D is for drag

Page 1

is for drag

is for drag

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 What is Drag?


Chapter 2 The Her-story


Chapter 3 Queens for Change


References Index






What is drag?

Drag... refers to a person wearing clothing of from the opposite sex. A drag queen is... a person, usually male, who dresses in clothing of the opposite sex, often acts with exaggerated femininity and in the feminine gender roles.

Chapter Introduction

The origin of the term is uncertain. The first recorded

Drag is sincerely invested in it. Whatever the markers

usage of drag in reference to actors who dressed in

of gender are in a particular culture that we are looking

women’s clothing is from 1870. The word “queen” was

at. Because to some extent that is what it comes down

then used as a derogatory slur towards homosexuals.

to. Women fought to be able to wear pants, but it is

In the 21st century, a drag queen is not just a man who

still odd and unusual from many to see a man walking

wears women’s clothes. The meaning drag queen is an

around in a non-bifurcated piece of material. There

entirely separate entity.

are many reasons people do drag, from self-expression

Although many drag queens tend to be homosexual men, heterosexual and bisexual queens do exist, as do queens with other sexualities and genders. When so impeccably dressed and flawlessly painted, the person underneath the queen disappears almost completely. Drag performers often describe their personas as if

to the performing and entertaining in “high drag”. Drag queen activities—among the stage and street performers—may include lip-syncing performances, live singing, dancing, participating in events such as gay pride parades, drag pageants, or at venues such as cabarets and discotheques.

they were another person. They’ve plunged their

Drag queens counterparts are drag kings, who are

hands deep down into their own psyches and pulled

women who dress in exaggeratedly masculine clothing.

out the weirdest, fiercest, and most theatrical parts

The men who dress like drag kings are sometimes

of themselves, then mashed them together to form

termed faux kings. The term “female impersonator”

something new. A whole transformation, like a

is another term for drag queen. While this is still

character or an alter ego.

used, it is sometimes regarded as slightly inaccurate,

Drag is a multivalent art form with a complex and stratified history—or should I say herstory .Drag can be a creative outlet, a means of self-exploration, and a way to make cultural statements. The performance of drag itself is activism. Whether it’s strutting down RuPaul’s runway in the couture or standing silently on a street corner donning a cheap skirt and wig. Drag is

because not all of contemporary drag performers are attempting to pass as women. Many drag performers refer to themselves as drag artists, as opposed to drag queens, as contemporary forms of drag have become non binary. Unfortunately, female impersonation has been and continues to be illegal in some places.

an inherent rejection of societal norms and conservative views on gender and sexuality. While drag is seen more and more throughout our everyday lives, it still courts controversy.

What is drag?


The Her-story

Chapter Introduction

Drag has always been mainstream—it was the different platforms that drag has been able to work through recently—perhaps there’s a quicker, wider audience that has access to it. Now more than ever, it is vital to recognize the trials and triumphs of the LGBTQA+ community and how significant they are to society. Their history is apart of our history as humans yet, the community is still fighting for acceptance still to this day. Despite popular belief, the act of wearing items of clothing commonly associated with the opposite sex isn’t recent. Drag has been a part of our culture for centuries. And every era and every new iteration of the art form has been crucial to the shape and success of drag today. The drag community has been shaped by a series of historic events, challenges, and wins. Since the dawn of the LGBT rights movement, drag queens have been fighting on the front line.

The Her-story


Drag queens and gender


consider themselves male


consider themselves other


consider themselves female


D is for drag

American Vaudeville 19th Century

As early as the first decades of the 19th century, theater goers could enjoy a performance of a variety of shows such as singers, dancers, magicians and more all in one night. Female and male impersonators were also major part of the entertainment. Both were extremely popular and well-paid. While some of these performers were actually homosexual or transgender, people did not make a direct association between cross-dressing and homosexuality.

Drag was mainly viewed as a form of art or comedy during this time. American Vaudeville was a theatrical genre that was a popular form of family entertainment from the 1880’s to the 1930’s. Vaudeville was adopted and radically changed in the United States from the Parisian boulevard theatre. The first recorded instance of the term “vaudeville” was being used to describe a distinctly American art form. This was in 1871 when the company Sargent’s Great Vaudeville Company was founded in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Her-story


Brigham Morris Young as Madam Pattirini


D is for drag

American Vauderville 19th Century In the years following the Civil War, referred to as The Gilded Age, there was an explosion in urban population. The war had ended in 1865 and about 55 years later the number of people living in urban areas had increased from around 10 million to 50 million. With an increased wage and leisure time, people were willing and had the money to spend money on entertainment. At the same time, a culture of incorporation was rising in America, and the entertainment sector of American life was not immune to the allure of big business. Therefore, the standardizing and institutionalizing began in American popular entertainment in much the same way movie executives would during the 1920s.

them some fame within the burgeoning scene. Vaudeville truly came into its own when Benjamin Franklin Keith took the reins. Following success in the traveling circus and the founding of a curio museum in Boston, he decided to open The Bijou Theater in Boston, Massachusetts. Young’s was one of the founders of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association, the predecessor to the program for the young men in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, the Mormon Church. Morris Young publicly appear as a cross dressing singer under the pseudonym of Madame Pattirini. Morris Young appeared as Pattirini at venues in northern and central Utah from 1885 through 1900.

