“Royales: A New All-BIPOC Drag King Show” features (top row, from left) Helixir Jynder Byntwell, Madd-Dogg 20/20 and LOTUS BOY; and (bottom, from left), Major Hammy, Tyson Check-In, Hennessy Williams and Papi Churro. (Image by Edgar Ruiz) 

Roses, sentimental cards, heart-shaped candy and boxes of chocolate; dinner in a nice restaurant or delivered via DoorDash from said nice restaurant; a romcom probably featuring Sandra Bullock—these could pass as an acceptable ode to Valentine’s Day and conveyance of love.

But if these social norms induce a yawn or roll of the eyes, there’s another, potentially more enticing means to celebrate the holiday this year: the gender-expressive and much inclusive all-BIPOC drag king show, “Royales.” Making its debut Feb. 9 at the Mission District’s El Rio, the first-of-its-kind show is set to be a historic occasion for performers and attendees. 

As “Royales” creator and host Hennessy Williams explains, “This is a new thing I wanted to start because we have a lot of BIPOC king performers in the Bay Area. There tends to be an overrepresentation of white drag kings, so I wanted to make sure that this representation was here and that we could do lots of really amazing and inspiring numbers for the show.” 

While there have been all-BIPOC shows and all-king shows, “Royales” enters uncharted drag territory with its all-BIPOC king cast.  

Says “Royales” performer LOTUS BOY, “King representation and specifically BIPOC king representation is something that we’re always talking about with each other and on social media. So I was really excited for them to finally be able to make this happen—it’s been a long time coming.” 

Collectively, the drag kings in “Royales” have won pageants and awards; served as board members and panelists for Bay Area LGBTQIA+, drag and gender-expansive events like Oaklash and the Theyfriend Nonbinary Performance Festival; and have made appearances at drag shows such as Rebel Kings of Oakland, a twice-a-month event at White Horse Bar.  

While Williams has hosted their share of Valentine’s Day drag brunches, “Royales” is their first go at hosting a nighttime event to celebrate the mid-February holiday. They’re also first in the Royales lineup on Thursday. Other performers are Helixir Jynder Byntwell, Madd-Dogg 20/20, Papi Churro, Tyson Check-In, Major Hammy and LOTUS BOY. 

The show’s theme of “red for royalty” ties to the performers (as kings) and Valentine’s Day; the aim is for them to swoon their audience with winning theatrics, dancing, personalities and eye-catching costumes. 

San Francisco’s 2022 Drag King of the Year Helixir Jynder Byntwell’s plan is to incorporate his tagline, “Your local sad boy emo daddy of your dreams,” with the holiday focus. 

He says, “It’s sexy-comedy at its finest, because I’m super silly. That’s what my personality is like: super goofy. But then when you’re onstage, you gotta tease them a little bit.” 

Importantly, the show gives drag kings like Helixir the opportunity to be themselves—to express themselves openly and present their own versions of drag kings. 

Helixir comments, “I feel like a lot of people tell me, ‘Oh, I didn’t even know drag kings existed.’ And then they walk into a show full of kings and see there’s not just one way to be a king. There’s multiple varieties of performers, and it really comes down to the individual. I feel like we’ll all definitely bring something different, so there’s something for everybody.” 

For LOTUS BOY, a transgender, nonbinary Chinese-American who is also “disabled and proud,” drag allows them to explore facets of identity such as gender fluidity. Of their drag king performances, they convey, “My goal is to just get other people to realize that gender exploration is for everyone, even for cis people. It’s not as static and rigid as society likes to make it out to be.” 

He also finds value in using drag to celebrate and share aspects of Asian and Chinese cultures, noting the inherently political nature of drag. 

LOTUS BOY says, “As a BIPOC, especially as a trans BIPOC person, that existence is political because the world just doesn’t want us to survive, let alone be celebrated as artists. So especially in the context of Black History Month…it’s so important to be constantly uplifting artists whose work is really important, and who maybe wouldn’t otherwise be getting bookings.” 

Helixir Jynder Byntwell confirms that drag kings are not offered the same stage time as other performers and speaks on the need to create opportunities for BIPOC kings, especially during February.  

LOTUS BOY alternates use of pronouns ze, they and he, explaining, “I feel like they all represent different facets of my trans and gender fluid identity.” (Photo by Kane C. Andrade)

He states, “There’s so much amazing talent in the Bay and being able to showcase that for people and be given the space for an all-BIPOC king cast to happen—that’s huge for our community to have.”  

Both Helixir and LOTUS BOY will participate in “all king inclusive” drag roulette near the end of “Royales.” During the game, each king will perform, on the spot, a randomly assigned song they haven’t had a chance to rehearse.  

Williams says the song options are all drag king-, rather than drag queen-, friendly. They explain, “A lot of times when you’re a king performing in a queens’ show, you really have no choice, when you’re dressed up all masculine, to perform to [something] like a Britney Spears song. It’s tough; I’ve been part of this myself. So I was just like, ‘This is going to be a great opportunity for kings to perform numbers that they’re much more suited for in the roulette.’” 

The Royales host anticipates the show being the start of something—specifically, more drag king events at El Rio, elsewhere in the Bay Area and during Pride that will continue to give a platform to talented, diverse performers. In the meantime, the start itself is significant. 

 “Royales: A New All-BIPOC Drag King Show” is at 8 p.m. Feb. 9 at El Rio, 3158 Mission St., San Francisco. Tickets are $10; visit El RioSF.com