In a world that often stifles self-expression and conformity, drag queens are vibrant beacons of unapologetic authenticity. Not only do these high heeled and glitter-clad queens prove some undeniably fun entertainment, drag queens represent freedom of expression and freedom from gender norms.
While drag and identities outside the binary are in some ways more accepted than ever, they’re also more threatened than ever. This has been seen in increased prejudice, violence, and even in recent legislation against drag shows and performers in some states.
Throughout the history of LGBTQ+ activism, drag queens serve as powerful symbols of resilience and empowerment. Through their craft, they provide a voice for marginalized communities, using their platform to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, raise awareness about social issues, and break down barriers of prejudice and discrimination. They remind us that we are all worthy of love, acceptance, and celebration, regardless of our gender identity or sexual orientation.
So, why is drag more than just Pride month entertainment? And how can we support our queens? We explore drag’s immense contributions to society and the transformative power that performers hold.
What Is a Drag Queen?
In official terms, a drag queen is (predominantly) a homosexual cis-man who dresses as a woman, usually for entertainment purposes. Yet, a drag queen doesn’t inherently have to be homosexual – in fact, many heterosexual men and nonbinary folks wear “women’s” lingerie or are involved in cross dressing.
Drag queens are also not strictly for entertainment purposes. At its core, drag is an art form that transcends the boundaries of gender, challenging societal norms and pushing the envelope of self-identity. They serve to represent the fight against injustice and wrongdoings still happening amongst and to the LGBTQ+ community. Drag queens exist in a world of gender bending that doesn’t restrict gender direction and opens an opportunity for anyone who would want to indulge in the power of drag.
Transgender & Drag Queens
There is quite a bit of controversy – as well as confusion – when using the terms “drag” and “trans” in relation to each other. Even amongst the drag community, there have been some instances of inappropriate language – specifically in the popular show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, in which two instances were especially problematic.
The first was a segment which consisted of the contestants viewing pictures of individuals and having to guess if they were cisgender or “she-males”. There was another brief segment on the show in which RuPaul would have a message for the contestants on the upcoming challenge, affectionately titled “You’ve Got She-Mail”. Both segments were pulled by the network, Logo, after negative backlash from both the transgender and drag communities.
In spite of this, there is a disconnect with RuPaul (and other prominent figures in the drag community) with what words are and are not appropriate to use as cisgender men. A quick Google search of “RuPaul” and the T slur will give you all you need to know on that one.
The terminology and representation for the transgender and drag communities have also become blurred and misinterpreted by the public. The notion of what it means to be transgender or to be a drag queen are often grossly misunderstood, leading to questions of whether transgender women and drag queens are the same – the answer to that is, of course, a resounding no. Transgender individuals may participate in drag as an occupation or as a hobby, but drag queens are not transgender unless they identify as such. Drag performers might be cis-gender or transgender and enjoy dressing up or performing as another gender, often in a creative representation — while transgender people identify with another gender than the sex assigned at birth. More generally, drag is about creative expression in a certain content, while being transgender is about one’s everyday identity.
Unfortunately, with so many misrepresentations of the trans and drag community in the media, the trans community is often portrayed in a negative light. Stereotyped portrayals and harmful propaganda put real trans individuals at risk – and especially trans women. As of this post, 12 transgender and gender non-conforming folks have been murdered this year.
Media Representation of Drag Queens
Today’s media stands as a double agent, simultaneously embracing and criticizing drag depending on the source, and who is performing drag. For instance, Robin Williams’ drag in Mrs. Doubtfire or Tyler Perry’s Madea are celebrated as mainstream comedy, yet drag rooted in the queer community is often demonized by the media as harmful. The socializing agents around us can encourage and manipulate the shaming and judgment of drag queens.
However, as the popularity of drag rises drag queens are a vocal force for change , shattering stereotypes and paving the way for greater acceptance and understanding. Shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race have not only brought drag into the spotlight but have also humanized the art form, showcasing the struggles, triumphs, and unique journeys of drag performers. They have become role models for countless individuals, inspiring them to embrace their own authentic selves and challenging societal expectations. The drag community has evolved past just entertainment, but into a powerful movement through social media and activism.
Drag culture has also deeply impacted our everyday slang, pulling catchphrases from media and embedding them into our everyday culture, and changing the way we view gender and identity. According to Nathaniel Simmons – author of Speaking Like a Queen in RuPaul’s Drag Race: Towards a Speech Code of American Drag Queens:
Drag queens have culturally unique ways of speaking…drag queens use nonverbal aesthetics to communicate a coherent drag identity as queen’s blur gender lines and use performance as a space in which to bend the dominant American gender narrative binary.” (Simmons)
In other words, drag queens not only have a unique artistic outlet, but each drag queen has created their own way of expressing and standing for who they are and what they believe in.
Drag and LGBTQ+ Activism
In a world hungry for authenticity, drag queens nourish a culture of self-expression with their unapologetic boldness and unwavering courage. They challenge us to question the status quo, celebrate our individuality, and embrace the transformative power of self-expression. Through their artistry, advocacy, and undeniable charisma, drag queens continue to shape society and remind us of the importance of living authentically and standing tall in the face of adversity.
Drag queens also consistently give back to their communities and charitable endeavors. Whether it’s raising funds for LGBTQ+ organizations, hosting benefit events, or lending their voices to advocacy campaigns, they use their influence to create positive change. Their commitment to social justice is a testament to the power of drag as a force for good.
Drag queens help to dismantle the binary oppositions that are so embedded in American culture, which will hopefully be stripped away and replaced with gender acknowledgement and support for the diversity of our self-expression. They explore how gender isn’t just male and female – and support us break down the societal structure of gender by diluting gender binaries and erecting a new way of thinking about gender in common culture. Through the norm-pushing entertainment and aesthetic exaggeration of gender that drag queens perform, they pave the way for more open expression of our personalities and identities.
Drag Queens Bending the Gender Binary
Labels like ‘gay’, ‘straight’, ‘female’, or ‘male’, just don’t fit – nor matter – in the world of drag queens, nor do they definitely fit everyone in the world. Drag queens strive to push the envelope of gender and force the audience to realize the extensive complexity of gender representation and sexuality. It will never just be male or female; it goes deeper than appearance, and drag queens are a walking and talking symbol of that idea.
Beyond their bold makeup and ridiculous flexibility (that I still envy time to time), drag queens are standing up for the right to play and tease with gender, and strip away the “traditional” American views of what gender is.
Before any Kardashian ever broke the internet, drag queens have been breaking down borders and rules since day one. These Queens are the change that we need in this world, to shape a society that breaks the gender binary and offers a colorful array of what each human can be in this world — true to themselves and boldly sharing through fearless self-expression.