“Zayn is going to stay on stage; I’ve got too many
Aside from gracing every LGBTQ stage in the south, Zayn Phallic has been a busy boi, working away on a hell of an idea – the Kings of Colour Initiative. Affectionately known as KOC, Zayn’s creating the scene he wanted to be part of. He estimates that with approximately 80 to 100 drag kings performing in the UK, there are only 10 to 15 kings of colour. This staggering figure really shows how important the KOC Initiative is to balance things out.
It all started back in April 2017. “Zayn isn’t really a character for me, he’s part of my personality. It’s just what happens if you put a moustache on me: a really extreme version of myself, taking the mick out of hyper-masculinity.” But getting to this point has been a rollercoaster experience. BOiBOX, London, stole his drag show virginity. He remembers, “I went and the show was really good. I didn’t realise you could go to such extremes with drag! Amazing costumes, magic tricks even – I was like ‘this is amazing!’ I was really into it but the entire lineup was white.” After the show, Zayn confronted curator Adam All, who agreed and encouraged Zayn to make a change through performing. Just four months after Zayn’s first performance, the KOC Initiative was born: “it was a takeover of BOiBOX – they basically handed their show over to me so I could put on an all poc night.” It’s growing month on month, with huge plans for 2018, including a Kingdom Brighton takeover.
Taking a moment to explain why it’s important to create new safe spaces, Zayn says drag kings aren’t always taken as seriously as they should be, and being a poc drag king is a double bind. “There’s this gulf between drag queens and kings where you have people thinking kings just make penis jokes, or claiming that all drag kings are terrible without even having seen one. It’s that kind of ridiculous attitude we’re facing. As we’re generally female-bodied, we’re already fighting the inherent sexism and misogyny in the scene that creates such a pay gap between performers perceived to be male and performers perceived to be female. Add racism to mix and you can see why so few of the incredibly talented POC kings on the scene are getting the recognition they deserve.” With some queens dominating mainstream now, there’s a distinct lack of kings making it big. And it’s not just fame or recognition that needs examining. The legitimacy of bookings comes under fire by some POC performers, which is why KOC is such a trailblazer:
“When you’re the only poc drag king, you’re the ‘token one’ and to fill someone’s quota. Even in some drag king nights it can be frustrating because you wonder if you were booked for being you, or because their poster would have been whitewashed without you. We’re screwed no matter what people of colour, largely female-bodied ones, and performing masculinity of all things – we’re quite badass when you think about it!”
There are plans already in motion to excite and inspire a new legacy of kings of colour. “We’re also looking at doing some mentoring. Like a big brother thing.” There will be more experienced kings on hand to help newbies with mixing tracks, answer questions and help in a general sense. Also inviting other kinds of performers to the KOC events, Zayn’s hoping to establish some great contacts and potential crossovers, introducing more poc performers to drag kinging. There will even be a non-drag poc performer recruited into the shows, tasked with trying out a drag set for the first time ever.
The more interest that’s generated by raising awareness, the better, and it works in everybody’s favour. Zayn tells me, “This is how we build queer communities, it’s how you make queer families. Drag shows give you something to talk about, that we can use to connect with each other. ” It’s beautiful when a community can grow out of a shared love and excitement for something, or someone. To ensure the comradery that’s been built continues, Zayn has some exciting plans for the rest of the year. Thoughtfully cocking his head, I was a little taken aback when he proudly announced, “Come the summer, I think I’d like to get the kings out to the park for sandwiches and drag chats. We can call it a dicknic.”
Photos by David Smith