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A drag queen is a man who dresses, and often acts, with exaggerated femininity. There are many different possible purposes to drag, personal reasons for doing drag will differ for individual drag queens. It is often done for the purpose of self-expression, performing and entertaining, and can also be mainly important as a creative outlet, a means of self-exploration or a way to make cultural statements. There are many kinds of drag artists and they vary greatly in dedication, from professionals who have starred in films to people who just try it once. Drag queens also vary by class and culture and can vary even within the same cities.
While drag is very much associated with gay men and gay culture, there are drag artists of all genders and sexualities who do drag for various reasons or purposes. Generally drag queens are males who dress and act in a female gender role, often exaggerating certain characteristics (such as make-up and eyelashes) for comic, dramatic or satirical effect. Other drag performers include drag kings, who are women who perform in male roles, faux queens, who are women who dress in an exaggerated style to emulate drag queens, and faux kings, who are men who dress to impersonate drag kings.
The term drag queen usually refers to people who dress in drag for the purpose of performing, whether singing or lip-synching, dancing, participating in events such as gay pride parades, drag pageants, or at venues such as cabarets and discotheques. In the United Kingdom, alongside traditional drag work such as shows and performances, many drag queens engage in "mix-and-mingle" or hosting work at night clubs or at private parties and events. Drag is a part of Western gay culture.
The etymology of the term "drag queen" is disputed. The term drag queen occurred in Polari, a subset of English slang that was popular in some gay communities in the early part of the 20th century. Its first recorded use to refer to actors dressed in women's clothing is from 1870.
A folk etymology, whose acronym basis reveals the late 20th-century bias, would make "drag" an abbreviation of "Dressed as A Girl" in description of male theatrical transvestism. However, there is no trace of this supposed stage direction in Dessen and Thomson's Dictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama, 1580-1642.
Queen may refer to the trait of affected royalty found in many drag characters. It is also related to the Old English word "quean" or cwene, which originally simply meant "woman", then was later used as a label both for promiscuous women and gay men (see Oxford English Dictionary definition number 3 for "queen").
Drag as a term referring to women's clothing worn by men has less clear origins. According to one theory, it was used in reference to transvestites at least as early as the 18th century, owing to the tendency of their skirts to drag on the ground. Another possibility is that it derives from non-English languages. Bardah was a Persian word meaning "slave", which developed into the Spanish term bardaje referring to a catamite. This was borrowed into French as bardache. The French word was then used in America in the American-English form berdache, and was used in referring to indigenous men who assumed the role of homemaker and dressed as a woman, while the wife left the home to assume warrior duties.
Another term for a drag queen, female impersonator, is still used— though it is sometimes regarded as inaccurate, because not all contemporary drag performers are attempting to pass as women. Female impersonation, has been and continues to be illegal in some places, which inspired the drag queen José Sarria to hand out labels to his friends reading, "I am a boy," so he could not be accused of female impersonation. American drag queen RuPaul once said, "I do not impersonate females! How many women do you know who wear seven-inch heels, four-foot wigs, and skintight dresses?" He also said, "I don't dress like a woman; I dress like a drag queen!".
Celebrity drag couple "The Darling Bears" go so far as to sport full beards for their performances, which could also be referred to as genderfuck. Going in drag while retaining clearly masculine features is referred to as skag drag.
Some performers draw the distinction that a female impersonator seeks to emulate a specific female star or celebrity, while a drag queen only seeks to create a distinctive feminine persona of his or her own.
Drag and transvestism
Drag queens are sometimes called transvestites, although that term also has many other connotations than the term "drag queen" and is not much favored by many drag queens themselves. This because of the distinctions between drag queens and transvestic fetishists. "Drag queen" usually connotes cross-dressing for the purposes of entertainment and self-expression. It is not an accurate way to describe people who cross-dress for the fulfillment of transvestic fetishes alone, i.e. people whose cross-dressing is primarily part of a private sexual activity or identity. As for those whose motivation for transvestism is not primarily sexual, and who may socialise cross-dressed, they tend not to adopt the typical over-the-top drag queen look and would generally also not be referred to as drag queens.
There are also performers who prefer to be called "gender illusionists" who do blur the line between transgender and drag queen. Generally transgender performers do not consider themselves to be drag queens and drag queens don't consider themselves to be illusionists, but, as with everything, there are exceptions. Often these distinctions are more generational, as laws and acceptance of individuality change and grow.
