All Hail The Kings

Long may they reign! Drag Kings shaking up the drag scene.

Mitch Pleaze and Max Starvania. Photo by Chad Isaiah.

In the world of drag, the queens outnumber the kings all across the country and in Pittsburgh, it’s no different. While the drag queens seem to be thriving and the scene here flourishing with brunches, bingos, pageants, and happy hours, the kings seem to be several moves behind.

Nothing can sexually confuse this ol’ lesbian more than a handsome drag king. I remember watching The L Word, (the original series) and swooning as drag king Ivan Aycock (Kelly Lynch) seduced Kit (Pam Grier) to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man.” I wanted to be both of them, simultaneously.

So I was astounded to learn that there are so many people who don’t even know that drag kings exist, much less in Pittsburgh!

Though they may be outnumbered, there are several kings currently shaking up the drag scene here, determined to change the status quo. Meet some of Pittsburgh’s hottest drag kings:

Max Starvania has quickly become a crowd favorite in the ‘Burgh. Max attributes his start in drag to the pandemic and S&S Productions – S&S is founded by Indi Skies and Luna Skye. “I went to the first S&S Productions Drag Brunch at Trace Brewing during Pride. I had been exposed to drag before but there was something about that show that was so different. I think it was being around other humans for the first time in a long time, it being Pride, and had a lot to do with Indi Skies and Luna Skye as hosts. They were positive, kind, funny, and the performances were wildly entertaining,” said Max.

Over the course of the next year he went to a lot of S&S shows and eventually got to a point where he said, “I think I want to do this.” Max said it was partially because he wanted some kind of a creative outlet and partially because watching drag got him through a tough year. “It brought me so much joy that I wanted to do the same for others. After performing in my very first number I was absolutely hooked. I was never a theater kid in high school. I actually went to college for film production to be behind the camera, not in front of it, but being on stage ignited a little flame I didn’t even know I had. Drag has also allowed me to experience gender in a more nuanced way. It has given me the confidence outside of drag to dress more masculine of center which is how I prefer to express myself. There are very limited rules in drag which is what makes it so freeing creatively!” Max keeps his drag as positive and humorous as possible in an attempt to stay true to what got him into it in the first place.

Mitch Pleaze has been performing just over a year and says he didn’t know drag kings existed until about two years ago. But that realization was also a catalyst to his entrance into the world of drag. “I always loved drag. I have been fascinated by it from the first show I attended in college. I was involved in performing arts through high school and college, so the transition to performing in drag just felt natural to me. Drag has given me a chance to flex my creativity with both performing and visual arts, enjoying the artistry behind the costumes, props, and makeup.”

Land Shark said he went from the typical theater kid to drag performer pipeline into becoming a drag king. “I missed performing. I’d wanted to do it since 2018, but the “rules” on gender presentation in drag felt a lot more strict at the time. Hell, I was almost a drag queen at the start of 2020 because I wanted to wear colorful makeup and didn’t think kings could. I was actually pretty bitter about drag for a while, until some friends invited me to a drag brunch in 2022. I saw two kings perform that day and they were doing exactly what I wanted to do. I was thinking of a first number and a name before I got home. A month later the shark was born. A lot of my inspiration comes from Saturday Night Live, and I figured Land Shark had a nice ring to it.”

BraxXx has been doing drag for just under two years now. He says though the scene here is scarce and he feels the kings don’t get as much recognition and support, the drag queens have been very welcoming in Pittsburgh. “I’ve always loved going to drag shows in the previous years. I’m a very shy, quiet guy but have so much respect for drag entertainers. I was at Pride in Columbus a few years ago and I just randomly decided after the Pride show I wanted to show up for an open stage and have loved it ever since.” He hopes one day there will be more crowds filling places at all drag king venues. “It’s very rare to get a crowd at drag king shows.”

