Drag Culture Research into the subculture of drag
Drag Culture A research into the subculture of drag queens
‘‘ When you become the image of your own imagination, it’s the most powerful thing you could ever do.’’ RuPaul
A drag queen is usually explained as a man (usually gay) impersonating a women, or several women, for the purpose of entertainment or performance. They can range from those who do it as a job to those who do it as a form of artistic expression. Drag shouldnâ€™t be confused with transvestism, which is very similar, in the sense that involves cross dressing and switching gender roles. Most transvestites do not cross dress to be seen, as drag queens are, but to feel like a woman. Drag can be a creative outlet, a means of self-exploration, and a way to make cultural statements.
Table of contents
History of drag by Christen Conger
Style and material research by Mies Raadgever
56 Beautiful by night
by James Hawkings
Luis Arturo Aguirre
by Mies Raadgever
by Mies Raadgever
46 “A safe house for the girl within” by Penelope Green
Typography and color research by Mies Raadgever
Interview by Mies Raadgever
The history of drag
Text by Todd Briscoe Men dressing up as women has been going on for quite some time. It started in a theatrical setting, with female impersonation going back to ancient Roman literature and classical Chinese theatre. Since women were generally banned from performing on stage, men had to perform all of the parts. A modern example of this phenomenon can be seen in the film Shakespeare in Love, which shows men on stage dressed as women.
The history of drag
‘‘Sense of women’s clothing worn by a man’’ The term “drag queen” comes from a mash-up of “drag,” which has existed in theater parlance for centuries to refer to men dressing in women’s clothing, and “queen,” an anti-slang word for an effeminate gay man. And while drag queens today are associated with gay populations, not all men who have performed drag are gay; often, these are entertainers like Bailey who prefer phrasing like “female impersonator” or “illusionist” to describe their craft. Drag queens who wear female clothing and makeup only during performances but identify as male offstage may also be mistakenly labeled transsexual or as a transvestite, an older term that’s dropped out of favor today because of its past association with homosexuality and cross-dressing as mental pathologies. That said, transgender and transsexual people who present on and offstage as different genders or biological sexes may perform drag as well.
‘‘ Any woman with a little practice can perfect herself ’’ Cross-dressing and drag performances existed as an underground culture for much of the 20th century, and the visibility of drag queens increased alongside that of LGBT communities in the late 1960s. When the infamous Stonewall riots occurred in 1969 at New York’s Mafia-run Stonewall Inn, one of the city’s only gay bars at the time, homosexual acts were illegal in every state but Illinois. On June 28, New York City police officers raided the bar seeking to arrest homosexual patrons en flagrante, and when the crowd decided to fight back instead of capitulate, high heel-wearing drag queens and transsexuals were on the frontlines of the six-day skirmish that officially signaled the start of the gay rights movement in the United States.Even in the face of legal repression and social ostracism, drag queen communities began to organize more formally in the mid-1960s. In response to the police shutting down a string of gay bars, José Julio Sarria, San Francisco’s first openly gay political candidate and local performer, founded the Imperial Court System that united the drag queen and gay community at large for annual drag balls and other events. Chapters now exist in cities across the United States, Canada and Mexico and largely serve as philanthropic organizations that help support HIV and AIDS prevention and research.
The history of drag
The history of drag
For vaudeville-turned-silent-film star Julian Eltinge, perfecting his female impersonator appearance before stepping foot on stage was an arduous process. In a 1913 article published in Theater Magazine, Eltinge described making himself over and how his hands -- as opposed to his face, as one might assume -- provoked the most anxiety as he strived for feminine authenticity. As a result, he would spend an hour and a half before curtain call painstakingly painting and powdering his hands and consider their positioning constantly throughout his performance, as he wrote in Theater Magazine: “The size of the hands can apparently be decreased by the way in which they are held, and any woman with a little practice can perfect herself in this graceful treatment” Drag balls also have become cornerstone fêtes within African-American drag queen communities. Similar to a fraternity system, up-and-coming drag queens can join up with local houses headed by older, experienced house “mothers” or “fathers,” who help groom young members in their drag pursuits and offer moral and social support along with shelter if they’ve been kicked out of their homes. Periodically, drag queens and kings from various houses will face off at balls that feature walk-offs between contestants competing in categories such as Femme Queen Impersonation and Male Face. Jenny Livingston famously captured Harlem’s African-American ball culture in her 1990 documentary “Paris Is Burning,” which also offered an intimate glimpse into what it takes to transform into a drag queen for a night.