Eventually, these popular entertainments began traveling together, but, while this was a combination of many of the art forms which would influence Vaudeville, they were still compartmentalized, like showing an audience individual colors one after another rather than a painting. It was not until the first decade of the 20th century that popular variety theater had reached its peak. Men who played female roles would often note that the long, heavy skirts they wore would drag across the stage floor. The term stuck and “drag” became both an adjective and a noun describing men who wore women’s clothing. During this time, drag performances remained mostly underground. In theater, men who performed as women were doing so simply to fill the role. In drag performances, men dressed in “drag” to emulate and caricature famous women, usually for comedic effect. Traveling vaudeville acts featured many female impersonators whose comedic performances earned

The Her-story


American Vauderville 19th Century

Julian Eltinge gave female impersonation a high-class

Mr. Wix of Wickham, a British musical comedy, was

sheen, paving the way for the next generations of drag

based on the British play Charley’s Aunt. The play

to come. From the 1900s to the late 1920s, Eltinge

centered around the idea that the protagonist must

was the toast first of Boston, then New York, then Los

don attire of the opposite sex in order to survive or

Angeles. He made his career performing in drag and

succeed in some way. The element of compulsion,

was known for a dedication to female impersonation.

made cross-dressing a point of comedy, otherwise

His drag was so precise that most audiences never

would have been deemed taboo. Eltinge would go on

knew he was a man unless he removed his wig.

to play characters like this throughout his career—

Born William Julian Dalton, Julian Eltinge became interested in drama while in school. Dalton was interested in dressing up early on, which his mother apparently accommodated. He performed with the Boston Bank Officers’ Association, which every year

often otherwise confined to dive bars. The de-wigging became a part of Eltinge’s vaudeville performances, and after several curtain calls, his final curtain call would involve him waving his wig from behind the stage curtains to the wild audience’s applause.

put on fundraising theatricals in the tradition of the

In 1911 Woods built the Eltinge Theatre. to honor the

Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club, where men would

nationwide success of Julian Eltinge. By 1912, Eltinge

be dressed in drag for performances; because they

was one of the highest paid stars on the stage. His

were Ivy Leaguers, their female impersonation was

talent for self promotion is evident from the countless

respected and not looked down upon.

newspaper stories he planted, the endless interviews and photo ‘’ops’’ he arranged, and the three “Julian Eltinge Magazines” he had published. Much of this was intended to counteracting the numerous speculations about his sexual inclinations. One of these magazines, was especially geared to Eltinge’s predominantly female audience, promoting his own line of women’s cosmetics, corsets and shoes.


D is for drag

William Dalton as Julian Eltinge

The Her-story


Drag ball at Webster Hall, NY during 1920s

Drag Balls 1920-1930

These drag balls may have originated from the

The Pansy and Lesbian craze of the 1920s was

masquerade balls and with gay nightlife of the late

influential, and surprisingly open toLGBTQ activities

1800s. By the 1890s there were a number of dance

to the modern eye. After discovering the popularity

halls and entertainment venues in the Bowery area that

of drag balls for this time, it’s unbelievable that

had what we would now call the drag entertainment.

knowledge of them almost were forgotten completely.

While the Hamilton Lodge Ball may have begun in the

It wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that historians

1860s or ‘70s, it probably didn’t gain a predominantly

examined this part of gay and lesbian life. While

it’s gay and lesbian presence until the 1920s. By the

dominant American society disapproved of LGBTQ

mid-30s, it was the largest annual ball held in New

people, they were quite fond of their parties. Men

York, attracting spectators who were gay, lesbian,

who dressed as women were often called “pansies”,

straight, black and white.

while women who dressed as men were called “bulldaggers” or “bull-dikers.” In the early 1930s, drag king Gladys “Fatso” Bentley. She played the piano, along with singing amazingly lewd songs and parodies to blues music and popular show tunes. The openly bisexual, masculine, fully figured, drag king Bentley would often wore a white tux, a hat, and played up a “bull-diker” image with male impersonation during her act. The brightest star of the Pansy Craze was Jean Malin. The roots of the Pansy Craze stretch back decades, at least as far as the first of the New York’s infamous masquerade balls, held in Harlem in 1869. Prizes were awarded for the best costumes and Malin was often among the prizewinners. At one point, Jean Malin was the highest-paid nightclub entertainer in New York. She worked with the Rocky Twins among others during Jean Malin

her short career.

Drag Balls 1920–1930 The Rocky Twins out of drag with Mistinguett

The Rock y Twins were the handsome and outrageous brothers who lived life to the fullest. The two made their theatrical debut as The Rocky Twins in the Casino de Paris show Les Ailes de Paris in early 1928. Their act took Paris by storm as they dressed up in drag, imitating the famous Dolly Sisters who had just retired. They made an immediate impression and were adored by Parisian theatergoers. The Rocky Twins became great friends with Helene Nice later to become known as the Bugatti Queen. In the midst of their success at the Concert Mayol they were filmed by Marcel L’Herbier in L’Argent (released in January 1929), a modernisation of an Emile Zola novel. With a budget of 5 million Francs this was the biggest French film of the season and established the Rock y Twins as two major Parisian stars. In the meantime they had left Paris for Vienna and appeared in the Emil Schwarz revue Sie Werden Lachen at the Stadt Theatre from October 1928 to February 1929. On their return to Paris in the spring of 1929, Mistinguett, ‘The Queen of Parisian Music Hall,’ took them under her wing and escorted them on a trip to London. Here it is likely that they appeared in various cabaret shows including the famous Kit Kat Club (April 1929) and in September 1929 starred in Andre Charlot’s cabaret revue at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane and scored a big success in a number called ‘Guess Which is Which.’

