Joyful Rebels: The rise of drag king culture and its impact on community

Male impersonation isn’t new but it’s becoming more widely-accepted, offering community to performers and audiences alike. We spoke with Daisy Doris May on finding empowerment through kinging, redefining her identity and amplifying LGBTQ voices.

In the monotony of lockdown, many of us found new skills and activities to distract from time passing. It was a time of unexpected resilience and self-discovery, unveiling the hidden depths of our resourcefulness when left to our own devices.

Daisy Doris May, actor, voiceover artist and writer found her liberation and explored her sense of identity through the art of drag kinging. She used lockdown isolation to conjure up new characters and subsequently, birthed her drag king career. Having not seen another person for almost two months during its peak, she transformed her boredom into play, experimenting with props found around the house to keep herself entertained.

“I gave myself time to create, not for anyone in particular or with the aim of getting things right, but just to keep my spirits high when I was actually quite lonely, depressed and probably losing my mind,” she says. “It’s something I did to bring me joy and on a personal level, it allowed me to be free from my own binaries, to explore the gender spectrum without putting myself in a box. It helped me to unravel a new side to myself in a way I couldn't before.”
Daisy May Doris

Kinging, a form of male impersonation with roots dating back to the late 1800s, has evolved into a vibrant fixture of London’s underground nightlife scene, a world where Daisy thrives. Lockdown, with its isolating grip, became a canvas for her creativity and exploring drag kinging, a playful escape. The emerging characters were facets of Daisy’s own persona, blurring the lines between gender binaries and each unleashing newfound confidence.

Her firstborn was Steve Porters, a lad hailing from Guilford, who’s perpetually on the prowl for a hookup. But beneath his flirtatious facade lies a tale of emotional vulnerability and an insatiable hunger for love. As a character in flux, Steve grapples with the dichotomy of bravado and sensitivity, mirroring Daisy’s own journey of self-discovery. Each performance reveals layers of their shared humanity, offering a glimpse into the complex tapestry of identity and experience.

Then came Häns Off, the neon-clad icon of Berlin’s rave scene. With eyebrows as thick as his accent, he struts through club queues like a VIP, embodying Daisy’s love for the German party capital and her aversion to waiting. As a 007 Baby Vogue dancer for over 15 years, Daisy found her groove and wove her skills together on stage as Häns. They both represent different parts of her soul.

“Häns has given me the confidence to dance more publicly. Through him, I’m really enjoying incorporating play and movement into this art form, especially given that voguing has been such a huge source of inspiration to me.”

Häns and Steve are more than just characters; they’re real extensions of Daisy. Constantly honing her craft and mastering new skills for her kings, Daisy is currently learning to DJ for Häns and embracing beatboxing and shuffle dancing as Steve.

“Kings perform out of a need for expression, things still feel quite political and punk in the space. But a lot has changed in the last few years and in London, we’re starting to see a spectrum emerge in the line-ups for major shows. It’s not just limited to kings and queens, but drag things and drag creatures are also included. Drag has never been more open to all and I hope we can continue to platform all queer art and expression in really original theatrical ways.”

Which is why she launched Häus of Dons, a collective of drag kings and “queerdos” together delivering energetic shows of queer expression. Scoring residences at Soho House, sell-out shows at Soho Theatre and the first ever drag king takeover at The Box, as well as appearing in MAC Cosmetics’ Viva Glam campaign, starring in Netflix’s Sex Education and making a cameo at London Fashion Week, Daisy has turned stages into safe havens for exploration – reflecting a broader shift in the drag landscape toward inclusivity and authenticity.

“With Häus of Dons, I’m blown away by the Brotherhood. I am completely obsessed with anyone brave enough to King up. Backstage is complete magic and chaos – someone’s borrowing contour powder, or, helping someone else apply their beard or giving someone a pep talk – it always feels like we’re about to show the world something different. But it can be a vulnerable space too, there’s nothing like the bond of creating something together.”

Daisy’s mission extends beyond the spotlight. Set on elevating the LGBTQ+ community, she uses her platform to raise awareness and funds for causes close to her heart, embodying the ethos of joy-driven activism. Last year alone, she raised £4,500 for akt charity, which provides young LGBTQ+ people with safety and security.

When I ask Daisy how she puts kinging front and centre, she says: “I know that we’re doing something magical. I only work with people that inspire me, who understand my heart and my intentions. And I will always prioritise play. The dream goalposts will change, but I do it for love, for fulfilling my creative soul and for the Brotherhood.”

In Daisy’s journey, we find a potent reminder: pleasure and purpose need not be mutually exclusive. As she continues to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of drag king culture, her story serves as an invitation to embrace joy, to experiment, and to play — to reconnect with the activities that revive us — for we never know where the path of liberation may lead.

Send an Enquiry

If you're interested in staying for longer than a month, or have a question you'd like to ask our team, you can send us an enquiry and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.