Text by Mies Raadgever Because of the long history of drag, there can be seen a lot of influences on (and from) this subulture on art, film and design. Well known movie hairspray and designer Leigh Bowery are influenced by the style of the drag scene. Television programm Ru-pauls Drag Race blew new live into the drag scene in the VS and Europe.
Television and Film
There is a long list of movies that are about drag queens or where drag queens play a role. The first movie with the appereance of drag is ‘upstairs’ directed by Piętro wyżej. Actor Eugeniusz Bodo made an appereance as women in this film. Other famous movies with or about drag are Hairspray, White Chicks and Wigstock. The television programma ‘RuPauls Drag race had a huge influence on the drag scene. It is a commercial tv show where different drag queens compete against eachother. ‘Rupauls drag race’ made drag mor known by the bigger audiance.
Hairspray was inspired by the short essay, “The Nicest Kids in Town” that Waters’ wrote for his 1981 book, Shock Value, in which he professed his love and obsession with all of the dance crazes, behind-the-scenes drama and gossip that he saw on his local Baltimore television’s “The Buddy Deane Show” (the real life equivalent of Corny Collins). His movie incorporates everything that he loves about American culture: the popular novelty dances like “The Twist”, “The Mashed Potato” and “The Roach”; the idea of celebrity and being famous; people taking their disadvantages and turning them into an advantage. The latter theme is one that Waters introduces in all of his films and supports his statement, “In my movies, the loser will always win. It’s the normal people that are the villains.” But in case you were thinking Waters had gone mainstream, he still incorporates a few of his trademark gross-out moments in Hairspray for devoted fans of his earlier films. No John Waters’ film is complete without a performance by Divine, the director’s muse from the early days. In Hairspray, Divine takes on an ambitious dual role, not only playing the loving and supportive mother of Tracy (a role miles away from the monstrous and demented female characters he played in Multiple Maniacs and Female Trouble) but also the role of the lecherous and bigoted owner of the TV station.
RuPauls Drag Race
RuPaul’s Drag Race is an American reality competition television series produced by World of Wonder for Logo TV. The show documents RuPaul in his search for “America’s next drag superstar.” RuPaul plays the roles of host, mentor, and source of inspiration for this series, as contestants are given different challenges each week. RuPaul’s Drag Race employs a panel of judges, including RuPaul, Michelle Visage and a host of other guest judges, who critique contestants’ progress throughout the competition. The title of the show is a play on drag queen and drag racing, and the title sequence and song “Drag Race” both have a drag-racing theme. RuPaul’s Drag Race has spanned eight seasons and inspired the spin-off shows RuPaul’s Drag U and RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race. The show has become the highest-rated television programme on Logo TV, and airs internationally, including in Australia, Canada and the UK. The show won Outstanding Reality Program at the 21st GLAAD Media Awards, has been nominated for 4 Critics’ Choice Television Award including Best Reality Series – Competition and Best Reality Show Host for RuPaul, and was nominated for a Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Make-up for a Multi-Camera Series or Special (Non-Prosthetic). In 2015, RuPaul’s Drag Race was renewed for an eighth season and RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race was renewed for a second season.
The drag culture has a big influence on the fashion scene. The definition of gender is a huge topic in fashoin nowadays. More designers are breaking the bounderies of female and male clothing. Two designers where you can see a lot of influences from the drag scene are Lee Bowery and Alexander McQueen. They are using over the top make up to exeturate or question the image of the female.
