Although Pride Month is coming to an end, it doesn’t mean that we must come to a screeching halt on celebrating who we are and what Pride means to the community. It certainly doesn’t stop the glamorous drag queens that you might’ve seen at your local Pride parade from going on being themselves. Not only do these high heeled and glitter clad Queens prove some undeniably fun entertainment, drag queens also represent the need for change in social stigma as well as the gender binary that is still enforced in the world today.
What Is a Drag Queen?
In official terms, a drag queen is (predominantly) a homosexual man who dresses as a woman, usually for entertainment purposes. However, there are two things that I would disagree with in that definition. First of all, a drag queen doesn’t inherently have to be homosexual to dress as a woman – in fact, many heterosexual men and nonbinary folks wear ladies’ lingerie and/or are involved in cross dressing. Secondly, drag queens are not strictly for entertainment purposes, but 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 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 two terms in relation to each other. Among the drag community, there have been some instances of inappropriate language – specifically in the popular show, RuPaul’s Drag Race. There were two instances that 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 (on private browser, of course) 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 become blurred and misinterpreted by the public – the notion of what it means to be transgender or to be a drag queen are grossly misunderstood. This often leads to the questioning 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. In the end, it comes down to personal preferences and what it means in individual circumstances.
Unfortunately, with so many misrepresentations in the media, the influence on society has been mostly problematic. The trans community is often portrayed in a negative light – i.e. the played out “chick with a dick” joke that has never, ever been funny. But these portrayals put real trans individuals at risk – and especially women. As of this post, 10 transgender folks have been murdered this year.
Media Representation of Drag Queens
Today’s media stands as a double agent in simultaneously embracing and criticizing drag queens through gender identities and the gender binary. The socializing agents around us can encourage and manipulate the shaming and judgment of drag queens. However, as the popularity of drag rises – as seen in RuPaul’s Drag Race and as well as gender studies classes in college – drag queens are becoming a spotlight in today’s media. The drag community has evolved past just entertainment, but into a powerful movement through social media.
According to Nathaniel Simmons – author of Speaking Like a Queen in RuPaul’s Drag Race: Towards a Speech Code of American Drag Queens:
Such research identified 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 what they believe in.
Hopefully in the future, the binary oppositions that are so embedded in American culture will be stripped away and replaced with gender acknowledgement, support, and the neutrality of makeup and clothing through drag queens. It isn’t just male and female – let us break down the societal structure of gender by diluting genders and erecting a new way of thinking about gender in common culture. Through the visual entertainment and aesthetic (and otherwise) exaggeration drag queens do, they really have so much to offer society when the kinks are worked through.
Labels like ‘gay’, ‘straight’, ‘female’, or ‘male’, just don’t fit – nor matter – in the world of drag queens. Labels like Moschino and McQueen do, however, matter quite a lot. Drag queens thrive 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.
So 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 wants to be in this world.
Don’t be a Drag, just be a Queen!
Citations: Simmons, Nathaniel. “Speaking Like A Queen In Rupaul’s Drag Race: Towards A Speech Code Of American Drag Queens.” Sexuality & Culture 18.3 (2014): 630- 648. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 June. 2017.