History of Drag

Some points of interesting facts of Drag through history.

Definition:

drag queen is a person, usually male, who uses drag clothing and makeup to imitate and often exaggerate female gender signifiers and gender roles for entertainment purposes. Historically, most drag queens have been men dressing as women. In modern times, drag queens are associated with gay men and gay culture, but they can be of any gender and sexual identity.

Terminology, scope and etymology:

The origin of the term drag is uncertain; the first recorded use of drag in reference to actors dressed in women’s clothing is from 1870. For much of history, drag queens were men, but in more modern times, cisgender and trans women, as well as non-binary people, also perform as drag queens.

 In a 2018 article, Psychology Today stated that drag queens are “most typically gay cisgender men (though there are many drag queens of varying sexual orientations and gender identities)”. Examples of trans female drag queens, sometimes called trans queens, include Monica Beverly Hillz, and Peppermint.

Cisgender female drag queens are sometimes called faux queens or bioqueens, though both terms are problematic: faux carries the connotation that the drag is fake, and the use of bioqueen exclusively for cisgender females is a misnomer since trans female queens also have female bodies. Drag queens’ counterparts are drag kings: performers, usually women, who dress in exaggeratedly masculine clothing. Trans men who dress like drag kings are sometimes termed trans kings.

Drag in through the years:

In America the first drag ball was was William Dorsey Swann, The first person to describe himself as “the queen of drag”. Born enslaved in Hancock, Maryland, who in the 1880s started also hosting drag balls in Washington, DC attended by other men who were former slaves, and often raided by the police, as documented in the newspapers. In 1896, Swann was convicted and sentenced to 10 months in jail on the false charge of “keeping a disorderly house” (euphemism for running a brothel) and demanded a pardon from the president for holding a drag ball (the demand was denied)

In the early to mid-1900s, female impersonation had become tied to the LGBT community and thus criminality, so it had to change forms and locations. It moved from being popular mainstream entertainment to something done only at night in disreputable areas, such as San Francisco’s Tenderloin. Here female impersonation started to evolve into what we today know as drag and drag queens. Drag queens such as José Sarria and Aleshia Brevard first came to prominence in these clubs. People went to these nightclubs to play with the boundaries of gender and sexuality and it became a place for the LBGT community, especially gay men, to feel accepted. As LGBT culture has slowly become more accepted in American society, drag has also become more, though not totally, acceptable in today’s society.

In Canada, during the 1940s John Herbert, who sometimes competed in drag pageants, was the victim of an attempted robbery while he was dressed as a woman. His assailants falsely claimed that Herbert had solicited them for sex, and Herbert was accused and convicted of indecency under Canada’s same-sex sexual activity law (which was not repealed until 1969).

In 1980, for the first time, a police presence protected gay spectators and drag queens from anti-gay harassment at the annual Halloween show at Toronto’s St. Charles Tavern.

In Europe during the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, pantomime dames became a popular form of female impersonation in Europe. This was the first era of female impersonation in Europe to use comedy as part of the performance, contrasting with the serious Shakespearean tragedies and Italian operas.

Protests and Riots:

The Cooper Donuts Riot was a May 1959 incident in Los Angeles in which drag queens, lesbians, transgender women, and gay men rioted; it was one of the first LGBT uprisings in the United States.

The Compton’s Cafeteria riot, which involved drag queens and others, occurred in San Francisco in 1966. It marked the beginning of transgender activism in San Francisco.

On March 17, 1968, in Los Angeles, to protest entrapment and harassment by the LAPD, two drag queens known as “The Princess” and “The Duchess” held a St. Patrick’s Day party at Griffith Park, a popular cruising spot and a frequent target of police activity. More than 200 gay men socialised through the day.

Drag queens were also involved in the Stonewall riots, a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the LGBT community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, located in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of Manhattan, New York City. The riots are widely considered to be the catalyst for the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.

During the summer of 1976, a restaurant in Fire Island PinesNew York, denied entry to a visitor in drag named Terry Warren. When Warren’s friends in Cherry Grove heard what had happened, they dressed up in drag, and, on July 4, 1976, sailed to the Pines by water taxi. This turned into a yearly event where drag queens go to the Pines, called the Invasion of the Pines.