“Dress as though your life depends on it or don’t bother,” Leigh Bowery notoriously said when describing the code of attire for his night on Thursdays at a club called Maximus off of London’s Leicester Square. The year was 1985, and Bowery’s venture into what had become a rather dull nightlife scene in London was called Taboo. Taboo and its radically subversive, proweird crowd not only drew upon the playful, decadent androgyny of the New -Romantic scene, then holding sway among London’s cooler contingents—it took those aesthetics, dipped them in plastic, vinyl, or Dalmatian-spotted fake fur, smeared profuse amounts of cartoonish body makeup on them, and strung them out on a dance floor to revel in all their freakish (and often drug-fueled) psycho-glamour. Taboo existed only from 1985 to 1986 (when the police finally shut it down), but it turned Bowery into an eternal cult figure and redefined what nightlife was to look like (New York’s campy and, eventually, bloody version, Disco 2000, was heavily inspired by Taboo). Boy George, who went on to celebrate Leigh and his gang in the 2002 musical Taboo, was not only one of Bowery’s friends, he was a regular at the party—an “elder statesman” as he likes to think of it. Here the 47-year-old musician remembers the British subcultures that led up to Bowery and the raucous nights where the only rules were that there weren’t any. 29
Luis Arturo Aguirre
Text by Mies Raadgever The project stems from the astonishment that I have towards transvestites, I’m surprised the ability to become “women” incredibly beautiful. Through fillers give new forms to the body, with wigs and makeup change his features and feminize her gaze. A transvestites commonly called just “dressed”, hence derives the title of the series, what I do is strip them of clothes and then left “undressed”, and that is where the male part is evident, creating a game double identity between masculine and feminine.
Style and material research
Text by Mies Raadgever The drag scene is a world that is really outspoken and over the top. This can be seen in the use of materials. From latex to glitter. pailettes, feathers and so on. They use a wide color and material pallette.
1. This type of drag queen is also known as an “anti-queen,” using a combination of masculine and feminine characteristics. These queens tend to be very artistic, with constant blurs of gender boundaries
2. A club queen is a queen that either comes from the 1980s/1990s NYC club kid scene or has drawn inspiration for their drag persona from there. They are known for slaying “Drag Balls,” with fierce yet sometimes outrageous fashion and unique make-up techniques.
3. Goth queen is exactly how it sounds: dark and gloomy! This type of queen thrives off of creating looks inspired by classic goth and horror films.
Style and material
4. The term ‘faux queen’ is used to describe a drag queen that is is a biological female.
5. Bearded queen. These drag queen are full drag but don’t shave themselves. They leave their body hair and facial hair
6. This type of queen takes pride in looking like an authentic woman; they want to look as close to the real thing as possible.
There are different ways to fake boobs on drag queens. Some use small bras and fill these with socks to push up the fat they have around their chest. But the most common way is to use silicon breasts. These fake boobs are made from silicon and you hang them around your neck. This explains why most drag queens are wearing big necklaces. It is to cover up the edge from the boobs to the neck.
Style and material
Wigs Most of the drag queens use wigs instead of their natural hair. This has logic reasons, since the men are only occasionally dressed up as females. And they use tons of hairspray and other hairproducts that are not good for the hair. Proffesional drag queens order their wigs at a special wig maker. They will get their own personal wig that is totally adapted to their style. These wigs are not cheap and cost around 500 euros.
Style and material
The drag queens are mixing differnet materials to express their style. There is no limitation in what they will wear. The only limitation is, that it has to be over the top and outspoken. Most drag queens use shiny and crowded patterns. Examples of these materials are glitter, feathers, pailletes, lace and fur. The clothing that their are wearing are always dresses, with heels underneath. This is to exeturate the female image and also to strive for a certain sexyness. Some drag queens buy their dresses in shops that are meant for women. But most men donâ€™t fit into these dresses, because their fake boobs are enormous or there shoulders are to wide. Those drag queens buy their dresses in special shops, or make their own
A safe house for the girl within
Text by Penelope Green Photographs from “Casa Susanna”: Edited by Michel Hurst and Robert Swope
‘‘ I might be different but I’m not crazy.’’ There was a pilot and a businessman, an accountant, a librarian and a pharmacologist. There was a newspaper publisher, and a court translator. By day, they were the men in the gray flannel suits, but on the weekends, they were Felicity, Cynthia, Gail, Sandy, Fiona, Virginia and Susanna. It was the dawn of the 1960’s, yet they wore their late 50’s fashions with awkward pride: the white gloves, the demure dresses and low heels, the stiff wigs. Many were married with children, or soon would be. In those pre-Judith Butler, pre-Phil Donahue days, when gender was more tightly tethered to biology, these men’s “gender migrations,” or “gender dysphoria,” as the sociologists began to call cross-dressing, might cost them their marriages, their jobs, their freedom. And so they kept their feminine selves hidden, except for weekends at Casa Susanna, a slightly run-down bungalow camp in Hunter, N.Y., that was the only place where they could feel at home. Decades later, when Robert Swope, a gentle punk rocker turned furniture dealer, came across their pictures — a hundred or so snapshots and three photo albums in a box at the 26th Street flea market in Manhattan — he knew nothing about their stories, or Casa Susanna, beyond the obvious: here was a group of men dressed as women, beautiful and homely, posing with gravity, happiness and in some cases outright joy. They were playing cards, eating dinner, having a laugh. They didn’t look campy, like drag queens vamping it up as Diana Ross or Cher; they looked like small-town parishioners, like the lady next door, or your aunt in Connecticut.