Many drag queens prefer to be referred to as "she" while in drag and desire to stay completely in character. Some performers object to being referred to as "he" or by their legal name while in character. Drag performer RuPaul is an exception, as he seems to be completely indifferent to which pronoun is used to refer to him. In his words, "You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis and Kathie Lee; I don't care!"
The term tranny has been embraced by drag performers, notably RuPaul, and the gay male community in the United States. It is considered offensive to transgender and transsexual people, in the transgender community it is taken as a degrading term along the lines of the highly offensive word "fag" in gay communities. This has caused the usage of the term to diminish.
Drag queen names
The second type are names that trend toward glamour and extravagance, such as Dame Edna Everage, Chi Chi LaRue, and The Lady Chablis. This is the type used by the character Albin in the movie and musical La Cage Aux Folles for his drag persona, "Miss ZaZa Napoli".
Other types can have an in-depth backstory, cultural or geographical significance or simply be a feminine form of their "Male" name. Some examples of these varieties include Verka Serduchka, Miss Coco Peru, Shequida, Betty Butterfield and Divine.
In some cases drag queens will get their (drag) last name from the house they belong to, such as the House of Xtravaganza.
A drag queen may either pick or be given a drag name by a friend or "drag mother". While some may keep using the same drag name, drag queens do change names as well even using two or more concurrently for various reasons.
Art of Drag
The process of getting into drag or into character can take hours. A drag queen may aim for a certain style, celebrity impression, or message with their look. Hair, make-up, and costumes are the most important essentials for drag queens.
As a form of art, much work and creativity is put into transforming into a drag queen. Applying makeup is essential in order to achieve a more feminine look. Foundation helps to create a clean canvas by covering all wrinkles, flaws, and blemishes. Once the clean canvas is created, eye shadow will be added to eyes for an dramatic look. Drag queens use a lot of eyelashes to give the eyes a more intense look. Layering different colors of eye shadows, bronzers, and blush is used in creating the finished face of a drag queen. Since drag queen are men, contouring is very important in creating high cheekbones and a slimmer face, as well as creating a smaller structured nose. Many drag queens often wear wigs or hairpieces. A costume is also needed. Depending on the event and the look that each drag queen is going for, the costumes can consist of, for example, a sparkling sequin dress, a leopard body suit, or a fur coat. Drag queens tend to go for a more exaggerated look with a lot more makeup than a typical feminine woman would wear.
With the complete look, drag queens often go out to clubs and bars, where they will typically perform an act which is called a “drag show.” Many drag queens do dress up for money by doing different shows, but there are also drag queens that have full-time jobs but still enjoy dressing up in drag as a hobby.
Drag shows and venues
A drag show is an entertainment consisting of a variety of songs, monologues or skits featuring either single performers or groups of performers in drag meant to entertain an audience. They range from amateur performances at small bars to elaborately staged theatrical presentations. Many drag shows feature performers singing or lip-synching to songs while performing a pre-planned pantomime, or dancing. The performers often don elaborate costumes and makeup, and sometimes dress to imitate various famous female singers or personalities. And some events are centered around drag, such as Southern Decadence where the majority of festivities are led by the Grand Marshals, who are traditionally drag queens. In most cases, you can see drag performance at bars without any cost, but there are other drag queen performances where you would have to purchase tickets in advance to see them perform.
- 1953 – Glen or Glenda, one of the most famous cult classics of Ed Wood, starring himself as Glen and Glenda.
- 1954 - White Christmas, classic of Irving Berlin, with Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby singing in "drag".
- 1959 – Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.
- 1967 – Thoroughly Modern Millie, an American musical starring Julie Andrews, James Fox, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Channing, John Gavin, and Beatrice Lillie, notable where Fox's character dresses in drag in order to find out what happened to Tyler-Moore's character.
- 1969 – Funeral Parade of Roses starring Peter
- 1972 - Pink Flamingos starring Divine
- 1977 - Outrageous!, starring Craig Russell as a fictionalized version of himself
- 1979 – The Rose starring Bette Midler, notable for a scene in which Midler's character Mary Rose Foster performs a duet on stage in a drag club with a drag queen (played by Kenny Sacha) who is impersonating Midler as Foster.
