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What is the Art of Drag?

One common misconception of drag is that only cisgender men perform it. In actuality, drag attracts marginalized folks who are often misunderstood by their family and society

Drag is a gender-bending art where a person dresses in different types of clothing and makeup to exaggerate a gender identity, often of the opposite sex.

Even though drag is known for entertaining performances, it is also a way to showcase self-expression and celebrate LGBTQ+ pride.

What Is a Drag Queen?

Drag queens usually dress in exaggerated cisgender women’s clothing and paint their faces to give off a feminine presentation. While many drag queens are cisgender, gay men, there continues to be an increasing number of drag queens who are transgender women, non-binary, and other gender identities. 

What Is a Drag King?

Drag kings are people who amplify their look through men’s clothing and makeup to show a more masculine presentation. Many drag kings are cisgender women; however, this art form is currently not as popular as drag queens in the pop culture world. Hopefully, there will be more representations of drag kings in the future. 

What’s the History Behind the Art of Drag?

Drag is rooted in Western culture, in particular, at a time where cisgender women weren’t allowed to perform on stage. As a result, cisgender men would play these female roles themselves.  

The history of drag performers dates as far back as ancient Greece all the way to Shakespearean times.

In the nineteenth century, drag queens were referred to as female impersonators, and these individuals used the medium for performance art, particularly in vaudeville. 

In the 1880s, William Dorsey Swann, one of the first drag queens ever, hosted drag balls at his home. Then, when the early twentieth century rolled around, drag was associated with the LGBTQ+ community and no longer mainstream. Instead, these performances became a significant attraction in city nightlife, especially in places like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City.

After the 1969 Stonewall riots occurred in New York City and well into the 1990s, LGBTQ+ culture and pride became more mainstream, including drag culture. One of the most iconic moments in drag history was Black ball culture showcased in films like the documentary Paris Is Burning. This ball culture took place in NYC’s Harlem neighborhood during the late 1980s. The ball culture was one of the most significant drivers of drag into mainstream American culture.

Not Just for Cisgender Men

One common misconception of drag is that only cisgender men perform it. In actuality, drag attracts marginalized folks who are often misunderstood by their family and society. In addition, drag artists are highly creative people who can’t perform in certain places they’ve grown up.

However, these days, more people than ever before are embracing drag and showing their talents via social media or appearing on RuPaul’s Drag Race, which is the holy grail of drag competitions. 

Whether it’s costume designing, makeup skills, comedy, dancing, singing or more, drag performers are exceptionally talented people with much to show the world. 

When it comes to drag, your gender doesn’t matter – what’s most important is the level of talent and how memorable and likable a performer is.

What Happens During a Drag Show?

A typical drag show will generally include lip-syncing, dance, comedy, live cabaret, group numbers, and more. Performers will also often be dressed in elaborate clothing, hair, and makeup.

Drag shows were originally hosted at LGBTQ+ bars, clubs, or establishments but now have branched out to larger theatres and arenas since they are so popular.

New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Atlanta are the most well-known places for their iconic drag shows in the United States; however, drag shows can be found in most cities across the U.S. and some other nations like Canada, the UK, and more. 

Who Are Some Famous Drag Queens?

RuPaul Charles 

RuPaul is arguably the most famous drag queen in existence and the most successful. He is behind the reality show that brought drag into the mainstream, RuPaul’s Drag Race. Before becoming famous for his TV show and Emmy nominations, RuPaul was known as a Club Kid.

Lady Bunny

Lady Bunny is a drag persona known for her biting wit and potty mouth. According to The New York Times, Lady Bunny is one of the most recognizable names when it comes to drag queens. She is also known for being the co-creator of the huge drag festival, Wigstock.

Divine

Divine was most famous for her collaborations with iconic LGBTQ+ cult film director John Waters. Their films together, like the campy Pink Flamingoes, were known for their raunchiness and Divine’s legendary performances. Unfortunately, in 1988, Divine died too soon from a heart attack. 

Drag Race Royalty 

As for other queens from Drag Race fame, there are too many to count. But, here are some of the biggest names:

  • Bianca Del Rio 
  • Bob the Drag Queen
  • Shangela Laquifa Wadley
  • Jinkx Monsoon
  • Valentina
  • Aquaria
  • Kennedy Davenport
  • Alyssa Edwards
  • Chad Michaels
  • Trixie Mattel
  • Katya Zamolodchikova
  • Raja Gemini
  • Latrice Royale
  • Alaska Thunder**** 5000
  • Violet Chachki
  • Raven
  • Monét X Change
  • Kim Chi

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Billie Olsen

AUTHOR: Billie Olsen

Billie Olsen (she/they) is a lifestyle writer, disability justice advocate, and cozy femme located in Kelowna, BC, Canada. Their works have appeared in Metro News, Discorder, Sophomore Magazine, the Post-Feminist Post, DINE Magazine, and NerdReader.