Revel in the crowning of Philly’s next (drag) king – May 19, 2018

Winner of Mr. Philly Drag King 2017, Molasses Jones. Jones will be one judge at this year's competition. 
 (Courtesy of the Philadelphia Dyke March.)

Winner of Mr. Philly Drag King 2017, Molasses Jones. Jones will be one judge at this year's competition. (Courtesy of the Philadelphia Dyke March.)

Story Highlights

Mr. Philly Drag King 2018

  • Saturday May 19, 8pm to 10pm
  • William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce Street, Philadelphia PA 19107
  • Tickets are $5-15 at the door, $15-30 in advance for guaranteed entry

If 90 minutes a week of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is just not cutting it for you, head to the Gayborhood this weekend to see a homegrown Philly drag competition crown its new king. You read that right. Mr. Philly Drag King features femme folks performing as men.

“When we think about drag, especially in the United States, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is the name of the game,” says Kimberly Bonner, who won Mr. Philly Drag King in 2016 as alter-ego Mo’ Betta. “But there’s so many kinds of drag happening in every nook and cranny of this country. Women can also don the clothes of power and use it in a meaningful way – the power of camp, the power of pride, the power of toying with gender.”

In part thanks to “Drag Race,” a long-running, Emmy-winning TV show that pits drag queens against one another in fashion and performance challenges, male-to-female drag is having a bit of moment. Drag kings are less common, and perhaps, less understood.

“People think there’s only so many things you can do performing masculinity,” says Bonner, who is co-hosting this year’s competition. “That’s ridiculous! The truth is we all know a million types of guys. There’s the same diversity of drag kings. There are some that personify the energy of Rambo, others who are more like Little Richard!”

In Saturday’s competition, kings will strut the catwalk and compete in a series of outlandish musical numbers.

“The performer is on stage, in the audience, on a Segway,” says Bonner. Spectators can get up close and personal, and they do — sliding the performers crumpled dollar bills, and voting for their favorites.

The show has its serious side, too. Mr. Philly Drag King is the annual fundraiser for the Philly Dyke March, a yearly protest and gathering that coincides with LGBT Pride celebrations. Philly’s version began 23 years ago, as part of a national platform for queer women who felt they had little place in mainstream feminist or gay movements.

Mr. Philly Drag King has been running just as long, and remains rooted in its 23-year political legacy. Competitors are asked what they’ll do for the LGBT community during their reign, how they’ll be an asset to the Gayborhood. Performances may also include political jabs.

Because it is fun and games, camp and decadence, but drag is also a way for wrestling with identity.

“I started doing drag precisely because I wanted to answer questions pertaining to ‘How trans am I?’” says Bonner. “And it turned out what I thought was an urge for transitioning was really a desire to express a particular sense of self.”

In full drag with a goatee that makes Mo’ look a bit like a young Will Smith, that self comes out to play. “When I shift into face, I am this guy. Or rather, Mo’ Betta is the person that’s present,” says Bonner. “That’s the only time I am a real stickler about gender pronouns. Mo’ Betta is a guy. Kimberly is nonbinary. They don’t care about gender.”

The real difference between Mr. Philly Drag King and “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” according to Bonner, is the spirit of the fight. “The entire name of the game is having fun. There’s not cutthroat competition. It allows for amateurs in the community to try out their stuff in front of a very, very loving audience.”

Saturday’s winner will win a cash prize, and get to perform in the Philadelphia Dyke March and the Pride parade in June. Bonner, as Mo’ Betta, will be co-hosting with Rough RydeHer, who won Mr. Philly Drag King in 2012. There will be food and drink to purchase.

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