A safe house for the girl within
Mr. Swope was stunned by the pictures and moved by the mysterious world they revealed. He and his partner, Michel Hurst, gathered them into a book, “Casa Susanna,” which was published by Powerhouse Books in 2005 and reissued last spring, and which became an instant sensation, predictably, in the worlds of fashion and design. Paul Smith stores sold it, as did the SoHo design store and gallery Moss, which made a Christmas diorama of a hundred copies last year. Last month, you might have seen it in the hands of a child-size mannequin in the Marc Jacobs store on Bleecker Street. But it was only after the book’s publication that Mr. Swope and Mr. Hurst began to learn the story of Casa Susanna, first called the Chevalier d’Eon resort, for an infamous 18th-century cross-dresser and spy, and only in recent months, as they have begun working on a screenplay about the place, that they have come to know some of its survivors. “At first, I didn’t want to know more,” Mr. Swope said. “I didn’t want to find out that the stories turned out to be tragedies.” But the publication of the book has drawn former Casa Susanna guests out, and it turns out that their stories, like most, have equal measures of tragic and comic endings. Some are still being told. Robert Hill, a doctoral candidate in the American studies program at the University of Michigan who is completing his dissertation on heterosexual transvestism in postWorld War II America, came across Mr. Swope and Mr. Hurst’s book by accident in a Borders last year, reached out to them through their publisher, and sketched in many of the details Casa Susanna was owned by Susanna herself — the court translator, otherwise known as Tito Valenti — and Valenti’s wife, Marie, who conveniently ran a wig store on Fifth Avenue and was happy to provide makeover lessons and to cook for the weekend guests. It was a place of cultivated normalcy, where Felicity, Cynthia, Gail, Fiona and the others were free to indulge their radical urges to play Scrabble in a dress, trade makeup tips or walk in heels in the light of day.
A safe house for the girl within
“These men had one foot in the mainstream and the other in the margins,” Mr. Hill said the other day. “I’m fascinated by that position and their paradox, which is that the strict gender roles of the time were both the source of their anxiety and pain, and also the key to escaping that pain.” What still moves Murray Moss, the impresario behind Moss the store, about the images in the book is their ordinariness. “You think of man dressed as woman and you think extremes: it’s kabuki, Elizabethan theater, Lady Macbeth,” he said. “It’s also sexual. But these aren’t sexual photos. The idea that they formed a secret society just to be ... ordinary. It’s like a mirror held up to convention. It’s not what you would expect. It’s also not pathetic. Everybody looks so happy.”
At first, Casa Susanna was a thrilling place, said Sandy, a divorced businessman, “because whatever your secret fantasies were you were meeting other people who had similar ones and you realized, ‘I might be different but I’m not crazy.’ ” Now 67 and living in the Northeast, he hasn’t cross-dressed for decades, and asked that his identifying details be veiled. He was a graduate student in 1960, he said, living in New York and visiting Casa Susanna on the weekends.
