Drag queen

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two panel photograph, the left panel is a man in a plaid shirt, the right panel is the same man wearing a fancy dress and radiant blond wig, appearing as a woman
Logan Carter (1954–1988) a.k.a. Roxanne Russell in Miami in 1975

A drag queen is a person, usually male, who dresses in drag and often acts with exaggerated femininity and in feminine gender roles for the purpose of entertainment or fashion. Often, they will exaggerate certain characteristics such as make-up and eyelashes for comic, dramatic, or satirical effect. While drag is very much associated with gay men and gay culture, there are drag artists of all sexualities and gender identities. 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, or those who simply prefer clothing and makeup that is usually worn by the opposite sex in their culture. Drag queens can vary widely by class and culture. Other drag performers include drag kings, women who perform in male roles and attire, 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.

There are many reasons people do drag including self-expression, comfort, transvestic fetishism, and spiritual reasons, as well as the higher-profile performing and entertaining. Drag can be a creative outlet, a means of self-exploration, and a way to make cultural statements. While the general public may be most familiar with the "high drag" of professional performance artists, drag is also part of regular life and street culture for many gender-nonconforming or gender-variant people, who may or may not consider what they do, "drag."

Drag queen activities among stage and street performers may include lip-synching performances, live singing, dancing, participating in events such as gay pride parades, drag pageants, or at venues such as cabarets and discotheques. Some drag artists also engage in mix-and-mingle or hosting work in night clubs, such as drag bingo, and at private parties and events.

Terminology[edit]

Drag queen[edit]

Rory O’Neill as Panti Bliss.

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.[citation needed] The first recorded use of "drag" to refer to actors dressed in women's clothing is from 1870.[1]

A folk etymology is that drag is an acronym of "Dressed Resembling A Girl" in description of male theatrical transvestism.[citation needed] The film Connie and Carla also made a reference to this, though the acronym was slightly altered to men "Dressed As Girls."

Queen may refer to[weasel words] the trait of affected royalty found in the personalities of many who do drag (whether this is their normal personality or a character created for the stage).[citation needed] 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"). The OE word appears derived from Middle Dutch quene ("old woman"), ultimately from Proto-Germanic *kwenǭ ("woman"), from Proto-Indo-European *gʷḗn ("woman").

Female impersonator[edit]

Another term for a drag queen is female impersonator.[2] Although this is still used, 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.[3] 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!".

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[edit]

4 individuals portraying women
Drag queens walking in a parade in São Paulo, Brazil.

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 is 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. Those whose motivation for transvestism is not primarily sexual, and who may go about their daily lives cross-dressed, often do not adopt the over-the-top drag queen look, at least not for daily wear; these individuals may or may not self-identify as drag queens.

Alternative terms[edit]

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.[original research?]

Many drag queens[who?] 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!"[4]

The term tranny has been adopted by some drag performers, notably RuPaul,[5] and the gay male community[6] in the United States, but it is considered offensive to most transgender and transsexual people.[7] In the transgender community, it is taken as a degrading term along the lines of the highly offensive words "fag" and "faggot" in gay communities. This has caused the usage of the term to diminish.[citation needed]

Types[edit]

drag queen singing in to a microphone
A drag queen doing a celebrity impersonation of a gay icon, Cher.
  • 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, and sometimes employs an aesthetic that aims to be a commentary on drag itself. The drag queens often purposely use unkempt wigs and clothing. Sharon Needles, Trixie Mattel, Vaginal Davis and Christeene Vale are examples of "drag terrorists."[8] Davis' performances have been described as a reaction against the "conservative politics of gay culture."[9] 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.[10] Tranimal drag also breaks conventional ways of dressing like a woman by taking influences from Leigh Bowery and the Cockettes.[11][12] Similarly, "Genderfuck" drag is a kind of drag that explicitly blurs the lines between gender boundaries, with queens like Milk (Dan Donigan) embodying this philosophy.[13]
  • 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 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.

History of Drag[edit]

Europe[edit]

Pantomime Dames[edit]

In the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, Pantomime Dames became a popular form of female impersonation in Europe.[14] This was the first era of female impersonation in Europe to use comedy as part of the performance, as opposed to the serious Shakespeare tragedies and Italian operas.[15] The dame became a stock character with a range of attitudes from "charwoman" to "grande dame" that was mostly used for improvisation.[15] The most famous and successful pantomime dame was Dan Leno. After the World Wars, the theater and movie scenes were changing and the use of pantomime dames was on the decline.[14]

Americas[edit]

Image of a white man dressed as an African American woman for a minstrel show

Minstrelsy Shows[edit]

Development of the drag queen in America started with the development of the blackface minstrel show.[16] Originally the performers would only mock African American men, but as time went on they found it amusing to mock African American femininity as well. They performed in comedic skits, dances, and "wench" songs.[17] Far from the progressive freedom of modern Drag, these minstrelsy shows and their "wench players," were used by white men to both mock and oppress both women and African Americans.[18]

