by Javi Mason photos courtesy of subject
When hearing the word “drag,” the thoughts that will most likely surface feature RuPaul or his popular series Drag Race. In fact, RuPaul is one of the reasons why drag culture has become mainstream. While female impersonators continue to dominate the drag community, they also share the spotlight with an emerging demographic of performers — drag kings.
Drag kings have initially been defined as female performers who wear masculine drag and personify male gender stereotypes. But due to the expansive understanding of gender identity and expression, the drag king community has opened its doors to transmen, genderfluid individuals, and even cis male performers. Rochester native Hunter Sacko is part of the new generation of non-traditional drag kings. The 28-year-old trans* man, better known on stage as Hunter Down, started performing after attending his first show in 2013.
“I always saw drag as such a cool outlet for creativity and to take on a persona outside your own,” Sacko explained when recalling his first experience. “I knew I wanted to try it! I never felt I would ever have the guts or confidence to do it, as just the thought of going on stage scared me. One of my friends did a fundraiser show for another friend of ours and he basically made me do it! I never looked back afterwards.”
For four years, Sacko would perform as Hunter Down at venues such as Tilt Nightclub, Firehouse Saloon, and 140 Alex Bar and Grill. During every show, he enjoyed the energy from the crowd, which he considered a “huge driver” while on stage. Regardless of how nervous he was prior to stepping into the spotlight, his anxiety immediately dissipated when country music played from the loud speakers.
Being a drag king did more than increase Sacko’s confidence. The drag king community and becoming Hunter Down helped him discover his identity as a trans* man.
“It [the community] really was there for me on my journey of becoming my authentic self,” he pointed out. “Drag was there for me when I needed it most. It allowed me to not think, or fear, or dwell on the negative. For three minutes, it is just me on stage having fun with the audience and nothing else in the world matters at that time. It is not about trying to be a man. It’s about the fun and joy from impersonating a male character or alter ego and having fun!!”
Because to some significant life changes (namely, getting married), Sacko recently retired from doing drag extensively, though he is still doing live performances occasionally. He expressed gratitude for the confidence, support and fan following being Hunter Down has granted him. Most importantly, the Rochester drag king community helped Sacko discover his trans* identity; and thus the freedom to be his authentic self.