Drag queen

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A Drag queen is usually a man who dresses (or "drags") in female clothes and make-up for special occasions and usually because they are performing or entertaining as a hostess, stage artist or at an event. This is in contrast to those who cross-dress for reasons other than as a source of entertainment for others or transgender people who are not necessarily drag queens or cross-dressers but sometimes fit into those labels.

There are many kinds of drag artists and they vary greatly from professionals who have starred in movies to people who just try it once. Drag queens also vary by class and culture and can vary even within the same city. Although many assume all drag queens are gay men or transgender, there are drag artists of all genders and sexualities who do drag for various reasons. Generally, drag queens dress in a female gender role, often exaggerating certain characteristics for comic, dramatic or satirical effect. Other drag performers include drag kings, who are women who perform in male roles, faux queens, who are women who dress in an exaggerated style to emulate drag queens and faux kings, who are men who dress to impersonate drag kings.

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, drag pageants, or at venues such as cabarets and discotheques. In the United Kingdom, alongside traditional drag work such as shows and performances, many drag queens engage in 'mix-and-mingle' or hosting work at night clubs or at private parties/events.

Drag is a part of Western gay culture; it is often noted that the Stonewall riots on June 27 1969 in New York City were inspired and led by drag queens, and, in part for this reason, drag queens remain a tradition at pride events. Prominent drag queens in the gay community of a city often serve as official or unofficial spokespersons, hosts or emcees, fund-raisers, chroniclers and community leaders.

A faux queen or bio queen is a woman pretending to be a man being a drag queen.


The term drag queen originates in Polari, a subset of English slang that was popular in some gay communities in the early part of the 20th century. Drag meant "clothes", and was also theatre slang for a woman's costume worn by a male actor. Queen refers to the trait of affected royalty found in many drag characters.

Another term for a drag queen, female impersonator, is still used—though it is often regarded as inaccurate, as many contemporary drag performers are not all 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. 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 skintight dresses?" He also said, "I don't dress like a woman; I dress like a drag queen!". And celebrity drag couple The Darling Bears go so far as to sport full beards for their performances.

There are also performers who prefer to be called "gender illusionists" who do blur the line between transgender and drag queen. Generally transgender performers do not consider themselves to be drag queens and drag queens don't consider themselves to be illusionists but there are exceptions so if in doubt it's advisable to inquire what the performer prefers. Often these distinctions are more generational as laws and acceptance of individuality change and grow.

Many drag queens prefer to be referred to as {gender-specific pronoun) "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. Drag performer RuPaul is one of the few exceptions to this rule, as he seems to be completely ambivalent to which pronoun is used to refer to him. In his words, "You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis and Kathie Lee; I don't care!"

Drag and transvestism

Most drag queens perform for personal fulfillment 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. Historically and currently, there have been and are a significant number of heterosexual men, generally actors, who perform in drag. There are also transgender or transsexual people, as well as straight women, who perform as drag queens.

Drag queens are sometimes called transvestites, although that term has somewhat different connotations than the term "drag queen". "Drag queen" usually connotes cross-dressing for the purposes of entertainment or performance without necessarily aiming to pass as female. It is not generally used to describe those persons who cross-dress for the fulfillment of transvestic fetishes alone, or whose cross-dressing is primarily part of a private sexual activity or identity. As for transvestites whose motivation is not primarily sexual, and who may socialise cross-dressed, they are often heterosexual and tend to try to "pass" rather than adopting the typical over-the-top drag queen look.

Drag Queen Names

  • There tend to be three types of drag names:

The first are satirical names that play on words, such as Miss Understood, Holly Woodlawn, Peaches Christ, Lypsinka, and Candis Cayne.