Vaudeville and Female Impersonators[edit]

Julian Eltinge as a female impersonator

The broad comedic stylings of the Minstrelsy Shows helped develop the Vaudeville shows of the late 1800s to the early 1900s.[16] With this shift, the "wench players" became "primma donnas," and became more elgant and refined, while still retaining their comedic elements.[18] While the "wenches" were purely American creations, the "primma donnas" were inspired by both America and European cross dressing shows, like Shakespearean actors and Castrati.[18] With the United States shifting demographics, including the shift from farms to cities, Great Migration of African Americans, and an influx of immigrants, Vaudeville's broad comedy and music expanded the audience from Minstrelsy.[16] With Vaudeville becoming more popular, it allowed female impersonators to become popular as well. Many female impersonators started with low comedy in Vaudeville and worked their way up to perform as the prima donna.[14] Famous female impersonator, Julian Eltinge, found success in this and eventually made his way to the broadway stage performing as a woman.[14] At this time being a female impersonator was seen as something for the straight white male, and any deviation was punished.[16] Connection with sex work and homosexuality eventually lead to the decline of Vaudeville during the progressive era.[16] Both the Minstrelsy and Vaudville eras of female impersonation led to an association with music, dance, and comedy that still lasts today.[14]

Night Clubs[edit]

In the early to mid 1900s, female impersonation had become tied to the LGBT community[dubious ] and thus criminality, so it had to change forms and locations.[16] It moved from being popular mainstream entertainment to something done only at night in disreputable areas, such as San Francisco's Tenderloin.[16] Here female impersonation started to evolve into what we today know as drag and Drag Queens.[15] Drag queens such as José Sarria[19] and Aleshia Brevard[20] first came to prominence in these clubs.[16] People went to these nightclubs to play with the boundaries of gender and sexuality and it became a place for the LBGT community, especially gay men, to feel accepted. As LGBT culture has slowly become more accepted in American society, drag has also become more, though not totally, acceptable in today's society.[15]

Drag queen names[edit]

Man reading a book in a store
José Maria Gonzalez reading about drag characters Consuelo and Obvióla sets the stage for the comedy plot of Wild Side Story

A drag queen may either pick or be given a drag name by a friend, sometimes called a "drag mother", the so named thus becoming known as a "drag daughter".[21] Drag mothers and drag daughters have a mentor - apprentice relationship. Drag families were part of ball culture and drag houses around 1960.[22][dead link][citation needed]

Art of drag[edit]

man with long hair and a beard, wearing a radiant gold dress
Conchita Wurst, the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2014

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.[23] 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."[24] 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.[25]

Many parts of the drag show, and of the drag queens’ other intellectual properties, cannot be protected by intellectual property law. To substitute the lack of legal protection, drag queens revert to social norms in order to protect their intellectual property.[26]

In entertainment[edit]

Drag shows and venues[edit]

a drag queen putting on lip liner
Lorella Sukkiarini, an Italian drag queen, preparing stage make-up.

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. 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.[27]

In film[edit]

In music[edit]

a drag queen, holding a guitar above her head. She has a bright pink wig on
Miss Understood, who has appeared in several films and on television

While some male music celebrities wear exaggerated feminine clothing as part of their show, they are not necessarily drag queens. For example, Boy George wears drag queen style clothes and cosmetics but he once stated he was not a drag queen.[33] RuPaul[34] is a professional drag queen performer.

Examples of songs where lyrics refer to drag queens:

Societal reception[edit]

Drag has come to be a celebrated aspect of modern gay life.[35] 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. In the U.S. drag is typically celebrated in early March.

A televised drag competition, RuPaul's Drag Race, is the most successful program on the Logo television network. In 2016, RuPaul's Drag Race won an Emmy award for "Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program."[36] However, its winners and contestants have yet to receive the same level of recognition as mainstream reality show contestants.

