Drag king collective Pecs on queer joy and why shows like Drag Race are a double-edged sword

Drag king collective Pecs are back – and they’re bringing some much-needed queer joy into our lives.

Dusting off their crowns after 18 long months of lockdowns, the award-winning drag troupe made their triumphant return to London’s Soho Theatre last week for a series of shows fittingly called Pecs: The Boys are Back in Town.

Made up of women and non-binary performers, the Pecs show was full to the brim with slick dances, lip syncs and sing-along crowdpleasers, sticking a signature middle finger up at the gender binary.

Pecs have been performing together since 2013 – and not only that, the group also deliver drag king workshops and create a cultural space for queer women and non-binary people to explore gender, sexuality and politics. Outside of the commercialised mainstream world of RuPaul’s Drag Race, kings from Pecs offer a delicious and subversive take on masculinity and queerness.

And it’s just what we need after so being deprived of community for so long – a celebration of all things queer and joyful.

“We wanted to have a big celebration of our own masculinity and gender fluidity,” Katy Bulmer, who performs as Loose Willis, told PinkNews. “But also being in that kind of space with everyone else – with Pecs, the audience is a huge part of why we thrive, so we want to give people what they want.”

Katy continues: “We want to give the audience space to party and scream and have fun and clap and sing along. This show is coming from that place, as opposed to one of our more political long-form shows or the more cerebral ones. This is definitely a romp. Lots of glitter, lots of sequins, lots of fake moustaches, lots of group dance routines to sing-along tracks.”

For those that made it to Soho Theatre, the show was undeniably electric and joyful. But for those who missed it, or who aren’t ready to be in physical queer spaces just yet, Pecs also have an offering of queer fun: a new podcast, called The Drag King Cast.

The comedy-cum-queer-culture is hosted by Katy and comedian Jodie Mitchell, who performs as John Travulva.

Pecs performing at Soho Theatre this week. (Harry Elletson)

Drag king group Pecs say Drag Race stars have helped create ‘access points’ to more diverse drag

Daisy Hale, who co-directed the Soho Theatre run, tells PinkNews that Pecs is different from some more mainstream drag not just because of the gender of the performers or the type of drag on display, but because it’s not a competition.

“I still find the idea of pitting people against each other in a competition quite bizarre,” they say. “How on earth do you judge the quality of drag? It’s such a personal thing, and it’s about connection – you might only connect with one person in the audience, but if you do that well and they have a wonderful time, then you’ve done your job right.

“So I think I still find the idea of competition drag quite odd.”

Isabel Adomakoh Young performs as Izzy Aman at Soho Theatre. (Harry Elletson)

But what shows like Drag Race have done is create an “access point” for more people to learn about different kinds of drag, they add, pointing out that queens like Bimini Bon Boulash and Ginny Lemon have made a point of using their platforms to point audiences towards different, and more diverse, performers than can be seen on RuPaul’s show.

And this speaks to the kind of drag that most queer people are familiar with, anyway – it’s only on TV that drag is confined to cis white men.

Drag kings are one element of this diversity, and they have a rich history – but have “definitely exploded” in popularity in the last few years, Katy says, probably due to social media making it easier for people to post, and find, different looks and outfits.

“We get messages constantly asking if we’re doing any workshops, from people who want to try drag or who have been thinking about their gender over lockdown,” Daisy adds. “I think part of that is also to do with how people have been removed from the male gaze, since we’ve all been inside.

“There’s a real appetite for it. And the people who are younger than us are so much more articulate about their gender. We’re seeing the crowd grow and grow, which is really wonderful.”

The next performance of Pecs will be at Charleston, the queer literary festival, on 11 September.

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