I recently came across your article about drag. As a drag queen myself, I was thrilled to read it. And don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic that drag is being talked about as if it is an everyday thing. But I feel that the article doesn’t touch on the many aspects that are integral to the very heart and soul of drag. And without this depth, it doesn’t paint a complete picture of what it means to be a drag queen and what the art of drag even is.
First of all, what even is drag? Is a man putting on a dress considered drag? Are you dressing in drag if you’re a transgendered female? Many people assume that drag is simply dressing up as a woman - and frankly, that’s just not true. Drag is not crossdressing, which is when a man puts on a dress once or twice. Drag queens don’t even need to be gay! Drag is when a person creates a character of the opposite gender and performs as this character, whether they’re lip syncing to Cyndi Lauper, voguing down the runway, or even telling dirty jokes for an audience. Drag is an act; it does not mean that these people truly consider themselves female, or that they are using drag to cope with the struggles of life. Sure, drag can be a form of therapy for someone, but so can all other art. Painting a landscape can help artists work through their feelings, but it doesn’t mean that’s why all painters paint.
It’s great that RuPaul has done so many great things for the drag queens of the world. She has been truly successful and has lived her dream. But what you see on RuPaul’s Drag Race is just a scratch on the surface of what it means to be a drag queen. Drag isn’t something that is new in our history. In ancient Greece, what did they do when there were female characters in their plays? A man put on an extravagant costume and intricate mask and played the part of a woman. When Shakespeare debuted one of his shows, Lady Macbeth was played by a man in a dress and makeup. All of these people were doing exactly what drag queens do today, which is dressing up and playing a part. Drag hasn’t been suddenly brought to light. No, in fact, drag has been at the forefront of entertainment and theatricality since the performing arts were first being performed.
“Okay,” you say, “drag isn’t new. But so many drag queens been bullied and harassed throughout history as well!” And of course, you make a completely valid point. However, this less about them performing in drag and more about the societal pressures regarding homosexuality. At some point in time, our society determined that dressing like a woman meant that you were gay. And many of the major players in the drag world were, in fact, gay, as the act of drag allowed them to come to terms with and explore their gender in an artistic way. The campiness and extravagance isn’t what made them outcasts; it’s the idea that a man would enjoy being in a dress that really irked the heteronormative culture of the time. RuPaul was one of these people who wished that they could be accepted for their love of entertaining and performing. But she wasn’t the first. No, she was riding on the coattails of many incredible and inspiring people who built this bridge for her to cross. How many people watching RuPaul’s Drag Race know who Pepper LaBeija is? How about Willi Ninja? Venus Xtravaganza? These drag queens weren’t talking about “serving cheesecake” or “tuna on a platter.” These were people who used every ounce of drive in their body to bring equality and freedom to the many members of the LGBT community who were unable to be who they truly were. Drag became simply one of the forces through which the gay community promoted acceptance and love. Even at this time, drag was used to say “I’m gay, and it’s okay! Look at how beautiful I can be!”
RuPaul’s Drag Race is lots of fun, and I too look forward to watching it every Monday night. But unfortunately, it’s reality TV, and let’s face it; reality TV is far from realistic. While there are true life stories of heartbreak on the show, and while it has done great things for the drag community, it isn’t the bible of drag. One of the downsides of RuPaul’s Drag Race is that it has added a layer of cattiness and cruelty that was never a part of the drag world. When they turn queens against each other on the show to create drama and fights, they’re stepping just about as far away from the roots of drag as they can go. Laughing at Serena ChaCha’s bad makeup skills or teasing Mimi Imfurst for crying in the workroom is just a form of bullying. That’s just the result of reality TV looking for good ratings.
I was once told that drag queens were just pretty clowns; we paint our faces and we perform. We are entertainers. If we wanted to live our lives as women, we would be transgendered. And the depth of drag that comes from the pain and suffering of the gay liberation movement is simply because of love. Us drag queens do what we do so that we can spread a message through performance art. We’re not doing drag just for ourselves: we are doing drag for YOU.
I don't want to come across as a critic or someone who's just looking for a fight. I think it's great that drag is being written about. I just feel like the whole picture isn't being painted, and that the information in the article is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to drag performance. By writing this response, I'm not trying to belittle anyone. My goal is simply to share more of the story and to keep the deep meaning behind drag alive.