The Rocky Twins


D is for drag

The more sober atmosphere of London may have

In contrast to their rather risqué appearances at the

precluded any appearance in drag as the Dolly Sisters

Ship Café, Julianne secured exhibition dancing

but according to Mistinguett they were arrested for

contracts as a trio in society functions that included

public indecency (the mind boggles) and Miss rescued

a gala dinner and dance event in the Garden Room

them from prison, ticking off the judge in the process

of the Biltmore in March 1932. In the Spring of 1933,

and they all returned happily to Paris. In November

Jean Malin returned to Club New Yorker after a stint

1929 they starred with Mistinguett in Paris Miss at

at the Ship Café and launched a new edition of ‘New

the Casino de Paris. Apart from acting as her partners

Yorker Nites’ with Julianne Johnston and the Rocky

in several numbers they also did their hide and seek

Twins. The group continued on in cabaret or vaudeville

game where a gallant young man goes behind a tree

until they appeared in the Henry Carson musical

and immediately a gorgeous woman appears.

revue Continental Varieties at the Theatre Masque,

With their success in Paris Miss, they tried to break

New York towards the end of 1935.

into America. By the spring of 1932, the two had became the celebrated drag act at the popular Ship Cafe at Venice Beach, Los Angeles. They were re-united with Julianne Johnstone, who, after a career in film had danced in Europe and became friends with the Rocky Twins in Vienna.

Historic Drag Figures


Women in drag at Webster Hell

Drag Balls 1920–1930

Prohibition had played a huge part in making all of these fantastic parties happen. Alcohol brought people together, but Prohibition had gathered them in new combinations and the Harlem Renaissance was in full effect. Suddenly, when everyone was on the search for newly illegal alcohol, the black and white gay and lesbian life came into play with dominant society. In the clubs of Greenwich Village, the bohemian artistic stereotype often gave cover for the LGBTQ people. As did the theater district of Times Square; as outsiders, artists and theater-workers were more open-minded to what the dominant society believed they were deviants. LGBTQ men and women were sometimes forced to live double lives. To hide their identities from their coworkers, they would engage in “lavender marriages”; legal marriages for the purpose of a cover. Some may been marriages of bisexual couples). Queer men and women who didn’t live publicly as a pansy or a bull-daggers didn’t necessarily “identify” as anything in particular, even if they acted on their desires and had same-sex partners. While there may not have been an official closet, but the toleration of the community didn’t continue forever. Sodomy laws that had been updated in 1923 were enforced heartily, and in the ‘30s the cultural reactionary force against visible LGBTQ identities was still very strong. The sex-crime panic had flourished, and gay men and lesbians were seen as dangerous to society. Prohibition was repealed, and the New York State Liquor laws were updated to serve alcohol only in places that were “orderly”, which didn’t include the gay and lesbian nightclubs.

The Her-story


Casa Susana 1950’s

These ideas were far more radical in the 1950s when

Most of the guests at Casa Susanna were married and

gender roles were so narrowly defined, than they are

considered themselves heterosexual men who enjoyed

today in our more “enlightened” era. Casa Susana

just cross-dressing. Many others would later would

was the secret lives of men dressing as women and

identify as transgender and lived out their lives as

who are, perhaps, in flight from conforming to roles

women, including Virginia Prince and Susanna herself.

traditionally considered manly—the breadwinners

Susanna and her friends styled era-specific fashion

of their families, making repairs around the house—

shows and dress-up Christmas and tea parties. It was

even if just for a weekend. In these striking, vintage

a more private and intimate life at Casa Susanna,

snapshots, the guest are caught playing bridge, enjoy

where the girls sweep the front porch, cook, knit, play

cocktails and vamping for the camera.

Scrabble, relax at the nearby lake and, of course, dress for the occasion.

The stunning insight to a very private club that became nothing less than brilliant and awe inspiring in its pre-glam ordinariness stages, nascent preening and posturing in new identities. It is not glamour for the stage but for each other, just like other women who dress up to spend time with their friends, flaunting their own sense of style. Liberation—a simplification of the conflicts inherent in a double life—is an evident pleasure at Casa Susanna.


D is for drag

Posing in front of Casa Susanna

Photo shoot inside Casa Susanna

The Her-story


Iconic Drag Movies Movies with men or women in drag that you may or may not have heard of before. Each letter from “drag” equals three movies.

1950’s 1960’s 1970’s 1980’s 1990’s 2000’s 2010’s


D is for drag

Glen or Glenda (1953)  |  Some Like it Hot (1959)

Pyscho (1960)  |  An Actor’s Revenge (1963)  |  The Craven Sluck (1967)  |  The Queen (1968)  |  The Parade of Roses, (1969)  |  Mondo Trasho (1969)

Goodbye Gemini (1970)  |  Women in Revolt (1971)  |  Pink Flamingos (1972)  |  Female Trouble (1974)  |  The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)  |  Outrageous! (1977)  |  La Cage Aux Folles (1978)

Dressed to Kill (1980)  |  Polyester (1981)  |  Tootsie (1982)  |  Lust in the Dust (1985) | Mascara (1987) | Torch Song Trilogy (1988) | Hairspray (1988)

Paris is Burning (1990)  |  Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)  |  The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)  |  Stone Wall (1995)  |  To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)  |  Wigstock (1995)  |  The Birdcage (1996)  |  The Nutty Professor (1996)  |  Mulan (1998)

