Scroll down for the drag queen history video.
Disguising gender is nothing new in our society, it has been used in many forms but one of its earliest is as a plot device in ancient Romanian and Chinese theatres. Women generally were not allowed to perform on stage. It wasn’t until 1660 the first professional actress took the stage in England.
Cross-dressing is a socially constructed phenomenon, as there is nothing in nature which would define one group in pants in another in skirts. Interestingly enough, a woman was gaoled in Puerto Rico in 1919 for the crime of wearing trousers in public. Since this time our social standards have changed, women wear trousers and it’s no longer considered cross-dressing, and men are now allowed to show their nipples at the beach.
“You can create who you are, gender-bending is just the start. You dress to impress to express who you are. You are a superstar.”
According to Merriam Webster, the term “drag” in the context of clothing is “typical of one sex worn by a person of the opposite sex”. Drag can be practiced by people of all gender identities and sexual orientations. And the term ‘queen’ in the context of gender-bending is known to have been around since the 18th century. Originally as a derogatory term to describe a gay man, it has since flipped to be reclaimed as a positive.
The term “drag queens” has been around since the 1930-40’s, and is now commonly associate with an exaggerated performance of a feminine character who has very glamourous costume, hair and make-up. It’s important not to confuse drag queen with transvestism, which is were a man predominantly cross dress’ to feel like, not look like, a woman.
Although drag queen as a term is as late as the 1930’s-40’s, early forms of traditional drag were appearing in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. In 1910 Julian Eltinge, a drag queen, had an American tour and produced a magazine. But as the video highlights this era was also a time when gender non conformist became circus performers in “freek shows” e.g. the bearded women.
Like so many minorities, history has not been kind. The 1950’s saw homosexuals as subversive and deemed a national risk. Another amazing insight into the intellect (or lack thereof) of our governments. Homosexuality was already illegal and men were jailed for cross-dressing. Many parts of the world banned cross-dressing, which saw private parties in individuals homes flourish and small pockets of activism grow.
The video looks at the 1969 Stonewall riots as a pivotal period in drag queen history. This riot highlights the drag queen influence in the gay rights movement, which is often referred to as beginning in 1969 at New York’s only gay bar of the time, Stonewall Bar. On the 28th of June 1969 the police conducted a raid, which went a little pear shaped as the community (gay and drag) fought back. The riots lasted for three days and it’s said it ignited worldwide LGBTI activism.
As a culture we have come a long way with our beliefs around cross-dressing, but we still have so far to go. A simple example is a woman jumping into a man’s shirt for bed is considered acceptable even attractive, while a man wearing a woman’s nightie to bed would not be deemed in the same way by most people.
But enough from me, the best history lesson here is a mix of a ludicrously catchy song, politics, and gorgeous fashion.
Take it away queens!
Imp Queen, The Vixen, Lucy Stoole, London Jade, Eva Young and Dorian Electra.
2000 Years of Drag: A Musical Odyssey | Refinery29
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