It’s a Drag

If there’s one thing I haven’t been able to figure out after many years of trying, it has to be drag queens — or, at least, the contemporary variety.

There! I’ve put the statement out in the open. The thing is, though, that I don’t mean the statement to come across as though I’m passing judgement, for I’m not. It’s more a matter of how I’m always curious about what makes people tick, as well as my admission of how I still fail to comprehend this one.

Then again, I’m one of those guys who had a lot of trouble understanding the reasoning behind reclaiming the word “queer” when it became popular to do so in academia (where I worked) in the early ’90s. I wasn’t sure what to think (or feel) when I discovered that there was such a thing as “Queer Theory.” All I could think of was that it seemed to place, at least in my mind, more emphasis on sexual (dis)orientation than I personally cared to place — not because of discomfort or shame or anything negative like that, but because …well …I’m not sure! On the one hand, just as with the debate to determine if graffiti is art, I wasn’t sure that discussing “camp,” among other subjects of that kind, was a worthy academic pursuit. But on the other hand, I knew there were many rich but untold histories that needed to be narrated in order to generate tolerance, understanding, and ultimately acceptance. But I digress…

From a socio-historical perspective, I recognize the role drag queens played in pushing the envelope in the pre-Stonewall era and in the first years after Stonewall. They were at the forefront of a political battle urging men and women not to be ashamed (“I am what I am, and what I am needs no explaining”). But the drag queens I’ve come to know these days around here are anything but political. Provocative, yes, and often foul-mouthed and apparently in a foul mood. I suppose I’m just not sure what they’re trying to provoke.

Of course, at the opposite end of the spectrum are the denim-and-leather-clad, don’t-mess-with-me uber-men with biceps the size of my chest. I can understand these guys a little bit better; they’re from the school of thought I like to call the “It’s Mister Queer to you, buddy!” However, whether or not they’re more effective politically than the drag queens, or just an alternate photo opp for the media, I don’t know. I truly don’t.

Bottom line, though: I’ll always be among the first in line to defend anyone’s right to be, as long as the cardinal rule of “Do No Harm” is adhered to. And here I mean REAL harm, not perceived harm from those who feel drag queens and uber-men are projecting “the wrong image.” Meanwhile, if I finally grasp why some of today’s drag queens have chosen to become drag queens, I’ll be sure to share my findings with you.

{10} Thoughts on “It’s a Drag

  1. Rather odd to comment on my own post, but I just wanted to clarify that I guess my interest in this topic is from the perspective of a social anthropologist, which I’m not.

  2. I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would want to dress-up as the opposite sex and perform song and dance for money. Especially with all the …uh… taping and tucking that must go on to provide a convincing performance. More confusing is the whole breast implant on a drag queen bit. Which, of course, eventually leads to full gender transformation via surgery.

    I really could not care either way, but I hold the same confusion and wonder as you do, Maurice, about how one decides they are going to take on this lifestyle.

    Of the drag queens I know, they are mostly very clique-oriented, like the bottle and do not often avoid such substances as Tina (crystal methamphetamine), Whitney (cocaine) or K (ketamine). If that qualifies as some social statement, you have got me at a loss.

  3. I can’t figure them out either. And doesn’t it seem like drag queens changed recently? Say, within the last 5 – 7 years? I remember when I first started going out to clubs the drag queens and drag shows were kind of raunchy, abusive, and entertaining. And the drag queens weren’t particularly pretty. Now though, the drag queens are more like beauty pageant contestants and they don’t do a whole lot except lip sync and look pretty. I guess that’s ok but I prefer the bitchier drag queens.

  4. Oh yeah and one night, or morning, I was at the all night Walmart in line behind two drag queens. They were buying drag queen supplies, like makeup, nail polish, shaving cream and hose. They were buying quite a bit of stuff in fact and their bill was pretty big. They paid it with all $1 bills. I guess that’s the down side of being a female impersonator.

  5. Bastard: Don’t look at me, that’s for sure! :-P}

    David: The drag queens to which I’m referring aren’t the pros. I’m thinking of those who do drag just to go out on a Friday or Saturday night. Come to think of it, though, I think I might be falling on the notion of fetishism, which is an entirely different ball of wax. As for substance abuse, I don’t know. I don’t see the pattern being more pronounced among the drag queens I’m thinking about than among the other patrons of the local GLBT establishments.

    Kevin: I love your matter-of-fact comment. And I’m sure it’s not that far off the mark, either. But…

    I guess I’m thinking about how many drag queens may have “fallen into” that scene because, for whatever reason, that’s what they thought was expected of them — even as late as the late ’80s. Yet it doesn’t compute in my mind: gay man != more “feminine”; lesbian != more “masculine.” I’m thinking in particular of a former drag queen I know who had moved from the country to the city and the friends he happened to make at the time were themselves into drag. Interestingly, today this same guy still seems to feel the need to identify with *a* sub-group; now he associates more with the uber-men. A vast majority of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals simply ARE. So I find it interesting to observe how some individuals need to identify with any particular group.

    Another thing that I observed among *some* drag queens is that, although they often have women as friends, they tend to make a lot of terribly misogynistic comments. There’s a fine line between farce (or parody) and social commentary. I would like to see a bit of sensitivity towards the fact that there are consequences to being sensational.

    Or maybe I’m complexifying what needn’t be made complicated. But I don’t know… :-|}

  6. Is it really any different than the way hetero men & women fall into sub cultures, though? The jocks? the rednecks? the cowboys? the punks? Maybe it really isn’t about sexuality, but more about the basic human need for community and family?

  7. Very good point, Kevin! Very good point! I need to ponder that one. Maybe I got stuck at the sensationalistic aspect of drag. Ummm…

  8. I think you’re on to something there Kevin. We all need to feel like we belong to something… or fit in somehow.

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