On Friday 19 November, we opened the doors of our library to welcome the drag king community of London. In collaboration with Louche Magazine, we presented Dragging the Archive to a sold-out audience.
Dragging the Archive was a unique event that blended panel discussions with drag performances, socialising with zine and badge making. As the largest event we’ve held since the start of the pandemic, we wanted to make it a night to be remembered – not just for the attendees, but for the performers and all involved.
The event was split across our front and rear library. In the main room, nestled amongst the bookshelves, a panel discussion and performances took place on a purpose-built stage, whilst drag king makeup tutorials with Prinx Silver and Bee’Jamming carried on throughout the evening.
The evening was opened by Georgeous Michael – the founder of Louche – reading one of their pieces from the zine, telling the story of how they took their drag name just before the untimely passing of George Michael, and how it boosted their bookings. SL Grange then took to the stage, presenting the life and times of Mary Frith. They told how in the 1580s – predating any other documented drag king in the UK – Mary wore male clothes and pushed the boundaries of gender norms through her dress and manner.
Whiskey Chow was next, sharing how their Chinese heritage informs their drag, and how they use this to push gender boundaries. Finally, Prinx Silver spoke on how to masculinise your face using different contouring techniques, similar to those popularised in beauty magazines.
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After the panel discussions had finished, the attendees were delighted by performances from three of London’s top drag king performers. CYRO, a queer, non-binary, 'drag thing', brought strength, beauty and awareness to the stage. Hardik Mistry entertained with their heady mix of eastern mysticism and western cynicism. And finally, Orlando performed Green Carnation, a Victorian song about secretly signalling your sexual preference.
Whilst the panel and performances were taking place in the front library, the rear library was a hub of creativity as attendees had a go at zine and badge making. The atmosphere was heavily social, as people mixed and mingled whilst snipping and gluing.
Combining so many different elements, the event was a true celebration of drag kings and their art. As one attendee stated, “I have never been surrounded by so many butch and trans masc people celebrating butch and trans masc culture and history.” We were incredibly happy to provide this space, and we look forward to putting on other such events in future.
Archiving drag king history
"Drag Kings still have to push for the same level of validation and recognition that some other areas of the LGBTQ+ and drag community receive. Archiving our history is a key step in that. If we don’t archive ourselves, our rich and important narratives can be lost." - Frankie Sinatra
Drag king history has been underrepresented in LGBTQ+ Archives,and Dragging the Archive was our first step towards changing this. Not only was the event a celebration of drag kings, but it is our first largescale callout for archival donations from drag king performers. We want to ensure that this important and valuable part of our culture is preserved for future generations.
We're asking for any donations related to drag kings. On the night itself, drag king icon Frankie Sinatra donated their first ever hat, and Pecs, the drag king troupe, donated collectable items from their shows, including a script, write-ups, flyers, tickets, and a pin badge that was exclusive to their Patreon followers. Prior to the evening, Izzy Aman donated a felt fireman's hat they wore in a performance, as well as a makeup kit and a script they had used. All these items have stories and history, and help to keep a record of the drag king community.
If you have any items that you would like to donate to our drag king collection, please get in touch via email on: Library@Bishopsgate.org.uk