India’s Drag Kings – Making A Place For Themselves In The Queer Community

You’ve probably heard of drag queens and seen them portrayed in some movie, but have you heard of drag kings? Drag kings are women who dress up as men, mostly to perform on stage. Like drag queens, many drag kings live most of their lives as the gender they were born in and only take on the other gender when they perform.

Most drag kings choose macho roles for their stage performances and their performances are often an exaggerated version of male mannerisms.



In India, the LGBT community is still fighting for acceptance of their lifestyle, therefore regular drag king and queen performances are not sights you’ll see any time too soon. In places like the US, Europe, Canada, etc. drag kings are more accepted and even hold shows and contests on a global level. For many drag kings, these events are a chance to let loose and be free.

While it may seem easy to dismiss the idea of drag as merely fancy-dress competition, it is often a case of exploring or imbibing gender fluidity.


Usually, drag kings belong to the queer community. For a full transformation, they apply makeup to make their faces less ‘soft’, glue on fake beards and moustaches, flatten their chests (or wear fake ‘fronts’), pad their shoulders and even wear fake penises. Despite that, for many, taking on male mannerisms, like the walk, the stances, etc. are the more challenging task.

Drag king makeup is harder than drag queen makeup because the kings have to look like they aren’t wearing any makeup.



In October 2012, a photography project, ManiFest, led to the creation of India’s first drag king calendar. The girls were from the LGBT community and were shot by photographer Indu Antony with makeup artist Rahul Pillai helping them take on their roles better.  Here are some of those pictures:



pixquarterly Tanya as Jack Sparrow


pixquarterly Vidya Pai as Chulbul Pandey


pixquarterly Antara Pal as Clark Kent


pixquarterly Sowmya Reddy as Alex from ‘Lola Kutty’


pixquarterly Diana Morris as Michael Jackson


pixquarterly Dolly as Quick Gun Murugun


pixquarterly Parul Sharma as a pastor


pixquarterly Veena Kulkarni as Maverick from ‘Top Gun’


pixquarterly One of the girls as Zorro


In a country like India, where women’s everyday lives are constantly under the scanner at both home and outside it, being queer or being a drag king is not an easy option. Though tolerance is now spreading, it is true acceptance that is needed for people in the LGBT community to live safe and fulfilling lives.

These girls, some of whom chose not to use their full names, participated in this project to encourage others who may be living a closeted life and hating it. Though India will take time to embrace its drag kings, they’re here and they have every right to be.


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