  • The second type are names that trend toward glamour and extravagance, such as Dame Edna Everage, Chi Chi LaRue, Margo Howard-Howard, Betty "Legs" Diamond and The Lady Chablis. This is the type used by the character Albin in the movie and musical La Cage aux Folles for his drag persona, "Miss ZaZa Napoli".
  • The third type is considered simpler but can have an in-depth backstory, cultural or geographical significance or simply be a feminine form of their "boy" name. Often a drag queen will pick a name or be given one by a friend or drag mother as a one time occasion only to discover they like performing and go on to use a less-than ideal name for years. Drag queens do change names as well even using two or more concurrently for various reasons. Some examples of simpler names include Verka Serduchka, Miss Coco Peru, Leigh Bowery, Shequida, Rikki Reeves, and Divine.

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 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. And some events are centered around drag, such as Southern Decadence where the majority of festivites are led by the Grand Marshals, who are traditionally drag queens.


  • High camp drag queens employ a drag aesthetic based on clown-like values like exaggeration, satire, and ribaldry. Divine, Miss Understood, Peaches Christ, Jolene Sugarbaker and Rye Seronie can be considered examples of camp queens.
  • Some drag queens exaggerate in the dimension of elegance and fashion, employing elaborate jewelry and gowns. The Lady Chablis, who can be seen in the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is an example of this type of performer. Another example is drag pageant title holders such as Amaya Mann. Many of these drag queens impersonate specific actresses and pop divas such as Cher, Madonna, Céline Dion, and others emulating their high-fashion costuming and jewelry. Drag artist John Epperson has used the persona Lypsinka as a caricature of Joan Crawford, including in his play The Passion of the Crawford.
  • 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. An example of pageant queens are Vicki Vincent of St. Louis who competed 9 years until she won Miss Gay America in 1989. Khrystal Leight - a Bette Midler impersonator- Victoria Lace from New York who thrives on the USofA system ; Asia O'Hara and Whitney Paige of Texas and Erica Andrews from Texas who holds almost every gay pageant title from Miss USofA to Miss International Queen. These Drag Queens are known nationally as pageant queens and compete yearly in national pageants to promote and improve their female impersonation career. There is a growing sentiment among many drag queens that real women, transvestites, or anyone with surgical augmentation below the neck should not be competing in such pageants labelled as "drag" pageant. Doing so would change the competition, in their outlook, into a transsexual pageant.
  • Post-modernist drag queens; an example would be The Divine David, now appearing as David Hoyle, who regularly performed in London during the 1990s in clubs such as Duckie, in South London. He used an extreme form of presentation, with make-up that was applied roughly and then smeared across his face. His act was designed to make the audience feel extremely uncomfortable about any preconceived ideas of acceptable subject matter for a drag queen to tackle. One show included cutting up a pig's head and throwing the pieces into the audience. As such, the act bore close similarities to performance art of the 1970s. Vaginal Davis, in Los Angeles, has performed as a drag queen for many years; her genderfuck performances, often mixing male and female signifiers (also called "sloppy drag"), and her many appearances in performance art venues since the 1980s attest to her status as a performance artist. Like RuPaul, Davis is indifferent to whether addressed as "he" or "she."


Some members of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community criticize 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 misplaced misogyny, an appeal to cultural assimilation, or an intolerance of the diversity and history of the gay community and the role drag queens played in kick-starting the gay rights movement in the 1970s. Still others simply regard drag as traditional fun that need not be politically analysed.

Some feminists believe that drag promotes harmful stereotypes of women, comparable to blackface portrayal of African-Americans by white performers that was popular in the early 20th century. Others see drag as a critique or "subversion" of gender roles. Some drag performers may regard their acts as a satire of femininity, as a form of social criticism, or an exaggeration of the stereotypes society has created about and around women. Others may view it as a homage, entertainment, an art form, or simply an amusement.

Drag queens are sometimes scorned by members 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. The song was featured in the film Better Than Chocolate, performed by a male-to-female transsexual on stage at a gay club. The transsexual character, played by Peter Outerbridge, struggles throughout the movie to fit in with "real" women, and partially performs the song as an act of cathartic defiance and self-empowerment.

See also

External links

This page uses content from SM-201; the original article can be viewed here.
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