Big Momma’s House (2000)  |  Holiday Heart (2000)  |  Juwanna Mann (2002)  |  Camp (2002)  |  The Hot Chick (2002)  |  White Chicks (2004)  |  Kinky Boots (2005)  |  Transamerica (2005)  |  I Wanna Be a Republican (2005) | Madea’s Family Reunion (2006) | Starrbooty (2007) | Norbit (2007)

Malice in Wonderland: The Dolls Movie (2010)  |  All About Evil (2010)  |  Jack and Jill (2011)  |  Leave it on the Floor (2011)  |  I am Divine (2013)  |  Hurrican Bianca (2016)  |  Cherry Pop (2017)

Page from One magazine

Staged “sip-in” at Julius’ bar, New York


D is for drag

The Mattachine Society 1950’s

The oldest gay rights organizations in the country

Leitsch was the head of the New York City chapter

was founded in 1950 by L.A. Activist Harry Hay. These

of the Mattachine Society. Inspired by the black civil

gay rights organizations were called “homophile”

rights lunch-counter sit-ins, Leitsch came up with the

then. Hay and his circle of friends, the Members of

idea of the “sip-ins”. Later, the court case determined

The Mattachine Society, hoped to end persecution by

that the New York State Liquor Authority could not

police and politicians and presented homosexuals as

deny service to gay people. To this day Julius’ is still

a distinct cultural group worthy of respect. Mattachine

around, serving gays as New York’s oldest gay bar.

published newsletters, assisted members in legal straits, and created the first national LGBT activism network with chapters around the United States. By the mid-1950s, Mattachine morphed into the spinoff group One, Inc. This lead to its own eponymous magazine. In 1954, the FBI and the Postmaster General of Los Angeles declared One magazine too obscene and refused to deliver it through the U.S. mail. The publishers sued and, though they lost the initial case and appeal, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the magazine—marking the first time the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the LGBT community. Bars in New York harassed and were technically not allowed to serve homosexual customers. In 1966, three members of the New York Chapter Mattachine Society told the bartender they were gay and asked to be served as they staged a “sip-in” demonstration. The bartender had already placed a glass in front of Leitsch before hearing he was a homosexual and rushed to cover the glass.

The Her-story


The LGBT Rights Movement: 1960’s in California

Cooper’s Donuts was the first such uprising specifically

Cooper’s was located on Main Street, in the Los

against police treatment of the LGBT community.

Angeles “gay ghetto” of the 1950s–60s. Cops would

The LAPD had a reputation for brutalizing the LGBT

routinely raid Cooper’s and demand to see patrons’

residents, one that continued well into the 1980s. In

identification. If the gender on their ID cards didn’t

May of 1959, A group of drag queens and hustlers

match how they were presented, they’d be thrown in

clashed with the LAPD at the 24-hour diner, Cooper’s.

jail. Two cops entered the diner in May 1959 and picked

Under the leadership of police chief William H. Parker,

up two hustlers, two drag queens, and another young

the police made stopping “sex perversion” their top

man and led them out to be arrested. One of the men

priority. After Parker had took over in 1950, arrests for

objected, and others followed suit, pouring out of the

homosexuality increased more than 85%.

shop to protest police harassment. The officers fled the scene for backup, but by the time they returned, the street was overrun with demonstrators. Several people were arrested, and the riot ended as quickly as it began. That night is widely considered to be the first gay uprising in modern history.

Seven years later, a similar incident had taken place at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. Compton’s was one of the first known acts of resistance by queer people to police brutality, and the issue of improper policing remains one of the nation’s biggest flashpoints. Targeting, improper arrests, and police violence remain a huge issue for the LGBT people of color.


D is for drag

The Tenderloin was the gay mecca of San Francisco. Compton’s management didn’t want the cafeteria to be a popular late-night hangout for drag queens and trans women. Workers would often call the police at night to clear the place out. The Tenderloin, where sex work, gambling, and drug use were a commonplace, was one of only a few neighborhoods where trans women and drag queens could live openly. Yet they were still regularly subject to police harassment and arrested for the crime of “female impersonation.” In August 1966, a cafeteria worker called the SFPD when customers became unruly. When a police officer attempted to arrest one trans woman, she threw a cup of hot coffee in his face. Within minutes, dishes were were flying, windows were being broken, and a nearby newsstand was burned down. The next few night, gays, lesbians hustlers and trans people picketed Compton’s. But unlike Stonewall, the city of San Francisco responded by developing a network of trans-specific social, mental-health and medical services, which led to the creation of the National Transsexual Counseling Unit in 1968. Screaming Queens at Cooper’s

The Her-story


Stonewall Protests

The LGBT Rights Movement: The Stonewall Riots

The Stonewall Inn was the hub of the NYC LGBTQ Community during the 60s. Things turned violent on June 28, 1969, after a few LGBTQ people were arrested on questionable charges. It was standard procedure for police officers to lead women into the club to the bathroom to verify their sex, and promptly arrest any cross-dressers among the crowd. Police also began sexually harassing lesbian patrons at the bar that night while frisking them. Employees and drag queens were dragged outside as they were violently handled by the police before being shoved into police cars. After a police officer clubbed a woman over the head for saying that her handcuffs were too tight, a violent riot broke out and the crowd exploded. The LGBTQ community was finally fed up with constantly being targeted by the police. Seeing these public arrests had incited rioting that spilled over into the neighboring streets and lasted several days. These events are known as what sparked the gay liberation movement in the United States. Two queens of color, refused to be left out of the fight for equality from the very beginning. Activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were on the front lines of the fight for trans rights from as early as the 1960s when the movement was just beginning to gain traction. During the time of the Stonewall riots, the LGBTQ community did not have the same extensive vocabulary to describe sexuality.Marsha and Sylvia were transgender women, but primarily referred to themselves as drag queens or transvestites, which have separate meanings today.

