Nonchalantly, kings are overlooked in the industry, as the world continues to bow to queens. But where are all of our queer AFAB performers? We’re not hiding. In fact we’re opposing the hierarchy, crushing gender boundaries and extinguishing the patriarchy every Thursday – Sunday night, in a gay-bar near you. Can’t find us? Introducing Adam All, by name and by nature. A pioneer for the UK drag king scene, and out-right entertain[t]er.
I want to know about your queer-awakening story. Tell me how you became Adam.
Where to start? I came out really young and I was outwardly androgynous. Most people are like, ‘Well duh’, but it wasn’t easy. It was the 90s so there were a lot of pressures still around and it certainly wasn’t easy to get support wherever I was. I was pretty lonely. I kind of found the queer community in the bars. I was underaged – a lot of them would still let you in when you were really young because it was much safer than being a queer person on the street, or sometimes, in your own family home. There was more of a family feel of looking after young people. They weren’t allowed to drink. But they were allowed to be safe inside the venues, as sort of an unwritten rule. My first experience would have been an old school, gay pub, with a drag queen. And that would have been quite a common feature for many years. Standard really. Tipping the Velvet, a TV adaptation of Sarah Walters’ book was on the BBC which had queer people so prominently in a story and, essentially drag kings, male impersonators.
I actually feel that as a queer community, on a broader scale, we have let down our AFAB siblings
It wasn’t until I was 24, someone got bored of me going on about it, they were like, ‘You’re going to have to do a gig. You’ve got six weeks, put your show together and you’re going to do half an hour on Friday… Go and sort your shit out.’ I was terrified. This weird birth into the drag community certainly wasn’t easy. If you got offered something then you grab it with both hands. It doesn’t matter what it was. It was a really slow build to a regular performance career, which is where I was, beginning of lockdown… We’ll see what happens.
There’s the mainstream drag queen scene that has been set by RuPaul’s Drag Race and I’m not opposed to it. I love all forms of drag, but how would you feel if there was a mainstream drag king space that was as big Drag Race?
I would be really… surprised. I would be really delighted and I actually feel that as a queer community, on a broader scale, we have let down our AFAB siblings, massively. I think these places are so tailored towards AMAB, sort of stuff, particularly cis men, let’s be fair. It is really centered around that kind of culture and that is what most people understand what gay is, and Pride is, and drag queens belong to this. Obviously that is an extremely narrow-minded perspective of what it is, but to an extent, even with our own community, we sometimes forget there’s so many queer AFAB performers out there. The spectrum of that is far more broad than it’s being catered for and I feel that there is a bit of a sense of turning inwards, that we’ve almost lost faith in ourselves. That momentum has become destructive in terms of what is progressing and what isn’t progressing. But I would love to see something attempt it, in fact, I’d love to help something attempt it. I think that people are yet to cotton on how connected to the fight for equality against the patriarchy drag kings are. When people see how much we are deconstructing the concept of toxic masculinity, how we’re reclaiming our masculinity, reclaiming ourselves, our own bodies, our look; we’re turning away from the system of oppression that centers around beauty and beauty identity and it’s basically tipping all of that on its head and reclaiming the power. And laughing at the power at the same time. It’s where drag queens began and I think it’s been forgotten.
That’s the thing. I really love Drag Race, but for me, I don’t think it’s a really accurate representation of what drag is. I feel like it’s very narrow-minded.
It’s difficult, because there’s an element of wanting to celebrate this hard-working performance artist, Black performance artist, who has pushed to the very, very tops and created this enormous world, which I think has completely opened up the eyes of the broader public to what it is to be queer in this world, and to deconstruct the world around you, using your own body art. That is an incredible thing that has to be celebrated, but it must be remembered that it is Ru drag and it’s not all drag. It’s what he does, it’s what they do, and it is that world and that’s fine, but that’s not the end of it, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve heard someone say, ‘A woman in men’s clothing is not controversial.’ Well I can tell you, for a fact, it absolutely is. When I dress in drag and I’ve got my makeup on and I’m wearing my facial hair and I’m in a costume, people are thoroughly convinced that I’m a bloke, and when they get the reveal, it completely shocks them – they’re utterly shocked. There’s so many rules about our bodies when you’re AFAB. To reject them all and still maintain power, that is deeply controversial and that’s exactly what a drag queen was doing and they haven’t yet cottoned on how powerful what we’re doing is. How much of a parallel it is. There will be a penny-dropping moment. Someone will say it out loud.