Within the larger lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community, 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 negative stereotypes of women, comparable to blackface (a racially offensive portrayal of African Americans by white performers that was popular throughout the 19th to early 20th century). Conversely, some feminists embrace drag as a skewering of traditional gender roles, defying the social norms of male and female appearance 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. For example, the late Star Maris, a Canadian transgender activist, 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 trans woman on stage at a gay club. The transgender character, played by Peter Outerbridge, struggles throughout the movie to fit in with cisgender women, and performs the song partially 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 for the cause of recognition and equality.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Felix Rodriguez Gonzales (26 June 2008). "The feminine stereotype in gay characterization: A look at English and Spanish". In María de los Ángeles Gómez González; J. Lachlan Mackenzie; Elsa M. González Álvarez. Languages and Cultures in Contrast and Comparison. Pragmatics & beyond new series v 175. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 231. ISBN 978-90-272-9052-6. OCLC 860469091. Retrieved 29 April 2017. 
  2. ^ When Cross Dressing was a crime http://www.advocate.com/arts-entertainment/books/2015/03/12/tbt-when-cross-dressing-was-crime?page=full
  3. ^ ">> social sciences >> Sarria, José". glbtq. 1923-12-12. Archived from the original on 2013-12-03. Retrieved 2014-03-01. 
  4. ^ Rupaul (June 1995), Lettin' It All Hang Out: An Autobiography, Hyperion Books 
  5. ^ Spargo, Chris (2012-01-15). "NEW: RuPaul's 'Tranny' Conroversy". NewNowNext. Retrieved 2013-10-06. 
  6. ^ Musto, Michael (2010-11-12). "Is "Tranny" So Bad?". Blogs.villagevoice.com. Retrieved 2013-10-06. 
  7. ^ "Is 'Tranny' Offensive?". The Bilerico Project. 2008-09-09. Retrieved 2013-10-06. 
  8. ^ Weathers, Christeene. "Christeene by Chelsea Weathers". Art Lies. Retrieved 9 March 2013. 
  9. ^ Johnson, Dominic. "Vaginal Davis' Biography". VaginalDavis.com. Retrieved 9 March 2013. 
  10. ^ Walters, Ben (24 March 2010). "Welcome back David Hoyle: you're a divine director". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 March 2013. 
  11. ^ Shellhammer, Bradford (27 December 2010). "jer ber jones (Bradford Shellhammer : Interviews)". BradfordShellhammer.com. Archived from the original on 25 April 2011. Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  12. ^ Romano, Tricia (1 December 2009). "How to Become a Tranimal". BlackBook. Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  13. ^ Milk - Bio.
  14. ^ a b c d e Moore, F. Michael. Drag!: Male and Female Impersonators on Stage, Screen, and Television: An Illustrated World History. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Company, 1994.
  15. ^ a b c d Baker, Roger. Drag: A History of Female Impersonation in the Performing Arts. NYU Press, 1994.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h Boyd, Nan Alamilla. Wide-Open Town. University of California Press, 2003. https://muse.jhu.edu/book/25351.
  17. ^ Bean, Annemarie. “Female Impersonation in Nineteenth-Century American Blackface Minstrelsy.” Ph.D., New York University, 2001. http://search.proquest.com/docview/304709304/abstract/21B0435A209F4C54PQ/1.
  18. ^ a b c Bean, Annemarie. “Female Impersonation in Nineteenth-Century American Blackface Minstrelsy.” Ph.D., New York University, 2001. http://search.proquest.com/docview/304709304/abstract/21B0435A209F4C54PQ/1.
  19. ^ "The Drag Times." Drag, 1980. Archives of Sexuality.
  20. ^ "Finocchio's 1961 Revue One of LaMonte's Best". The Times. San Mateo, California. February 3, 1961. p. 23. Retrieved May 11, 2017. 
  21. ^ Rupp, Leila J.; Taylor, Verta A. (2003-05-15). Drag Queens at the 801 Cabaret. University of Chicago Press. p. 168. ISBN 9780226731582. 
  22. ^ "The Rainbow History Project: Drag in DC". Rainbow History Project. 2000–2007. Retrieved 2007-10-20. 
  23. ^ "Dude to Diva: How to Become a Drag Queen | The Chronicle". Dukechronicle.com. Retrieved 2014-03-01. 
  24. ^ King, Mark. "A working life: the drag queen | Money". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-03-01. 
  25. ^ "Tom Bartolomei: 10 Myths About Drag Queens". Huffingtonpost.com. 2013-04-01. Retrieved 2014-03-01. 
  26. ^ Sarid, Eden (2014). "Don't Be a Drag, Just Be a Queen - How Drag Queens Protect their Intellectual Property without Law". Florida International University Law Review. 10 (1). Retrieved 8 April 2016. 
  27. ^ "Southern Decadence Official Website". Southerndecadence.net. 2013-09-03. Retrieved 2014-03-01. 
  28. ^ "Burlington Beauties, Erin Trahan, New England Film, January 1, 2009". Newenglandfilm.com. Retrieved 2014-03-01. 
  29. ^ Bourne, Kay (2008-12-03). "Edge, Boston, MA, December 3, 2008". Edgeboston.com. Retrieved 2014-03-01. 
  30. ^ VTIFF Website, 2008.[dead link] Archived May 8, 2010[Date mismatch], at the Wayback Machine.
  31. ^ James, Megan. "VIFF Moves to Palace 9, Seven Days, October 15, 2008". 7dvt.com. Retrieved 2014-03-01. 
  32. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4007248/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ov_st_sm
  33. ^ "Boy George: "I'M Not A Dragqueen!" At Youtube". Youtube.com. 2007-12-27. Retrieved 2014-03-01. 
  34. ^ Rupaul Biography Drag Queen Diaries
  35. ^ Sarid, Eden (2014). "Don 't Be a Drag, Just Be a Queen—How Drag Queens Protect their Intellectual Property without Law". Florida International University Law Review. 10 (1): 142. 
  36. ^ "RuPaul's Drag Race". Television Academy. Retrieved 2016-09-28. 

External links[edit]