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Drag queens

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Drag queens

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A drag queen is a man who dresses, and often acts, like a caricature woman often for the purpose of entertaining. There are many kinds of drag artists and they vary greatly, from professionals who have starred in films to people who just try it once. Drag queens also vary by class and culture and can vary even within the same cities. There are drag artists of all genders and sexualities who do drag for various reasons or purposes.

Generally drag queens are males who dress and act in a female gender role, often exaggerating certain characteristics (such as make-up and eyelashes) 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 and events. Drag is a part of Western gay culture.

Terminology

Drag queen

The etymology of the term "drag queen" is disputed. The term drag queen occurred in Polari, a subset of English slang that was popular in some gay communities in the early part of the 20th century. Its first recorded use to refer to actors dressed in women's clothing is from 1870.[1] A folk etymology whose acronym basis reveals the late 20th-century bias, would make "drag" an abbreviation of "Dressed as A Girl" in description of male theatrical transvestism. However, there is no trace of this supposed stage direction in Dessen and Thomson's Dictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama, 1580-1642. Queen may refer to the trait of affected royalty found in many drag characters. It is also related to the Old English word "quean" or cwene, which originally simply meant "woman", then was later used as a label both for promiscuous women and gay men (see Oxford English Dictionary definition number 3 for "queen"). Drag as a term referring to women's clothing worn by men has less clear origins. According to one theory, it was used in reference to transvestites at least as early as the 18th century, owing to the tendency of their skirts to drag on the ground. Another possibility is that it derives from non-English languages. Bardah was a Persian word meaning "slave", which developed into the Spanish term bardaje referring to a catamite. This was borrowed into French as bardache. The French word was then used in America in the American-English form berdache, and was used in referring to indigenous men who assumed the role of homemaker and dressed as a woman, while the wife left the home to assume warrior duties.[1]

Female impersonator

Another term for a drag queen female impersonator, is still used—though it is sometimes regarded as inaccurate, because some contemporary drag performers are not attempting to pass as women. Female impersonation, has been and continues to be illegal in some places, which inspired the drag queen José Sarria to hand out labels to his friends reading, "I am a boy," so he could not be accused of female impersonation.[2] 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!". Celebrity drag couple "The Darling Bears" go so far as to sport full beards for their performances, which could also be referred to as genderfuck. Going in drag while retaining clearly masculine features is referred to as skag drag. Some performers draw the distinction that a female impersonator seeks to emulate a specific female star or celebrity, while a drag queen only seeks to create a distinctive feminine persona of his or her own.

Alternative terms

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, as with everything, there are exceptions. Often these distinctions are more generational as laws and acceptance of individuality, change and growth.

Many drag queens prefer to be referred to as "she" while in drag and desire to stay completely in character. Some performers object to being referred to as "he" or by their legal name while in character. Drag performer RuPaul is an exception, as he seems to be completely indifferent 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!"[3]

The term tranny has been embraced by drag performers, notably RuRaul,[4] and the gay male community[5] in the United States. It is considered offensive to transgender and transsexual people.[6][7] however this usage is offensive in the transgender community where it is taken as a degrading term along the lines of the highly offensive word "fag" in gay communities. This has caused the usage of the term to diminish.

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 also has many other 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 those whose motivation is not primarily sexual, and who may socialise cross-dressed, they tend not to adopt the typical over-the-top drag queen look.

Drag queen names

There various types of drag names. Many fall into two categories: The first are satirical names that play on words, such as Miss Understood and Lypsinka.

The second type are names that trend toward glamour and extravagance, such as Dame Edna Everage, Chi Chi LaRue, 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".

Other types can have an in-depth backstory, cultural or geographical significance or simply be a feminine form of their "boy" name. Some examples of these varieties include Verka Serduchka, Miss Coco Peru, Shequida, Betty Butterfield and Divine.

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.


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 festivities are led by the Grand Marshals, who are traditionally drag queens.[8]In most cases, you can see drag performance at bars without any cost, but there are other drag queen performances where you would have to purchase tickets in advance to see them perform.

In Movies

In music

Some male music celebrities wear exaggerated feminine clothing as part of their show, but they should not be necessarily called drag queens. Boy George wears drag queen style clothes and cosmetics but he once stated he was not a drag queen.[13] RuPaul[14] is a professional drag queen performer.

Drag queens in lyrical interpretation of some songs:

Genres


  • 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 pageant systems. Some of these have grand prizes that rival those of pageants such as Miss America; see drag pageantry. These drag queens can be known nationally and many work professionally year-round producing and hosting shows that specialize in drag and celebrity illusionists.
  • Post-modernist drag queens, tranimal, or "terrorist drag" mixes performance art, punk rock, racial and social issues into drag. The drag queens often purposely use unkempt wigs and clothing. Vaginal Davis and Christeene Vale are examples of "drag terrorists."[16] Davis' performances have been described as a reaction against the "conservative politics of gay culture."[17] Likewise, David Hoyle describes himself as an "anti-drag queen" in his use self-harm to parody what he views as materialism and hedonism within the gay community.[18] Tranimal drag also breaks conventional ways of dressing like a woman by taking influences from Leigh Bowery and the Cockettes.[19][20]
  • Starting in the late 20th Century, groups of drag queens have come together under a unifying identity and shtick to perform a charitable and/or activist function in their communities. Some perform to raise funds for other charities, LGBT and other, while others protest for LGBT and Civil rights. These groups include The West Hollywood Cheerleaders, the Imperial Court System founded by The Widow Norton (José Julio Sarria), and The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Some of these groups, such as the Sisters, perform a quasi-spiritual function or act as social counselors, consciously reviving the ancient archetype of historical drag queens as shamans and spiritual functionaries. The common practice and aesthetic here is flamboyance in service.

Societal reception

Drag has come to be a celebrated aspect of modern gay life. Many gay bars and clubs around the world hold drag shows as special parties. Several "International Drag Day" holidays have been started over the years to promote the shows. Typically, in the U.S. drag is celebrated in early March. This year, "Drag Day" falls on March 6.

On the Logo television network, its most successful program is a drag competition, RuPaul's Drag Race. However, its winners and contestants have yet to receive the same praise as mainstream reality show contestants.

However, within the larger lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) communities drag queens are sometimes criticized for 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. In more recent years drag queens have been prominently featured at these same events. A common criticism of drag queens is that they promote harmful stereotypes of women, comparable to blackface portrayal of African-Americans by white performers that was popular in the early 20th century.

Drag queens are sometimes criticized by members of the transgender community — especially, but not exclusively, by many trans women — because of fears that they themselves 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 cisgender (non-transgender) women, and partially performs the song as an act of cathartic defiance and self-empowerment. Other transwomen reject those fears in the broader context that drag queens, many of whom are gender-variant and sexuality minorities, are more of an ally than a threat.

See also

References

Notes

External links

  • ICONS-NYC's Hottest Drag Show
  • Drag Artist Discography (information and discography with historical references and photos) of drag artists & female impersonators
  • – a film on Indian drag queens
  • The Worldwide Directory of Drag Queens
  • Drag Queen Social Network
  • Queens of Las Vegas drag show
  • International Drag Queens and Friends
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