When I dress in drag and I’ve got my makeup on and I’m wearing my facial hair and I’m in a costume, people are thoroughly convinced that I’m a bloke
I was throwing up from excitement at this fabulous representation of what it is to be a drag king by Landon Cider on Dragula. How did you feel?
Such a great pioneer with a great voice, and somebody who really thinks about their community and what they’re giving back. I think it’s hugely vital. They’re an absolute role model for anybody going into that career. It’s really cool. That was the one thing I felt, all this time. The hardest part of my journey was not really having any other drag kings around me to begin with. Nothing like it is now, absolutely nothing.
You’ve amazingly created a performance space for kings to perform called BoiBox. How did you come up with and implement this idea?
I pitched this idea for a night that would be part karaoke, part dress up, part open mic, part showcase and there was kind of a free-for-all. We showcased some people that had been doing it a while and just left the floor open for anyone who wanted to have a go. What we didn’t realise is how popular it would be. It was ridiculous. We’d been going there six or seven nights before we got the news that the bar we were using would have to close. We moved over to She, and we were working at She for about two to three years and then we started to branch out, because it was so popular we couldn’t fit all of the kings in every month. We moved it to its permanent home in The Glory, and we upped the ante slightly. That’s when we developed Open-Box as a separate entity. A warm and welcoming space where you could try out your material and connect with other people to know what it was about, because we knew that element of it needed to remain. BoiBox took a long time to grow to where it is now. We’ve seen 100-125 drag kings come through our door and we’ve been absolutely delighted to be fair. I never really thought we’d get five!
It’s so inspiring. To me, you’re the RuPaul of the London drag king community. People need to know about this. It’s innovative.
Apple is quite astonishing. I just think she’s really rather genius. Between us we have really quite a strong skill set, in terms of getting something out like this. Honestly, the main center of BoiBox has always been the welcoming family atmosphere and trying to make it as accessible, in every sense of the term, as possible. Given what we could have and what we couldn’t, it was always about putting the party first and giving them an experience they could feel happy and comfortable in, but would learn in and come back to. Where that’s been our aim and aesthetic from the start, I think that’s been one of the main reasons we’ve carried on for this long. It’s a family. There really wasn’t a dedicated drag king night of any form, in London or across the UK at that time. There had been pop-ups but nothing substantial lasted, which was true for a long long time. I think it’s to do again with how the AFAB part of our community is supported or not supported, recognised or not recognised, and how we’ve learned to support or not support each other. I’m hoping that the drag king movement will be part of the turn around of that. It’s time, it’s work, it’s persistence and it’s proof. Allowing people to understand it is just as important.
Drag is so liberating. I think drag definitely helped me find that space within me, I was able to be masculine and not get rid of my feminine side. It didn’t have to be the whole of me. I was wondering what effect it had on you?
I came out as non-binary when I was 20, so before I started working as a drag king, but I had dressed in drag and definitely used drag to explore my masculinity in my late teens – which was certainly a time when I was looking at gender identity. I knew I sort of didn’t fit in the “woman” box and that it didn’t work for me. I didn’t know the term non-binary at the time so I was really struggling in the world of trans or not trans. If you don’t have the language and you can’t meet the people, then how do you know where to put yourself? What drag has done for me is allow me the release, a release from the absurdity of the gender binary system that we live under and the damage that it does to people psychologically across the board and how restrictive it is, in terms of our development as people and as a community and society. If I couldn’t scream and shout about it by putting on a pink suit, singing a silly song and doing a split, then I don’t really know what I would do. It has to come out somehow, at least it’s coming out in a nice fluffy way!
