Last night after a long week, my wife and I decided on a date night that started with a lovely dinner out. Over desert we pondered our next move; not ready to go home just yet. The choice was between an upscale “grown folks” lounge up the street and the neighborhood Gay nightclub where we knew there would likely be a drag show starting shortly. We chose the cocktail spot that came with the eye candy.
My wife working in the performance and entertainment space and myself an habitual observer and analyst we began commenting on the performances and sharing stories of about our drag show experiences in the past.
My first experience with drag was when I was a teenager in South Florida having just come out of the closet and regularly attending a youth group of about 20 or so teenage homos like myself. About six months in one of the older teens was having a party at their house, where I met the most gorgeous redhead I thought I had ever seen. It turns out she was a “he” and a member of the group who had been exploring drag as an “extra curricular” activity.
Back then I thought that kind of thing was all about gender identity conflict and sex, but didn’t realize that it had a name and was indeed a performance art disguised as a deviant behavior.
Drag actually has a long cultural history in the performing arts, starting in the earlier days of theatre when women were not allowed to perform as actors (and this is not an Anglo phenomenon…it has existed in most cultures). As noted on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drag_%28clothing%29) “Drag is used for any clothing carrying symbolic significance but usually referring to the clothing associated with one gender role when worn by a person of another gender. The origins of the word are debated, but ‘Drag’ has appeared in print as early as 1870. One suggested etymological root is 19th-century theater slang, from the sensation of long skirts trailing on the floor.”
Nowadays, Drag in the U.S. and around the world has started to emerge from the show rooms of the gay bars to cable television: Rupaul’s Drag Race is one example http://www.logotv.com/shows/rupauls_drag_race/season_4/series.jhtml and in this case on the Gay cable station, Logo.
Drag as we know it does very much have it’s roots in the gay community, hence the term “Drag Queen” (gay males who perform as females) which made its way to popular culture in the 1940s….and now the term “Drag King” (gay females who perform as males) has emerged From my perspective it seems like this modern-day art form, much like many others, emerged out of a very distinct cultural conflict: of gender and sexual orientation being inextricably linked and the need to address that in a public forum that allowed for both parody and homage of the opposite gender.
And the thing about drag is, it still kind of has the appeal of a Carnival side-show….not like other fringe artistic concepts that have made it to the mainstream: like tattoos and “Goth”. And I think this is because forms of art that deal with such a tightly woven part of our social climate and culture as gender hit too close to home for people to see accept it “in the flesh” and above the radar. And that is a bit of a shame for me because I think that given more public support, this art form that combines emulation of female / male beauty , costume design / creation and musical / theatrical performance could evolve as something magnificent on the public stage. It’s a rare creative concept that addresses some very human and cultural ideas.
If you have a limited Drag vocabulary, than I suggest visiting the Amazon.com Essential Drag Queen Movie Collection list:
- The social genius of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (thecontentlab.icrossing.com)
- 15 Drag Queen Cooking Shows That Are a Must See (advocate.com)
- Sharon Needles Wants YOU To Dress Up As Sharon Needles For Hallowe’en (pinkisthenewblog.com)
- South Florida drag queens to hold court at Stonewall Summer Pride in Wilton Manors (miamiherald.typepad.com)
- Drag Queens Prohibited at Most Holy Redeemer Parish (newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com)
- Ladies And Gentlemen: See Two Faces Of Gender Identity In Stunning “Half Drag” Photos (fastcocreate.com)
- Beauty Product or Drag Queen? (bellasugar.com)