A safe house for the girl within
“It was the most remarkable release of pressure, and it meant the world to me then,” he said. “I’d grown up in a very conventional family. I had the desire to marry, to have the house, the car, the dog. And I eventually did. But at that point there were all these conflicting desires that had no focal points. I didn’t know where I fit.” Sandy remembers one weekend sharing a cabin with another man and his girlfriend. “She obviously accepted the situation with him for better or worse,” Sandy began. “Anyway, I didn’t get dressed until later in the day, and when I did, the girlfriend was just coming down the stairs. ‘Oh my,’ she said, ‘you certainly have made a change. I have to tell you, I much preferred the person who got out of the car.’ And with that she reached under my dress and groped me. She said, ‘It’s a shame to have all that locked up in there.’ In one sense, it was titillating, in another, depressing. And yet in another way, it put a finger on the issue.” Casa Susanna was a testing ground for many. Katherine Cummings, who went by Fiona at Casa Susanna, was born John Cummings in Scotland 71 years ago. Now living in Sydney, she has been a transsexual for more than 20 years, as well as a librarian and an editor. When she was 28, she took a post-doctoral degree in Toronto, and spent her weekends at Casa Susanna, the first place, she said last week, where she could dress openly. In her 1992 memoir, “Katherine’s Diary,” she writes hilariously about a late October weekend, shivering in the cold bungalows, and accepting a ride from the main house down to the cabin she had been assigned with a burly man in slipshod makeup and a slapped-on wig. She turned to the back seat and froze: there lay a nightstick, handcuffs and other police paraphernalia.
‘‘ They talked about fashion, and passing, and how and if they’d told their wives or girlfriends’’
Turns out her chauffeur was the sheriff of a small New Jersey town. The resort catered to hunters as well, Ms. Cummings said, and sometimes there was overlap. “Libby, who was very beautiful, was also Lee, who was a very macho person. And one day the hunters were there and so were we and they all had a great time discussing rifles.” Mostly the guests talked and talked. “They talked about fashion, and passing, and how and if they’d told their wives or girlfriends,” said Ms. Cummings, who is divorced and has three daughters. “In those days we didn’t know where we were going.”
A safe house for the girl within “I remember the first morning we all arrived,” Ms. Prince said last week, “and all these, let’s just call them people, descended on the bathrooms and you see all these folks in their nighties and kimonos and so forth standing around shaving. It was a very amusing sight. Beards tend to grow. I had mine removed years ago.” Ms. Prince became known as the founder of the transgender movement, and wrote copiously on the subject for science and sex research journals and conferences, irritating more than a few Casa Susanna graduates, who weren’t comfortable with the politicizing of their issues, or the strict categories she created. Born male (and still biologically male), she has been living as a woman for the past 40 years. At 94, she’s no longer allowed to drive, but she leads the Lollies (“little old ladies like me,” she said the other day) at her California retirement home in a study group (they’re covering astronomy this month) and drives a red scooter. “I invented gender,” she said proudly. “Though if the ladies here find out I’m a biological man I’m a dead duck.” Of Susanna herself, the trail ends with her last column for Transvestia in 1970, when she, like Virginia, announced her plans to live henceforth as a woman. “Scene: The porch in the main house at our resort in the Catskill Mountains,” Susanna writes in a snippet from one of her early columns, courtesy of Mr. Hill’s research, and trimmed a bit. “The time: About 4 o’clock in the morning as Labor Day is ready to awaken in the distant darkness. The cast: Four girls just making small talk. ... It’s dark in the porch; just a row of lights illuminate part of the property at intervals — perhaps a bit chilly at 2,400 feet. ... An occasional flame lighting a cigarette throws a glow on feminine faces — just a weekend at the resort, hours in which we know ourselves a little better by seeing our image reflected in new colors and a new perspective through the lives of new friends.”
Beautiful by night
Photographs by James Hosking On the corner of 133 Turk Street and Taylor street, San Francisco lies a small yet notorious establishment named Aunt Charlie’s Lounge. The lounge is home to America’s premiere drag queen show and is situated in the heart of one of the cities most dangerous and drug ridden districts – the infamous ‘Tenderloin’. Photographer James Hosking set out to the neighbourhood last year in an attempt to make a photographic series about San Francisco’s transgender community and their history entitled, Aunt Charlie’s.
by Mies Raadgever
Typography and color
Typography and color
Text and photographs by Mies Raadgever In conversation with Roxy Sparkle, also known as Roy Overdijk. Started with drag one year ago and now peforms as Roxy Sparkle at different events in the Netherlands
When did you started with drag? It started with a photo-shoot I arranged for a friend two and a half year ago. A professional drag queen (Dee Dee) transformed me and my friend into a drag queen. This took place at the drag show bar Sparkle, this is where my drag queen name is based on (Roxy Sparkle). I really liked this photo-shoot, it gave me a lot of joy and pleasure. Some time later I arranged I photo-shoot for myself with Dee Dee. Quickly after this I started transforming myself and I took a lot of make up lessons. My first performance was at Amstel 54. What do you do when you perform? I mainly do playback shows, but it is about the whole performance around it. I really give a show! And this has always been a part of me, giving shows and entertaining people.