The Her-story


The LGBT Rights Movement: The Stonewall Protests

Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson’s paths crossed at the famous Stonewall riots in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York. At this point in 1969, the Stonewall Inn was one of the few places in the city that the gay community was able to commune without suffering harassment from the police and even with public shaming. Furthermore, the regular patrons of Stonewall were not the mainstream members of the gay community, but rather the most marginalized members.

The most common patrons at Stonewall were drag queens, transgender people, butch lesbians, male sex workers, and homeless youth. These patrons also happened to be living in poverty by virtue of the fact that they were outcasts even in their own subculture. Many were also people of color. Unfortunately at the time, much of the LGBT community tended to sideline members who were not white.


D is for drag

Marsha was celebrating her 25th birthday at Stonewall during the early morning hours on the day of the riot. When the police began arresting and harassing gay patrons at the club that night, however, the gay community had enough. Establishments across the city where gay patrons congregated had been raided and for too long, gay patrons had suffered persecution by the police. Since their first performance on Castro Street in the late ’70s, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have used drag, protest, and highly controversial religious imagery to raise over $1 million for various AIDS and LGBT-related causes, educating people along the way. Many queens joined ACT UP during the AIDS epidemic, attending die-ins at Catholic churches and protesting against pharmaceutical companies that withheld HIV drugs. After the Stonewall riots, the two queens Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson started S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), a group focused on providing shelter and support to queer, homeless youth. Sylvia also fought against the exclusion of transgender people in New York’s Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act. She even meet with the

Sylvia and Masha P protesting

Empire State Pride Agenda about trans inclusion up until her death.

The Her-story


The Underground Drag Scene 1970’s–1980’s

Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, New York’s drag scene

As drag became more popular on the nightlife

transformed from an underground phenomenon to

scene, it expanded into a lot of clubs and nightlife in

a vibrant nightlife subculture. The 1970s brought an

general. The drag ball scene is fascinating subculture

expansion of ball participation as balls increased their

that illuminates themes of race, gender, and sexual

numbers and types of categories to allow all inclusive

orientation within society. Balls are competitions that

and involvement of everyone. Balls became a safe

consist of individuals, often drag queens, who perform

space for queer youth of color, mainly Blacks and

different drag genres and categories. Drag refers to

Latinos/Latinas, to express themselves freely.

the practices of one gender dressing in the clothes

Linda Simpson was a longtime drag personality who moved to New York from Minnesota in the late ‘80s. She quickly became immersed into the burgeoning drag scene of East Village—the drag explosion— experiencing drag’s rapidly increasing popularity

typically worn by the opposite gender and often adopting the conventional mannerisms of that gender. Drag queens and kings develop a drag persona, adopting a drag name and cultivating their unique style and attitude

firsthand. Simpson would also bring along a camera.

This new realm of ball culture came the development

Her collection of photographs, provides a rare look

of competition. These competitions consisted of an

inside the New York drag scene that was once on the

entire language of concepts, categories, dances, and

cusp of taking over mainstream media. Simpson has

slang that are unique to the subculture. Participants

begun presenting a slide show of her photos, titled

“walk” or compete on a stage or runway for prizes,

“The Drag Explosion,” which displays the evolution of

displaying their outfit along with their persona for

New York drag culture spanning from 1987 to 1996.

different categories. These performances consist of strutting, dancing, and spoken word. Performances are judged by one’s appearance and dancing. One common where females highlighting their femininity and males highlighting their masculinity. Other categories include business executive, best dressed, and butch queens in pumps.


D is for drag

New York underground ball scene during 1990s

Behind the scenes of “Paris is Burning�

The Underground Drag Scene 1980s–1990s

Voguing—the dance made famous by Madonna’s hit

Paris is Burning presents the lives of an ensemble

song Vogue in 1990—actually originated from the

cast of real people in the Harlem drag ball scene of the

ball culture in the 1980s. Voguing categories quickly

late 80s. The Harlem drag ball scene was a subculture

became popular in the ball community. The dance

located at a unique crossroads of urban poverty,

utilizes stylized arm movements, sharp poses, and fast,

marginalized black and Latin communities and queer

low to the ground foot movements. The spectrum of

identity. These individuals—consistently robbed

identities performed on the floor, and the craft and

by society of privileges which many watching would

spectacle of the performances themselves, move to

take for granted—regenerated and created among

center stage of the routine labor of self-presentation.

themselves a new capacity for self-worth, for value,

Ball participants would use their performances to

for joy and, crucially, for family.

communicate specific information about themselves to others. The balls created a welcoming, non-critical space for the queer community to construct their sense of self in their own hidden world.

