Denver drag kings embrace the masculine -- and you can see them perform at Denver PrideFest 2022
denver drag kings embrace the masculine and you can

Denver drag kings embrace the masculine — and you can see them perform at Denver PrideFest 2022

On a sweltering June Saturday in the parking lot of a mall in Aurora, a performer with a beard, mustache and hair the color of a blue Jolly Rancher made his way onto a stage that had been set up for a “Drag Picnic” Pride Month event called Spill the Tea.

Stiffly, with each of his wrists connected to his shoes by elastic bands, the performer moved like a puppet to the opening song of his set: “I’ve Got No Strings” from Disney’s “Pinocchio.” Then, in an instant, the music changed into a mashup of *NSYNC songs, to which the performer lip-synced along, with dance moves straight out of a “Bye Bye Bye” music video.

AURORA, COLORADO - JUNE 11: Drag king Sawyer InHerpants, played by Grey Pratt, performs at the drag event Spill the Tea, a fundraiser for Aurora Pride, in the parking lot of a JCPenny in Aurora, Colorado, Saturday, June 11, 2022. (Photo by Jintak Han/The Denver Post)Drag king Sawyer InHerpants, played by Grey Pratt, performs at the drag event Spill the Tea, a fundraiser for Aurora Pride, in the parking lot of a JCPenny in Aurora on June 11, 2022. (Photo by Jintak Han/The Denver Post)

If you missed it, not to fear: The performance will be repeated at Denver Pride by Sawyer InHerpants, one of Denver’s local drag kings.

Drag kings are a group of performance artists who adopt a masculine persona. Unlike drag queens, drag kings are mostly women and nonbinary individuals who often don fake beards, bind their chests, and sharpen their features to perform at venues and events dressed as men.

At least seven drag kings will perform in segments throughout the duration of Denver PrideFest, which takes place in Civic Center park on Saturday, June 25, and Sunday, June 26.

Just a few hours before the Aurora performance on June 11, Sawyer InHerpants was Grey Pratt, a 26-year-old nonbinary Denverite with a love for musical theater and rock climbing.

DENVER, COLORADO - JUNE 11: Grey Pratt, 25, is at their home in Denver, Saturday, June 11, 2022. A drag king on the side, Pratt plays their drag persona Sawyer InHerpants at various events in Denver. (Photo by Jintak Han/The Denver Post)Grey Pratt, 26, is at their home in Denver, Saturday, June 11, 2022. A drag king on the side, Pratt plays their drag persona Sawyer InHerpants at various events in Denver. (Photo by Jintak Han/The Denver Post)

Pratt (who uses “they/them” pronouns) would describe themselves as an introvert. Looking into their bathroom mirror in their downtown Denver apartment, using bright blue body paint to draw on the beard that would soon help transform them into Sawyer, they explained that the drag persona is completely different from their own personality.

Yet, drag has been pivotal to helping Pratt find their identity, too.

“(Drag) kind of helped solidify who I was and how I identified myself, and it was a fun way of figuring out who I was,” Pratt said. “I’ve enjoyed being Sawyer and having him. He’s a very extroverted, authentic, out-there, outgoing person that I absolutely am not.

“I mean, I’m authentic,” they added with a laugh.

Pratt contoured their face to create a sharp, angular jawline and cheekbones and painted large, raised blue eyebrows over their natural ones and set it all with hairspray — a quick-fix substitute since they’d run out of their usual setting spray.

DENVER, COLORADO - JUNE 11: Grey Pratt, 25, draws a blue beard on their face to become their drag king character Sawyer InHerpants, at their home in Denver, Saturday, June 11, 2022. (Photo by Jintak Han/The Denver Post)Grey Pratt, 26, draws a blue beard on their face to become their drag king character Sawyer InHerpants, at their home in Denver, Saturday, June 11, 2022. (Photo by Jintak Han/The Denver Post)

Pratt said all of the drag kings they’ve met have their own unique looks and spins on masculinity. While some kings aim for realism, working to make their looks as stereotypically male as possible, Pratt prefers to go for a more cartoonish style. For their performance, Pratt donned a colorful striped dress shirt and suspenders. Bow ties are a staple for Sawyer’s “fruity and gay” character.

Another drag king, 26-year-old Xan (who goes by one name) has to French braid and tuck up all of their long, blonde hair under a wig cap in order to become their drag counterpart, Alexandre Valentino Skye. Influenced by pop culture icons Freddie Mercury, Lady Gaga (and her male drag persona, Jo Calderone), and fictional character Danny Zuko from Grease, Xan also plans to bring “boy band realness” to Denver Pride.

Xan, who is also nonbinary, understands what Pratt means when they said drag has helped them explore their identity.

“For me, (drag) was a lot of gender exploration and just trying to find who I was as a person,” they said. “When I initially started doing drag, the only time that I felt confident was on stage, and over the last four years, I’ve felt that my confidence has grown off stage as well.”

While Pratt and Xan agreed that they’ve seen drag kings be successful in Denver, they’ve still witnessed opposition to the group overall, even among some drag queens with more “traditional” views about what drag should be – gay, cis-gendered men portraying women. Both pointed to representation issues in “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” the show that has made queens increasingly visible — but that has yet to feature a drag king as a contestant.

“It’s a show that I don’t really watch that much to be completely honest, but I do know two queens that came out of Denver that won that show — Yvie Oddly and Willow Pill most recently,” Xan said. “They were both queens that I’ve worked with at shows. I mean, it’s like when you support local drag, they can go places. It’s amazing, and I would love to see the same support for drag kings.”

Drag queens remain more popular — Pratt was one of only two drag kings in the nine-performer lineup of the Drag Picnic.

DENVER, COLORADO - JUNE 11: Grey Pratt, 25, is in their drag king character Sawyer InHerpants, at their home in Denver, Saturday, June 11, 2022. (Photo by Jintak Han/The Denver Post)Grey Pratt, 26, is in their drag king character Sawyer InHerpants, at their home in Denver, Saturday, June 11, 2022. (Photo by Jintak Han/The Denver Post)

DeMarcio Slaughter, who has served as Denver PrideFest’s entertainment coordinator and emcee for nearly two decades, will host several drag kings as part of “DeMarcio’s PRIDE Party Show!” during PrideFest. He said kings have performed at Denver Pride for as long as he can remember but has seen how drag queens can dominate the overall drag scene.

“I understand some performance spaces, they want to see the over-the-top — especially now, with the introduction of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ into pop culture — people expect that catty, over-the-top makeup, just flamboyant, that illusion,” he said. “Drag kings concentrate on offering a different, masculine image, which takes just the same amount of time to paint a face, or put on a beard, contour, or strap a chest down.”

Luckily, Pratt said, they’ve seen opportunities for drag king performance grow.

“There are a lot of places in town that represent kings and queens and in-betweens all over the place,” they said. “It’s better than it was when I first moved here, and it’s getting better every day.”

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