triad, “misogyny came back with a vengeance, even when I thought I was breaking in, I was still very much excluded.” Most drag kings are women or transmasc people, and face discrimination even in the queer community, and on a global scale drag kings are stereotyped as less entertaining, according to community members. In the Triad, kings previously were rejected for not existing in their daily life as white cisgender men. 

Things began to change after airing his grievances on a Facebook page called Drag Kings Unite, and Fahrenheit coordinated with drag artists Ellis D and Hysteria Cole of Underground Presents to create an alternative show in Winston-Salem. Fahrenheit reached out to the community in search of a space to collaborate, and Carlos Bocanegra of local bar Monstercade answered the call, and together they created Freaky Friday. The first event was in January of 2022, to huge success, and has continued since, which Fahrenheit describes as one of his “proudest achievements.” 

Since then, the spirit of alternative and king-inclusive drag has only continued to blossom in the Triad. Together with Reddy, Fahrenheit created The Haus of Monstrosities, which currently has 11 members, with artists coming from a plethora of aesthetics and identities. And with the rise of queen Anna Yacht and her locally beloved Yacht House Parties, drag kings have another outlet for visibility. 

King Flint Fahrenheit explained that drag allows them to express themselves in a way that is more fluid than binary expectations around gender.

“I’ve never really felt right as either gender,” Fahrenheit said. “It changes day-to-day for me, and my drag does that too. It’s a safe space to explore what feels right, and not necessarily for myself, but for my character. My character is inspired by the type of confidence I’d like to have on an everyday basis. It’s an extension of me, getting to be a very extroverted person and then setting it all down at the end of the night.” 

New drag king Diego Fuego lights up the dance floor at D.O.S.E Artist Collective in Winston-Salem. (photo by Quique Rodriguez-Pastor)

Diego Fuego added the fire to perform came from wanting to represent “a gender non-conforming Black and Mexican drag performer” in a community where it was lacking. 

When asked how the community can support drag kings, all the kings replied with a resounding answer: Show up to events.“Book drag kings, drag queens, local drag artists,” Thigh Fieri says. “Your event needs drag. Your event needs local queer art… .it’s one of the few forms of getting together for the hell of it, dressing up for the hell of it. Taking someone to their first drag show, it’s the most fun thing you can do… to get their reaction to what is happening. ‘What did I just witness, and when can I go again?’”

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

⚡ Join The Society ⚡