For those who could not openly express their own sexuality and gender identity within their biological families, groups called “houses” or “families” had emerged. These houses serve became these only

The drag ball culture actively resists the dominating

source of family for most. Many queer youth joined

of cultural norms of society. Participants created a new

balls at a young age, and sometimes live with their

space to directly challenge traditional gender roles

houses if they cannot safely live with their biological

and hetero-normative identities. Balls were used to

family. These alternative families are led by their drag

express these restrictive categories and to reveal

“mothers” or “fathers”. Houseparents serve as the

their abuse as transgender, gay, and minority groups.

heads of the houses and are role models and mentors

Houses provided a space for queer youth to feel

for their “children”.

supported. The balls resist these gender norms by gender-bending through both the outfits and the mannerisms of the queens and kings. The realness category shows how the participants work to perform certain roles, for example a straight business executive, so as to stay safe on the streets. They can be “real” with their queer identities within their community. They would also practice “passing” as straight individuals during their performances. The realness category provided a space for queer individuals who enjoy practicing conforming to the traditional gender norms.

The Her-story


RuPaul Viva Glam MAC ad


D is for drag

The RuPual Effect 1990s

RuPaul first became part of the drag scene after

Rupaul continued recording music, received a

performing in clubs Atlanta as a dancer and appearing

modeling contract with MAC Cosmetics, appeared in

at the annual Wigstock festival. RuPaul and his fellow

movies such as Blue in the Face and The Brady Bunch

drag companion, Lady Bunny, were apart of the Atlanta

Movie, and landed his own TV talk show. The RuPaul

drag scene. The two appeared in a variety of low-

Show, which ran until 1998. In 2009, he debuted

budget films, including the Starbooty series. In 1991,

the reality TV competition show RuPaul’s Drag Race.

RuPaul was signed to Tommy Boy Records, and two

The weekly show features competing drag queens

years later his debut album, Supermodel of the World,

who work their way to become a star. The show was

was released. The single Supermodel, reached the top

turned down by every network bar one until finally

50 of the pop charts and number two on the dance

being accepted by a small network, Logo TV. RuPaul’s

charts. By the mid-90s he was a household name and

Drag Race became an instant hit, quickly crossing

thus began The RuPaul Effect.

over to VH1, bringing the subculture of drag into the middle of America’s living rooms.

RuPaul’s Drag Race ad

The Her-story


Average Age Range of a Drag Queen


ages 18–29


ages 30–39


ages 40–49


ages 50–59


ages 60+


D is for drag

Historic Drag Figures


Queens for Change


D is for drag

Chapter Introduction

While RuPaul’s successes are unprecedented in the

History is glittered with queens who saw their roles

modern history of drag, these achievements are no

as so much more than just performers. For much of

campy accident. From the beginning of his career,

history, trans people and people of color have been

RuPaul has been a serious businessman as his fame

excluded from both the gay rights and women’s rights

grew by transforming himself into a product for

movements, in spite of the fact that they are often the

public consumption. RuPaul’s Drag Race’s impact is

most negatively impacted by gender and sexuality-

undeniable and continues to inspire.

based discrimination. Over the decades, iconic queens

The flamboyant world of drag doesn’t draw the type who stays away from the spotlight. These cisgender and transgender performers have sashayed their way

have emerged in the drag community. After these flash points, many continued to do so, using their prominent community status to champion equality.

into herstory, reshaping the political and cultural landscape into something now more delightfully garish and unquestionably fabulous along the way. While other drag queens found a way to attract a mainstream audience, others have brought queer culture so aggressively to the wider world.

Queens for Change



The Parisian sensation Post- World War II France, Coccinelle made her debut

Her success paved the way for other trans performers

as a drag performer at Chez Madame Arthur. She then

who underwent “the operation� and continued to

performed alongside other female impersonators at

perform. Later in life, she became involved in trans

Le Carrousel de Paris. In 1958, she became a media

activism and founded Devenir Femme.

sensation, after undergoing gender-confirmation surgery and returning to the stage. Coccinelle instantly appeared in films and headlined shows at the Paris Olympia.


D is for drag

Jose Sarria

The veteran queen An Army veteran of World War II, JosĂŠ Sarria became

After his death in 2013, mourners showed up for his

a drag performer at the Black Cat CafĂŠ. He embraced

funeral in full drag regalia before he was interred with

a role as a leader in the LGBT movement as founder

full military honors.

of the International Court System, one of the oldest continuously running activist groups fighting for gay rights. Sarria in 1961 became the first openly gay candidate for political office when he ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Queens for Change


Flawless Sabrina

The awless ďŹ ghter Flawless Sabrina was born in Philadelphia in 1939

Cross-dressing was illegal in those days, but that did

as Jack Doroshow. The legend first tried on women’s

not stop Sabrina as she was arrested numerous times

clothes at age 8. By age 19, the Mother Flawless

for dressing in drag. In 1967, she was arrested once

Sabrina character was perfected. Despite drag being

again upon promoting a semi-documentary film called

stigmatized in the 1960s, even in the gay community,

The Queen in Times Square. Later on in life, Sabrina

Mother Flawless Sabrina organized drag pageants

became an activist for gay and trans people, homeless

across the United States. It was at these events that

youth, and those living with HIV or AIDS.

many iconic performers, such as Divine, donned drag for the first time.


D is for drag

Lady Bunny

The queen of the wigs An Army veteran of World War II, JosĂŠ Sarria became

After his death in 2013, mourners showed up for his

a drag performer at the Black Cat CafĂŠ. He embraced

funeral in full drag regalia before he was interred with

a role as a leader in the LGBT movement as founder

full military honors.

of the International Court System, one of the oldest continuously running activist groups fighting for gay rights. Sarria in 1961 became the first openly gay candidate for political office when he ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Queens for Change



The filthiest person alive Harris Glenn Milstead, also known as “ Divine,” has

Divine’s legacy lives to this day; he has been a great

been described as “one of the few truly radical and

inspiration to many artists. Portraits of Divine have

essential artists” of the 20th century. Divine became

been painted by artists like David Hockney and Andy

famous for his starring roles in many of John Waters’

Warhol. In Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid, the

films, most notably Hairspray and Pink Flamingos. A

animation of Ursula the Sea-Witch was inspired by

month before his death in 1988, the film Hairspray was

Divine. Divine will always be a legend and the filthiest

released and his dream of becoming a well-respected

person alive!

actor began to flourish.