Men have to get over themselves and relinquish the fact that I look super hot dressed as a bloke.
I think at this point in time, there’s more ground to cover, more balls to smash, more doors to smash in for AFAB performers performing as drag kings, than there are for drag queens, which are now seen as quite liberally, a standard thing you would expect to see. There were drag queens on our telly growing up. There were comic performances by women, of men, when we were going up, but we just didn’t see them as often. It was always so damning and also very damaging. They were punching up but in a way that was just picking holes, it wasn’t reclaiming anything. There were lots of people who were very well respected, like Hinge and Bracket; a very well respected performance duo that people thought were hilarious. It wasn’t, ‘Haha, a man in a dress!’ after the first 30 seconds and we’ve never had that for a drag king, ever.
I feel like growing up I never saw anyone taking it seriously, so I couldn’t take it seriously.
It’s not taken seriously, but I think if you ask – and I’m going to use this term loosely – women in comedy, they’ll tell you the same thing. They’re not taken seriously until it becomes serious and they’re a headline act. It’s a much harder journey. You have to play one of the lads for a long time. You have to put up with a lot of sexist jokes and being a token on the line for a long time. I felt that as drag king certainly, so it’s not limited to the queer community, it’s not limited to drag, it’s not limited to queer AFAB – it’s across the board. It’s the battle and journey that we have to take to get to a place where people fully appreciate how interesting and nuanced what we’re trying to say and do is. Also, men have to get over themselves and relinquish the fact that I look super hot dressed as a bloke.
Congratulations on getting married! When was it? I love watching you perform but you and Apple, however, is something else. Every time I watch you guys I feel like I’ve fallen into a musical wonderland!
Fantastic! That’s exactly the aim we’re going for. We went on our honeymoon in January and we got back the third week of January. It’s a ‘quiet’ season for actors. If you’re not in a panto, you’re not doing much. It’s the graveyard shift. We’re just coming up to our first anniversary in a couple of weeks. I’ve survived a whole year! I’m joking!
You and Apple both curate Open Box and BoiBox. How is it working so closely with your partner?
We argue about stuff every now and again, like all couples do, but we’re very inseparable. We finish each other’s sentences and we’re just very close as a couple. I think we actually forget we’re supposed to take time apart. We must schedule that in. We have differences of opinion but we’ve both learned to listen and try, listen and try, always say yes. We’ve got a clear designation of jobs, and we just pull our resources and try to make it happen. I think it helps us that we have a really strong love foundation. There’s no mistrust there. There’s constant trust. I think it really helps the system. We’re really well partnered because we make up for each other’s shortcomings. She doesn’t have any of course, so my job’s easy.
What drag has done for me is allow me the release, a release from the absurdity of the gender binary system that we live under
So is it like Adam’s apple? Or am I overthinking it?
That’s it! She specifically chose a surname that no one can spell. Derrieres. Like derriere, bottom, but lots of them. And she’s also like, ‘Apple bottom like, apple bottom jeans, boots with the fur…’
I got really excited! What have you got coming up, Adam?
BoiBox 4 is coming out really really soon. Same system as usual, you get a ticket and then you get a link. You can watch it straight away. This month it’s called Boiboix Online 4 on demand, because no one can resist that as a title. And if you miss this month’s one, next month is BoiBox’s seventh birthday, and it’s going to be a big bumper online edition. Both this month and next month there will be live viewings at The Glory. You can come and socially distance and come watch the show live with us, rather than watching it at home. That’s an additional thing we’re doing. We’re doing brunch at Dalston Superstore soon, which is doing an excellent job at social distancing and keeping everything clean. They also have an entirely vegan menu at Superstore which is absolutely fantastic. Dates haven’t been released yet, but they will be happening very soon!