- 1982 - Tootsie starring Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, and Teri Garr
- 1982 - Victor Victoria starring Julie Andrews
- 1985 - Lust in the Dust starring Divine
- 1988 – Hairspray starring Divine
- 1988 – Torch Song Trilogy starring Harvey Fierstein, Anne Bancroft and Matthew Broderick
- 1990 – Paris Is Burning a documentary film directed by Jennie Livingston. It chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the gay and transgender community involved in it.
- 1991 – Vegas in Space starring Doris Fish, Miss X, Ginger Quest, and introducing 'Tippi'
- 1993 - Mrs. Doubtfire starring Robin Williams, Sally Field, and Pierce Brosnan.
- 1994 – The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert starring Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, and Guy Pearce
- 1995 – To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar starring Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo (cameo by RuPaul)
- 1995 – Wigstock: The Movie documentary film focusing on the annual drag music festival that had been held in New York City's East Village during the 1980s and 1990s. Includues appearances by Lady Bunny, Crystal Waters, Deee-Lite, Jackie Beat, Debbie Harry, Leigh Bowery, Joey Arias and the Dueling Bankheads. The film also captures a performance by RuPaul at the height of his mainstream fame during the 1990s.
- 1996 – The Birdcage starring Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest
- 1996 - The Nutty Professor (1996 film) starring Eddie Murphy.
- 1998 – Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil starring John Cusack, Kevin Spacey and starring as herself Lady Chablis
- 1999 – Flawless starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robert De Niro
- 2000 - Big Momma's House starring Martin Lawrence
- 2001 – Hedwig and the Angry Inch starring John Cameron Mitchell
- 2003 – Girls Will Be Girls directed by Richard Day, starring Miss Coco Peru (Clinton Leupp), Evie Harris (Jack Plotnick), and Varla Jean Merman (Jeffery Roberson).
- 2003 – Die, Mommie, Die! starring Charles Busch, Jason Priestly, Philip Baker Hall, and Natasha Lyonne
- 2004 – Connie and Carla starring Nia Vardalos, Toni Collette, and David Duchovny
- 2004 - White Chicks starring Shawn Wayans and Marlon Wayans
- 2005 – Kinky Boots starring Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah-Jane Potts, and Nick Frost
- 2005 – Rent
- 2006 – The Curiosity of Chance starring Tad Hilgenbrink and Brett Chukerman
- 2006 - I Wanna Be a Republican starring The Kinsey Sicks, America's Favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet
- 2007 – A Shade Before Pink features cross dressing, drag queens and gender questioning. Starring Cary Woodworth and Rhoda Jordan, guest appearance by Jackie Beat.
- 2007 – St. Trinian's starring Rupert Everett as Camilla Fritton, the headmistress of the school.
- 2008 – Slingbacks and Syrup, a documentary about the House of LeMay that held its world premiere at the Vermont International Film Festival.
- 2009 - Tamid oto chalom, an Israeli TV miniseries about drag life in Tel Aviv, based on the songs of Israeli song writer Svika Pick
- 2010 – Yazima Beauty Salon the Movie featuring drag comedy/dance group Yazima Beauty Salon
- 2011 - Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son starring Martin Lawrence and Brandon T. Jackson
- 2013- The Dallas Buyers Club starring Jared Leto
Some male music celebrities wear exaggerated feminine clothing as part of their show, but they should not be necessarily called drag queens. For example, Boy George wears drag queen style clothes and cosmetics but he once stated he was not a drag queen. RuPaul is a professional drag queen performer.
Drag queens in lyrical interpretation of some songs:
- "Lola" by The Kinks
- "Walk on the Wild Side" by Lou Reed
- "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" by Aerosmith
- "Ballad of Cleo and Joe" by Cyndi Lauper
- "King for a Day" by Green Day
- "Cherry Lips" by Garbage
- "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga
- "Do You Mind If We Talk About Bill" by James Collins (about a transgendered ex-pop singer—video is on YouTube)
- "I'm Coming Out" by Diana Ross
- "Verbatim" by Mother Mother
- "He's a Woman She's a Man" by Scorpions
- "Pretty Lady" by Ke$ha & Detox Icunt
- "Andrew in Drag" by The Magnetic Fields
- High camp drag queens employ a drag aesthetic based on clown-like values like exaggeration, satire, and ribaldry. Divine, Miss Understood, Peaches Christ and Hedda Lettuce can be considered examples of camp queens.