D is for drag


Supermodel of the world RuPaul Andre Charles is an American actor, model,

Skewering gender expectations and perceived norms,

singer, songwriter, television personality, and author.

RuPaul’s Drag Race differs from most reality television

He is the most commercially successful drag queen

in that it celebrates the different, the individual and

of all time. In 2017, RuPaul was included in the annual

operates from a place of optimism where contestants

Time 100 list of the most influential people in the

are encouraged to be their best selves—on and off

world. Since 2009, he has produced and hosted the hit

of the runway. RuPaul and his queendom continue to

reality competition series RuPaul’s Drag Race, for

inspire people from all backgrounds to be themselves

which he received two Primetime Emmy Awards in

and do what they love, even if it that means to go

2016 and 2017.

against the grain.

Queens for Change


Marsha P. Johnson

The Stonewall diva Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson was an African-

In New York, Marsha struggled to make ends meet,

American trans woman who became a revolutionary

leaving her to prostituted herself. However, she

LGBTQ rights activist. She is credited for being one

found joy as a drag queen amidst the nightlife of

of instigators in the Stonewall riots. Marsha was born

Christopher Street. Marsha designed all of her own

Malcolm Michaels, Jr. on August 24, 1945 in Elizabeth,

costumes, mostly from thrift shops. She quickly

New Jersey, Marsha experienced a difficult childhood

became a prominent figure in the LGBTQ community

due to her Christian upbringing. She engaged in cross-

serving as a “drag mother” by helping homeless

dressing behavior at an early age, but was quickly

and struggling LGBTQ youth and touring the world

reprimanded. Marsha moved to Greenwich Village in

as a successful drag queen.

New York City after graduating from high school.


D is for drag

Sylvia Rivera

The ďŹ ery Latina activist Sylvia Rivera was a queer, Latina, self-identified drag

Sylvia would spend the rest of her life struggling in

queen who fought tirelessly for transgender rights, as

and out of homelessness, drug addiction, and poverty.

well as for the rights of gender-nonconforming people.

She worked through her hardships and continued to

Born to a Puerto Rican father and Venezuelan mother

be an advocate for the rights of trans people and

in the Bronx in 1951. Her grandmother adopted her,

people of color. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera

but had little love for her effeminate grandson. When

serve as inspirational reminders that, even when the

she was only 11 years old, she began hustling on the

world seems to be pitted against us, we still must

streets of Times Square.

always find the strength and courage to stand for what is right.

Queens for Change


Conchita Wurst

The bearded beauty Tom Neuwirth performed in the late 2000s with the

Whether the art itself is or isn’t mainstream, there are

Austrian boy band Jetzt Anders. She soon found

still many queens whose popularity transcends into the

international fame after introducing the female stage

queer community. As a bearded drag queen she was

persona Conchita Wurst in 2011. The bearded drag star

always going to shock mainstream audiences, and it’s

stunned the world and became a global icon in 2014

this —her particular brand of genderfuck drag—which

when she won Eurovision, with her Shirley Bassey–

transformed Conchita from exceptional per former

esque voice and glamorous style.

to LGBT champion, voicing a backlash against queer persecution in Russia.


D is for drag

Ansifa Lahore

Girl in the rainbow burca Asifa Lahore, the U.K.’s most prominent Muslim drag

Asifa received a Pride award from Attitude magazine

queen, has achieved national fame over the past few

in June 2015 for her work empowering Britain’s LGBTQ

years. With her story explored in documentaries by

Muslim community. Her activism is driven by the

The Guardian and the U.K.’s Channel 4. Since donning

struggles of growing up gay in a conservative Muslim

a rainbow burqa at a drag competition, she’s become

upbringing and hetero-dominant world. Ansifa’s

a figurehead for what is known as Britain’s “gaysian”

story is something many drag queens, and LGBTQ

community. Asifa’s performances and activism

activists generally can attest to.

challenged what it is to be gay and Muslim to such an extent that she’s been condemned by conservative mosques in Britain.

Queens for Change


Bob the Drag Queen

A queen for the people Bob the Drag Queen combines the art of drag with

Before that, Bob joined other queens in protests in

the commitment to activism. While on the show, she

Times Square every week until New York gained

auctioned off her outfits and accessories as part of

marriage equality. The group was called “Drag Queen

her Charity 4 the People. During Bob’s season, the

Wedding for Equality”. For almost a year the group

performer mentioned a personal tagline, “Bob the Drag

would take part in drag queen mock weddings in Times

Queen: A Queen for the People,” and discussed his

Square every Saturday from noon to four and perform

arrest by New York City Police for blocking a roadway

about 12 to 20 weddings a day. The group would

with a giant banner during a marriage equality

also hand out information about the inequality that

protest in 2011.

queer people faced.


