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Drag queen

Drag queens Luc D'Arcy and Jerry Cyr and friend at Montreal's 2003 Divers/Cité pride parade.

Drag queens Luc D’Arcy and Jerry Cyr and friend at Montreal’s 2003 Divers/Cité pride parade.

Drag queens are performers – often gay men or transgender people – who dress in “drag” clothing associated with the female gender (see drag king for women and female-bodied people who perform in male clothing), often exaggerating certain characteristics for comic, dramatic or satirical effect.

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 or pageants, or at venues such as cabarets and discotheques.

Drag is a part of Western gay culture – drag queens participated at the Stonewall riots in June 27 1969 in New York, and drag shows are traditional at pride parades. Prominent drag queens in the gay community of a city often serve as official or unofficial spokespersons, fund-raisers, chroniclers, or community leaders.

Terminology

The term drag queen originates in Polari, the language of gay men in England in the early part of the last century. Drag meant “clothes”, and was also theatre slang for a woman’s costume worn by a male actor. A queen is an effeminate gay man.

Another term for drag queen, female impersonator, is still used though it is often regarded as inaccurate as many contemporary drag performers are not attempting to pass as women. Female impersonation, under that name, used to be illegal in many places, which inspired the drag queen José Sarria to hand out labels to his friends reading “I am a boy,” so they could not be accused of female impersonation. [1] 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 skin-tight dresses?”

Most drag queens prefer to be referred to as “she” while in drag and desire to stay completely in character. Some performers may be offended if they are referred to as “he” or by their legal name while in character.

In the UK, alongside traditional drag work such as shows and performances, many drag queens engage in ‘mix-and-mingle’ work at night clubs or at parties/events and serving as hostesses.

Drag and transvestism

Most drag queens perform for fulfilment as a hobby, a profession, or an art form; as a way to be in the spotlight; or as a road to local or wider fame. There are a significant number of heterosexual men who perform in drag. There are also transgender and transsexual persons who perform as drag queens.

Drag queens are sometimes called transvestites, though that term has generally different connotations than “drag queen”. “Drag Queen” usually connotes cross-dressing for the purpose of entertainment or performance and is not usually used to describe those who cross-dress for the fulfilment of transvestic fetishes alone, or whose cross-dressing is primarily a part of a private sexual activity or identity.

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 synch 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.

Genres

  • High camp drag queens employ a drag aesthetic based on clown-like values like exaggeration, satire, and ribaldry. Milstead Divine and Jolene Sugarbaker are examples of camp queens.
  • Some drag queens exaggerate in the dimension of elegance and fashion, employing elaborate jewellery and gowns. Lady Chablis The Lady Chablis, who can be seen in the film In the Garden of Good and Evil Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is an example of this type of performer. Another example is drag pageant title holder Christine Mancini. Many such drag queens impersonate specific actresses and other pop divas, such as Cher, Madonna, Dion Céline Dion, and others.
  • 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 pageantry systems. Some of these have grand prizes that rival those of pageants such as Miss America.

Opinions

Some members of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community criticise drag queens and 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. Others see this point of view as intolerant of the diversity and history of the gay community. Still others simply regard drag as traditional fun that need not be politically analysed.

Some feminists believe that drag promotes harmful stereotypes of women, though others see drag as a critique or “subversion” of gender roles. Some drag performers may regard their acts as a satire of femininity, or as a form of social criticism. Others may view it as entertainment, an art form, or simply fun.

Drag queens are sometimes rejected by parts of the transgender community – especially, but not exclusively, by many transsexual women – because of fears that they may be stereotyped as drag queens. Canadian Transgender activist Star Maris wrote a song entitled “I’m Not A Fucking Drag Queen” which expresses this viewpoint.