- Some drag queens exaggerate in the dimension of elegance and fashion, employing elaborate jewelry and gowns. The Lady Chablis, who can be seen in the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is an example of this type of performer. Many of these drag queens impersonate specific actresses and pop divas such as Cher, Britney Spears, Bette Midler, Madonna, Gilla, Charo, Connie Francis, Donna Summer, Whitney Houston, Céline Dion, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Patti LaBelle, Shirley Bassey, Janet Jackson, Spice Girls, Lady Gaga and others, emulating their high-fashion costuming and jewelry. Drag artist John Epperson has used the persona Lypsinka as a caricature of Joan Crawford, including in his play The Passion of the Crawford.
- Some drag queens primarily perform in pageants, hence the term pageant queen. Pageant queens gear their act toward winning titles and prizes in various contests and pageant systems. Some of these have grand prizes that rival those of pageants such as Miss America; see drag pageantry. These drag queens can be known nationally and many work professionally year-round producing and hosting shows that specialize in drag and celebrity illusionists.
- Post-modernist drag queens, tranimal, or "terrorist drag" mixes performance art, punk rock, racial and social issues into drag. The drag queens often purposely use unkempt wigs and clothing. Vaginal Davis and Christeene Vale are examples of "drag terrorists." Davis' performances have been described as a reaction against the "conservative politics of gay culture." Likewise, David Hoyle describes himself as an "anti-drag queen" in his use self-harm to parody what he views as materialism and hedonism within the gay community. Tranimal drag also breaks conventional ways of dressing like a woman by taking influences from Leigh Bowery and the Cockettes.
- Starting in the late 20th Century, groups of drag queens have come together under a unifying identity and shtick to perform a charitable and/or activist function in their communities. Some perform to raise funds for other charities, LGBT and other, while others protest for LGBT and Civil rights. These groups include The West Hollywood Cheerleaders, the Imperial Court System founded by The Widow Norton (José Julio Sarria), and The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Some of these groups, such as the Sisters, perform a quasi-spiritual function or act as social counselors, consciously reviving the ancient archetype of historical drag queens as shamans and spiritual functionaries. The common practice and aesthetic here is flamboyance in service.
Drag has come to be a celebrated aspect of modern gay life. Many gay bars and clubs around the world hold drag shows as special parties. Several "International Drag Day" holidays have been started over the years to promote the shows. Typically, in the U.S. drag is celebrated in early March. This year, "Drag Day" falls on March 6.
On the Logo television network, its most successful program is a drag competition, RuPaul's Drag Race. However, its winners and contestants have yet to receive the same praise as mainstream reality show contestants.
Within the larger lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) communities drag queens are sometimes criticized for their participation in pride parades and other public events, believing that this projects a limited and harmful image of gay people and impedes a broader social acceptance. This attitude itself is criticized for limiting self-expression and encouraging the idea that there are "right" and "wrong" ways to be gay. In more recent years drag queens have been prominently featured at these same events.
A common criticism of drag queens is that they promote harmful stereotypes of women, comparable to blackface portrayal of African-Americans by white performers that was popular in the early 20th century. Conversely, some feminists embrace drag as a skewering of traditional gender roles, defying the social norms of male and female looks and behaviour and showing the artificiality of femininity and masculinity.
Drag queens are sometimes criticized by members of the transgender community — especially, but not exclusively, by many trans women — because of fears that they themselves may be stereotyped as drag queens. Canadian transgender activist, the late Star Maris, wrote a song entitled "I'm Not A Fucking Drag Queen" which expresses her frustration and hurt at being mistaken for a drag queen. The song was featured in the film Better Than Chocolate, performed by a male-to-female transgender on stage at a gay club. The transgender character, played by Peter Outerbridge, struggles throughout the movie to fit in with cisgender (non-transgender) women, and partially performs the song as an act of cathartic defiance and self-empowerment. Other trans women reject those criticisms in the broader context that drag queens, many of whom are gender-variant and sexuality minorities, are more of an ally than a threat.
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- Drag Artist Discography (information and discography with historical references and photos) of drag artists & female impersonators
- The Pink Mirror – a film on Indian drag queens
- The Worldwide Directory of Drag Queens
- Drag Queen Social Network
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