H.I.S. Kings was an iconic drag king troupe that started in Columbus, Ohio in 1996. The initials stand for Helen, Ivett, and Sue — the first three drag kings to perform under the troupe’s name.
H.I.S. Kings emerged as an alternative to the entertainment available on the Gay scene in Columbus, which at that time consisted mostly of DJ sets and drag queen shows in men’s bars, and women performing songs by the Indigo Girls and Melissa Etheridge in women’s bars. The troupe was an instant hit with its Lesbian audience, and soon drew a much wider circle of fans that included the rest of the LGBT collective and Straight people.
Some scholars consider H.I.S. Kings to have set the original pattern for drag king troupes in general. The troupe also marks the intersection between scholars and Queer folk performance.
Between 1996 and 2002, H.I.S. Kings performed at a variety of small venues in Columbus. They quickly outgrew these clubs as the fan base widened, and started performing at Wall Street, a large nightclub that was the venue for drag queens and dance music. Eventually, they took their show on the road, with performances in Chicago, Louisville (Kentucky), New York City, and in various Ohio cities.
As they built their audience, H.I.S. Kings earned a broad base of loyal fans by incorporating them into their performances. Many in the audience dressed up for the shows. H.I.S. Kings also developed a network of people who pitched in making and moving props, promoting shows, and helping with costumes. H.I.S. Kings rewarded the loyalty of their earliest fans and behind-the-scenes helpers by establishing the Kings Court. People inducted into the Kings Court were recognized for their contributions and given priority seating during shows.
From 1997-1999, H.I.S. Kings was comprised of about 20 members, representing a cross-section of the Queer community in Columbus and surrounding areas. A core group (nearly one third) was made up of graduate students in the Women’s Studies program at Ohio State University. One such member was Sile Singleton, also known as Lustivious Dela Virgion — a drag queen persona (along with her drag king persona, Luster) who served as emcee for the troupe. H.I.S. Kings performances were diverse, representing a range of masculine and feminine characters and performing anything from rock to jazz, with group numbers ranging from boy bands to Broadway.
In addition to bar shows, H.I.S. Kings maintained a prominent presence at Pride events and women’s events in the region. They made elaborate floats for the Columbus Pride parade on which they performed in flashy costumes, included a live DJ, and choreographed group dance numbers along the parade route. The Kings also made groundbreaking appearances at women’s music festivals, including the Ohio Lesbian Festival and the National Women’s Music Festival. This was particularly significant because such festivals had historically been reluctant to include drag kings in their lineups.
H.I.S. Kings performances were controversial not only because of their performance of masculine identities, but also because of their incorporation of themes such as sado-masochism (S&M). After a series of shows where S&M numbers were featured, some audience members protested the shows and threatened to girlcott (women’s boycott) women’s events where H.I.S. Kings had been invited to perform on the grounds that such numbers portrayed violent acts against women. In response, H.I.S. Kings started posting signs at their shows explaining that the S&M numbers all portrayed consensual acts between adult participants, and that they in no way tolerated or intentionally portrayed violence against women in their numbers.
In 1999, H.I.S. Kings members put together the first International Drag King Extravaganza (IDKE) during their reign as a premier Midwestern drag king troupe. IDKE was held annually in Columbus from 1999-2002, at which time a steering committee was formed to identify host cities for subsequent years. The event has been held in a range of cities across the United States and Canada, from Minneapolis to Austin to Toronto.
Many of the original H.I.S. Kings members remain active creators of Queer folklife in their current locations and environments. While H.I.S. Kings eventually disbanded as a troupe, several of its members have gone on to create and perform in other troupes. Some continue to perform at IDKE and other drag king events across the country.
Piontek, Thomas. “Kinging in the Heartland; or, the Power of Marginality.” In Troka, LeBesco, and Noble, eds. The Drag King Anthology. New York: Harrison Park, 2002: pp. 125-143.
Troka, Donna Jean. “When We Were Kings: On Being a Midwestern Drag King.” Bitch 12 (Aug 31, 2000): pp. 43-47.