D is for drag

Panti Bliss

Ireland’s LGBT activist Rory O’Neill, a performer for decades in Irish clubs

An impassioned speech about homophobia by

known as Panti Bliss. The club queen ended up making

Irish drag queen Panti Bliss went so viral in 2014 it

a big splash in the mainstream world. In the daytime

was remixed by the Pet Shop Boys. After that, Panti

persona of Rory O’Neill, during an interview on RTE’s

became the face of the “Yes Equality” movement to

Saturday Night Show he accused a number of Irish

bring same-sex marriage to Ireland. In 2015, Bliss was

journalists of homophobia. Later in the episode, The

named one of Europe’s most influential people, and

Independent dubbed Panti as “Ireland’s high queen

she continues to advocate for equality and fight stigma

of LGBT activism.”

surrounding HIV/AIDS.

Queens for Change


A American Vauderville 19 , 21 Ansifa Lahore 65


B Bob the Drag Queen 66 bull-daggers 25 , 29 bull-dikers 25

C Casa Susanna 30 Coccinelle 56 Compton’s Cafeteria 36 , 37 Conchita Wurst 64 Cooper’s Donuts 36 cross-dressing 19 , 42 , 58

D Divine 58 , 60 drag 10 , 13 , 17   42 drag balls 25 , 29 , 42 , 45 drag movies 32 drag queen 10 , 48 , 55

F Flawless Sabrina 58


D is for drag



gender roles 10 , 42 , 45

RuPaul 47 , 55 , 59 , 61


RuPaul’s Drag Race’s 55

RuPaul’s Drag Race 47 , 61

homophile 35 S J

S.T.A.R. 41

Jean Malin 25 , 27

Sylvia Rivera 39 , 40 , 41 , 63

Jose Sarria 57 Julian Eltinge 22

T The Harlem Renaissance 29


The Mattachine Society 35

Lady Bunny 47 , 59

The Rocky Twins 26

LGBT rights movement 17 , 36 , 55

The Stonewall Riots 37 , 39 , 40 , 41 , 62 , 63

Linda Simpson 42 U M

Underground Drag Scene 42 , 45 , 47

Madame Pattirini 21 Marsha P. Johnson 39 , 40 , 41 , 62

V Voguing 45

P Pansy and Lesbian craze 25


Panti Bliss 67

Wigstock 47 , 59

Prohibition 29

World War II 56 , 57





D is for drag

Baker, Roger. Drag: a History of Female Impersonation in

Jones, Briana. “Famous Drag Queens Of The Early 20th

the Performing Arts. New York University

Press, 1998. Bolich, Gregory G. Crossdressing


in Context. Psyche’s Press, 2010.

Musto, Michael. “The Accidental Historian of

Drag Queens.” The New York Times, The New

York Times, 21 Dec. 2017, www.nytimes.

Buckner, Rachel. “Underground Ball Culture.” Grinnell

College, 2016, haenfler.sites.grinnell.edu/

subcultures-and-scenes/underground-ball culture/. Bullock, Darryl W. “Pansy Craze: the Wild 1930s Drag

Parties That Kickstarted Gay Nightlife.” The

Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 14 Sept.

2017, www. theguardian.com/music/2017/

sep/14/pansy-craze-the-wild-1930s-drag parties-that-kickstarted-gay-nightlife. Fierstein , Harvey. “Casa Susanna: Photographs From a

1950s Transvestite Hideaway.” Time, Time, 14

Apr. 2014, time.com/3393976/casa-susanna-

photographs-from-a-1950s-transvestite hideaway/. Gilligan, Heather. “Sylvia Rivera Threw One of the First

Bottles in the Stonewall Riots, but Her

Activism Went Much...” Timeline, Timeline, 16

Mar. 2017, timeline.com/sylvia-rivera-threw-


Century.” All That’s Interesting, 31 Aug. 2015,

com/2015/08/06/fashion/linda-simpson-the accidental-historian-of-drag-queens.html. Pasulka, Nicole. Ladies In The Streets: Before Stonewall,

Transgender Uprising Changed

Lives. NPR, 5 May 2015, www.npr.org/sections/

codeswitch/2015/05/05/404459634/ladies in-the-streets-before-stonewall-transgender uprising-changed-lives. Villarreal, Daniel. “Drag Queens Are More Political than

Ever. Can They Lead a Movement?”

Vox, Vox Media, 5 Nov. 2018, www.vox.com/

identities/2018/11/5/18056558/drag-queens politics-activism-lgbtq-rupaul. Zarrelli, Natalie. “The Incredible Forgotten Queer

Nightlife Scene of the 1920s.” Atlas Obscura,

12 June 2016, www.atlasobscura.com/articles/

in-the-early-20th-century-america-was-awash in-incredible-queer-nightlife.




Compiled and designed by Elizabeth Chavez Infographics and illustrations by Elizabeth Chavez Typeset by Elizabeth Chavez in the Bodoni family and


Univers family

Photos courtesy by: Natalie Zarrelli, Harvey Fierstein, Nicole Pasulka, Daniel Villarreal, Rachel Buckner, Linda Simpson.

Printed and bound by Blurb on Proline Uncoated, 100# (148 gsm) paper

Š 2018 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without permission.


D is for drag



Drag is a theatrical form. Once part of the LGBTQ community’s underground scene, drag is now inspiring mainstream fashion and beauty and being embraced by pop culture. Drag has not been understood or at the very least considered an art form by society until recently. The challenging of gender norms and roles in drag has sparked interest in generally non-drag consuming audiences, which has altered mainstream culture. With this new understanding of what drag represents will hopefully lead to more acceptance of this counterculture and the LGBTQ community.

Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.