Drag has been a constant for multiple centuries. It was only in recent years that this art developed recognition and shone in the eyes of the public. Now, Drag Queens have their following. They exist as entities that, with time, garnered a lot of love, respect and praise.
But first, What is Drag?
Drag queens are performance artists. They’re almost always males, who dress in women’s clothing and often act with exaggerated femininity with the main purpose of entertainment.
They exaggerate make-up such as eyelashes, drawn on eyebrows and extremely sharp features to accentuate their more feminine features. Drag is being flamboyant and ‘extra’, often going all out with jewels, feathers, fishnets and bright colours.
Drag queens are closely associated with gay men and gay culture but can be of any sexual orientation or gender identity. They vary widely by class, culture, and dedication. Some take it up as their sole method of income, becoming professionals in the field. Others may perform once in a while, out of hobby and love for the art.
Doing drag has many motivations, from individual self-expression to mainstream performance. Drag queen activities among stage and street performers may include lip-syncing, live singing, dancing, participating in events such as gay pride parades, drag pageants, or at venues such as cabarets and nightclubs.
How did it come around?
Drag hasn’t always been this way. The current public awe it receives has come to existence only in recent years. In the past, drag was dragged, being shoved into the nooks and corners of streets and alleyways. And before this dreadful past, drag was an integral part of theatre culture.
Few fans of the art form dated the origin to be in the earliest of cross-dressing. Religious rites were said to have the most influence on drag. In the book, ‘Drag Diaries’, Jonathan David focuses on two points: ancient ceremonies like (Native America, South American and Ancient Egyptian) as well as Japanese theatre.
David acknowledges cross-dressing among the Aztecs, Incas, and Egyptians. It exists today in tribal ceremonies around the world. Imagine religious rites of initiation, invocations of the gods, calling down the rains, and warding off evil spirits as events that would reach out to the now drag culture.
Sooner than later, the performances took a less traditional turn, taking up theatre spaces and Shakespearean plots. Roles were rarely ever given to females as it was thought to be inappropriate.
Young boys instead, would take up the roles. If he were young, with a suitable face and a slim and lean body, his first assignment would be to enact as a female. There were never more than 3-4 female roles. This made it all the more exciting for the plausible actors.
However, it wasn’t until the 1930s that gave way to a gay community. It was around this time as well that talks of third sex came into talks. The third sex is someone, a feminine man or a masculine woman, who desires members of the same sex.
This caused a switch in the drug culture, it was no more associated with the white, straight man anymore. This restriction allowed private parties, that more often than not would be raided by the police.
A point in classifying the different kinds of drag that occurred at the time. While other female impersonators existed, the drag queens were integral to the new, gay-friendly spaces that began to pop up.
Drag Now? A wholesome culture!
The drag revolution was slow, yet steady. Drag had it’s a most powerful foot in New York.
At this point, drag queens were amassing large followings. Some of the first drag icons emerged: Divine was a legend out of Baltimore who frequently worked with the director John Waters. Something was striking about a 300-pound drag queen who gave no fucks.
As a result, Divine’s incredible presence went on to serve as inspiration for Ursula the Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid.
In 2009, everything changed. With the premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag queen culture was able to mount a new, more exposed platform. Drag queens were no longer something you had to seek out; no more did fans have to hunt around for local drag shows at gay bars in their cities. RuPaul’s Drag Race gave us a place to see queens in the comfort of our own homes, every week. Best of all, these were some of the best queens across America!
While you’re here, read: A Conversation with Samir Narang: A Drag Queen with an MD