Kings of the stage: the drag kings rewriting the rules of masculinity

Carefully painting in sharp cheekbones and heavy eyebrows before applying a moustache and a final sprinkling of glitter, Jen Powell slowly transforms into male alter-ego Adam All ahead of a performance at a London club.

Powell is among a growing number of drag kings - mostly female or transgender performers playing exaggerated male characters – in a previously niche LGBT+ performance scene that is booming in popularity across much of the Western world.

"Once I've got the suit on and the shape looks right and the face looks male, I don't have to change my character very much at all to present completely and believably as male," Powell told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Adam is more flamboyant, he's more cartoony, more fun-loving, dancey. He's not massively confident, oddly enough, although he does love the stage.

"I think he's really exploring his maleness and what it means to be a man in the 21st century."

Male actors cross-dressing on stage have a well-known history going back to William Shakespeare's era and gay men performing in hyper-feminine drag have long been a part of the LGBT+ community.

While drag kings arguably have just as long a past, they have not enjoyed the same level of recognition or popularity - although that now appears to be changing.

"When I first started, there was still a lot of people who didn't know what a drag king was or had never seemed to have heard the term before," said British performer Sammy Silver.

"There did seem very few on the scene, but now it's really exploded."

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