Is Roxy Sparkle a role that you play, or do you feel more at home when you are her? No Roxy Sparkle is really my alter ego. It is not that I want to be a girl. I always try to stay as close as possible to myself. I don’t want to lose myself in it. I notice that my attitude is changing when I transform myself, I get more snappy or sassy. When my makeup and clothes are off, I’m myself – Roy- again. What is your style as drag queen and how did you choose this? My style is Rock-a-billy like. I chose this style because I always liked Rock-a-billy. The last months I’m fine-tuning my style a lot. Getting a new wig and changing my make up. How much time do you spend on drag? About 6 to 8 hours a week.
‘‘I always stay as close as possible to myself.’’
‘‘It feels like one big family!’’
How did your friends and family react on your choice to do drag? My friends do accept it, but they don’t do drag. I also prefer to not have my boyfriend with me during the shows, because I noticed that I hold back when he is around. I feel like I have to take him into account. I have some friends that go with me to the shows. I don’t have a drivers licence so I need them to drive me to the location haha.
Did you change as Roy since you started with Drag? I don’t think so. In the beginning I was really obsessed with drag. I only talked about Roxy and the new dresses or shoes I found. So it was Roxy all the time and never about Roy. But I think that I found the balance now. Do you feel differences between the drag queens in different cities? The drag scene is way more alive in Amsterdam than in Rotterdam for example. When I perform I mostly go to Amsterdam, I also feel more a connection with the queens over there. I hope the drag scene will grow in Rotterdam and in other cities. The scene is also really big in Belgium, I’ve never been there, but I heard that the scene is really extreme over there.
Is there competition between the drag queens or does it feel more like a community? Some queens can be really bitchy. But most of them are really nice, you slowly start to build up a family in the drag scene. It is also a habit in the drag scene to form ‘houses’. This means that a group drag queens name each other sister, mom, niece and so on and they will form one ‘drag house’. These drag houses compete against each other during drag races. At these drag races you feel a lot of competition, but it is not nasty competition. It is healthy. And of course there are people that you don’t feel a connection with. But this is the same in real life. Sometimes you have to be a bit rude to get things done. You just have to message the right person to get the change to perform somewhere for example.
How is the online community? The online community is quite big. Every drag queen starts their own Facebook profile. This is mainly to get noticed. Doing drag costs a lot of money, so most of the Drag Queens are doing this as a job or side job. I also use Facebook to get in contact with other drag queens. Did you ever experience negative response to drag? Yes sometimes. I don’t feel comfortable enough to walk trough the streets of Rotterdam in full drag for example. I do know some drag queens that go in full drag with the train to Amsterdam. You never know how people will react. I also experienced a lot of sexual harassment online. Men who send you nude pictures for example, or ask if you can meet them. This really shocked me in the beginning.
Baker, Roger. Drag: A History of Female Impersonation in the Performing Arts. New York, New York university press. 1994 Kahn, Madeleine. Narrative Transvestism: Rhetoric and Gender in the Eighteenth-century. New York, Cornell university. 1991 Tuana, Nancy. Cowling, William. Hamington, Maurice. Johnson, Greg. MacMullan, Tarance. Revealing male bodies. Bloomington, Indiana university press. 1992
Hairspray, John Waters. Palace Pictures,.1988 Vrijen in vrijheid, NTR. 2015 The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Stephen Elliot. AFFC. 1994
Van Overdijk, Roy. Drag Queen. 1 April 2016 Diamond, Roxy. Drag Queen. 1 April 2016
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drag_ queen https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transvestism
http://www.queermusicheritage.com/ drag.html http://www.tqsmagazine.co.uk/a-briefhistory-of-drag-part-1/ http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/27232/1/are-drag-queensdoing-enough-for-feminism