The monarchs of masculinity
With a tip of its make-up brush to the past, the local drag king community forges its future
It’s 6 p.m. on a Thursday night as Jade Jacobs begins her ritual under the fluorescent bathroom lights. An abundance of cosmetics including Anastasia Beverly Hills Dipbrow Pomade and a purple NYX lipstick litters her makeup-stained counters.
For Jacobs, her cosmetics has more than one use. “Makeup has no rules,” she says.
She dips her brush into the pomade and applies an angular U-like shape a few inches above her brows. When she’s finished, it gives her face a more masculine definition. She then moves the brush down to her neck and, in circular motions, creates the appearance of an Adam’s apple.
For the final touch, she grabs another brush, swipes it across the purple lipstick, raises it to her upper lip and draws a mustache.
Finally, Jacobs stands back from the bathroom mirror and admires her transformation into her drag persona, Bram Stroker, a nod to the Dracula novelist.
“I enjoy this mask I [can] put on because it allows me to express the thing that’s inside that really wants to be seen and heard and connected,” Jacobs says. “Having that with an audience is very fulfilling.”
Jacobs is a drag king—a character who creates the performance of masculinity—and part of the growing drag king community in Sacramento. The trend isn’t just local; recently, a drag king took home top honors on a popular reality TV competition.
It’s also not without a little drama. More on that later. But, first, a little local drag history.
In 2005, Tina Reynolds—owner of the marketing and design firm Uptown Studios and self-proclaimed “oldest drag king in the universe”—hosted events. Reynolds was inspired to create a drag king group during a fashion show where women wore men’s clothing,
“It was a real social statement,” Reynolds says. “We could be who we are and have fun with it.”
According to Reynolds, who performed under the drag persona Louie Luxury, there wasn’t much of a scene in Sacramento before she launched her 16-member group, the Sacramento Kings of Drag. Ticket sales from their shows benefited local LGBTQ+ based organizations such as the Lavender Library and the Sacramento LGBT Community Center.
During that time, Sacramento boasted an array of lesbian bars, Showtime’s The L Word was all the rage and the Sacramento Kings of Drag enjoyed success with sold-out shows in front of hundreds of people.
The whole thing felt empowering, Reynolds says: “There’s nothing like dressing up, lip syncing and having 300 women screaming at you.”
Other groups formed, too. The Slickk Bois, a more politically focused group, aimed to raise awareness on various topics including the transgender community. Former member Debbie Chang remembers rocking the name Mr. Wu Her while lip syncing to a variety of bands such as Nine Inch Nails and ’NSync.
“As drag kings, we did a lot of cool work in the community,” Chang says. “It was a positive and beautiful thing, both art, gender and social justice related.”
By 2009, however, the region’s once-thriving scene had fizzled out due to the high demands of time and energy to put on a good show, according to Reynolds.
New audiences, new outlets
Now, a decade later, the drag king scene is finding new life.
Samantha Bourgeois, the founder and booker for Drag Kings’ Night Out, says crowds enjoy their shows’ choreography, music and lip-syncing prowess.
Bourgeois, whose drag persona is Lez-he West, has run the event at Sidetrax for almost a year. It recently hosted its first benefit show, raising money for the Sacramento LGBT Community Center’s youth program, Q Spot.
“Benefit shows are important because they spread awareness to causes, and those donations can really help those in need,” Bourgeois says.
Since its launch, the show has gained loyal fans. Rachel Powell, a regular attendee, says the energy is inviting.
“It’s like Cheers where everyone knows your name. You feel welcomed and the more people that go the more fun it is,” Powell says.
The show features an array of kings of different backgrounds and genders. Melissa Preston, aka Cali Sweets, is a cisgender woman who says she enjoys doing drag for fun. Victoria Augusto, aka Sir Vix, is non-binary and says being a drag king is an outlet for gender expression. And, as a transgender man, Jaxon Uribe’s Jax Labido persona provides an authentic way to express himself.
Local drag queen Teal Death says she views drag as a performance art anyone can do regardless of gender. “A performer is a performer,” Death says. “If you perform, sell it and you’re living your fantasy.”
In addition to Sidetrax, performers have also found a home at Badlands’ After Hours, a weekly open-mic show with the motto “come as you are, perform like a star.” Each night has a different theme and the winner gets a cash prize.
One Lavender District venue that the kings can’t seem to tap into, however, is Faces.
“[They] just won’t do a drag king pageant like they have a Miss Faces pageant,” Bourgeois says of Faces. “[The owner] doesn’t really want to book us and that’s why we use After Hours [at Badlands] or we have my little show at Sidetrax.”
SN&R reached out to Faces for comment, but did not receive a reply.
Even without the support of a bigger venue, the local drag scene continues to grow. Later this month, Badlands will feature an appearance from one of the nation’s most famous faces, Kristine BellaLuna, aka Landon Cider. BellaLuna recently made history as the first drag king to win a U.S. drag reality TV competition when she was crowned America’s Next Drag Super Monster on OutTV’s Dragula.
BellaLuna says the victory represented something meaningful to her in a world where drag queens usually get all the attention. “It was a very emotional, gratifying, validating experience, but also stress filled because the pressure is on,” BellaLuna says.
Despite the pressure or maybe because of it, those who perform as drag kings do it for the joy they feel while on stage.
At Sidetrax, the audience sits, silently engrossed, as the power chords of the Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” starts to play and Jade Jacobs finally takes the floor as Bram Stroker.
When the beat kicks in, Jacobs twirls around lip syncing the lyrics, “Can’t explain all the feelings you’re making me feel.” Audience members sing along, handing her tips.
Jacobs says she’s grateful to have an outlet where she can do drag but would like to expand her performance outside Sacramento’s Lavender District.
“I would like to have my own [show] someday and push it to a crowd that hasn’t seen drag before,” Jacobs says.
Wherever she ends up, Jacobs says it’s about finding self-expression in a way that defies any and all so-called gender norms.
“I can be ugly, funny, charismatic and loud, and those characteristics are things that people don’t want to see in a woman.”