Micah Sanova has always been drawn to a stage. “I have a big personality and I love being known as the life of the party. Drag in particular is just so beautiful to me in what it allows people to be and create. I’ve been a fan of drag for years now, and attending shows in Pittsburgh has allowed me to witness and experience watching performers who are reflective of me, my beliefs, and have made me feel seen. That’s the feeling I want to give others. When I started doing drag, I used it as a way to express the sides of myself and my identity that I’m unable to comfortably express at moments in daily life: my sexuality, my fluidity, my gender. I wanted to figure out who I am and the stage is a place where I can try, fail, change ideas, and grow.”

Julian Chaotic has been doing drag the longest of the kings I interviewed. He started queen drag in 2015 and switched over to king drag in 2019. “I started out doing queen drag in a time where kings were far less visible. The only kings I knew of at the time were Landon Cider and Spikey Van Dykey. I felt a connection to drag queens. I felt that I was somehow like them. I would later understand it was because I felt that I was also a queer man (this was before mainstream acceptance of other identities in drag really started happening). In October 2019, I switched my persona to be masculine presenting when I started coming out as trans to close friends. That became a major outlet for me to be gendered/named correctly while I was living in a house where I couldn’t be myself. I still have both queen and king personas. Indigo Chaotic (the queen) is the deadname/pre-transition version of Julian Chaotic (the king)—so I have a drag transition that mirrors my real life transition. I still occasionally bring out Indigo for some numbers where I tell my story of transitioning and issues that I face against people who don’t accept me as who I am.”

Agni Paradise has always loved performing and has been watching drag since he was old enough to get into shows. “I was in a Bollywood fusion dance team in college and after graduating I really missed it. I’ve always felt like Indian movies and culture (both south and north) really lends itself to drag but there’s tragically few South Asian drag artists let alone kings, and I really wanted to do the numbers I had always wanted to see! Beyond that, drag has been important to my exploration and expression of gender as a trans person.” Agni describes his drag as very South Asian. I think overall as a queer person who isn’t white, when you first come out it can feel like there’s a choice to be made between your queerness and your culture. I know when I first came out I could barely find any South Asian drag performers, especially local to me. Beyond drag, at first I didn’t even know of any South Asian gay people, let alone any South Asian trans people. I honestly didn’t even think that I wanted to transition for a long time because I wasn’t seeing myself in the white transmascs who were prominent. Within my drag, I find it really important to be loudly both queer and Indian, and to show more people like me that they can be both as well. Drag has a long history of being an artform trans people (and others) use to express both the personal and political, showcasing joy within ourselves.”

Zion Grindr has been doing drag the least amount of time of those interviewed but has no plans on stopping anytime soon. “I’ve always admired the art of drag and have been a fan for a long time. Over the past few years I’ve re-familiarized myself with the local drag scene and was in awe of the up and coming talent, as well as the long established performers in this city. I also noticed that there were not a lot of drag kings and especially not enough Black drag kings. I wanted to change that and start my own drag journey to explore the really cool intersectionality of my gender expression and art.”

Almost every king echoed the same sentiments across the board regarding the future of king drag. More inclusivity, more spaces outside of bars, more intersectionality. Land Shark said, “I think there’s still a general consensus that the kings here aren’t as good as they’d like us to be. But most of us are relatively new. Give us time.”

Mitch Pleaze would love to see the bars and a lot of the more seasoned performers be more open minded and inclusive to drag kings in our community. “We are just as valid in our drag and our existence, and deserve the same recognition we give them.”  Max wants to see kings and other drag artists that don’t fit the binary to be booked and hosting their own shows. “I also want our short list of queer specific venues to support drag and to take care of us as performers. We rely on these spaces to be able to do our art on a consistent basis so having them support drag in addition to all the other queer events they host is paramount to the scene being able to thrive.”

These kings refuse to be checkmated.

Chrissy Costa is a local comedian known for her dry wit, satirical style of comedy, and big earrings. Before doing stand-up she studied sketch comedy at Chicago’s famed Second City. You can follow her on Instragram and Facebook. (She / Her / Hers)