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She? He? How do we refer to them?

Fifi Dubois © Leland Bobbé

Although most drag queens tend to refer to themselves as ‘she’, the etymology of the term “drag” is disputed. It was used in reference to transvestites at least as early as the 18th century, owing to the tendency of their skirts to drag on the ground.

A folk etymology whose acronym basis reveals the late 20th-century bias, would make “drag” an abbreviation of “dressed as a girl” in description of male transvestism. “Drag queen” usually connotes cross-dressing for the purposes of entertainment and self-expression. This is the main distinction between drag queens and transvestic fetishists.

The world in general, however, has conversative ideals irrespective of how developing or developed its countries are. Fear of the unknown, or inexplicable, often leads to the rise of misconceptions and that is usually what drag queens or drag kings have to face.

Entertainment purposes is summed up as tranvestic behaviour, effeminacy is summed as homosexuality, a woman wearing shirts, boots and pants is a regular sight but if a man wears a dress, it is a blasphemy.

These are some of the very regular problems that drag queens have to face.

Recently, we were all acquainted with the stardom of Conchita Wurst, a drag persona, who won the Eurovision Song Contest, in early 2014. Born as Tom Neuwirth, he first performed as his alter ego Conchita Wurst, the famous long-haired full-bearded lady, in a talent show in 2011.

(Conchita Wurst, after winning Eurovision 2014)

Wurst prefers to as being referred as ‘she’, and that, along with her winning the Eurovision due to her master vocal skills, triggered snide, hateful and to a certain extent, phobic and repulsed behaviour from many.

The floods which devastated towns and cities in the Balkans, and killed many were a ‘punishment’ from God after drag artist Conchita Wurst won Eurovision 2014, the senior figures of the Serbian Orthodox Church have claimed.

Patriarch Irinej quoted how he felt that Wurst and all the ”vices” that the LGBT communities carry was the reason behind God “washing Serbia of its sins”. The deluge was a “divine punishment for their vices”. A similar comment was made by Littoral Head Amfilohije of Montenegro who said that the extreme weather conditions were a signal that people must not accept the “Jesus-like-figure”. “God sent the rains as a reminder that people should not join the wild side,” he reportedly added. Conservatives in Russia, about fifteen thousand of them signed a petition to cancel the airing of Eurovision on their network because drag performances, according to them, are a “hotbed of sodomy”.

(Patriarch Irinej of Serbia)

Every drag persona has been subject to such behaviour more than once in their lives, and it is their drive to shut out the rest of the world and do what they do best, perform, that makes them brilliant, colourful personalities.
About her beard, Wurst quoted : “It’s my own truth. It makes me comfortable on stage. I love myself and the bearded lady is fun and expresses everything I feel.”

However, feminist views on drag queens are constantly shifting. Some people believe that drag queens and their drag shows are a form of a satire, with men and women doing each others roles and over-do it as much as possible in order to ridicule gender roles. They would not refer to it as “cultural appropriation” because they think that implies the idea that make-up and other beauty practices are a very important part of the ‘female culture’, and yet, in reality, the powerful corporations which are promoted by women, are almost always run by men.

Others believe (this group comprising the majority) that drag queens and their shows mock women, transgenders, and transvestites too.

“When men dress in drag and supposedly imitate women, it is most often very sexist in a remarkably similar way to the whites imitating racial minorities… All the things I have shunned as part of the ancient ‘cult of womanhood,’ all the superficial, commercialized, and fake aspects of ‘femininity’ that I have fought to be freed from, these men were embracing as their ‘womanhood!’ Tons of make up, huge dyed bouffant hair-dos, binding lingerie, heels, nylons, shaving…and these men in drag who were supposedly acting like women, also acted giddy, stupid, shallow…it is odd to me that this could be seen as anything but blatant sexism”, is what Kirsten Anderberg wrote in a 2006- paper, titled “Imitating Others As Control: Is Drag Sexist/Racist?”

Julie Bindel wrote about the famous drag persona, Divine, that the latter played the roles of female characters who were ‘trash’, ‘filth’ and ‘obscenity in bucket loads’. Objectifying women, referring to nasty stereotypes of the same as ‘sluts’ is anything but performance art, is the opinion she holds.

(Famous drag persona, Divine)

Wurst is of the view “that everybody must have the right to live their life however they want it, if nobody gets hurt”. One of her songs has the following lyrics :

“That’s what I am, that’s what I’ll always be
I don’t wanna be silent ’cause this is my destiny…”

In an interview she quoted – “We, and not at least myself, want to stand for a society without hate and discrimination.” In other interview she said – “I tried to fit in and changed myself to be part of the game. I now realise I can create the game.”


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  • Ritarekha Dutta

    This may sound a bit unrelated as this is related to the transgender and transsexual people mostly but the gender binary exists no more. That’s for certain. As soon as people realize that the world is not as black and white as they had imagined it to be, it’d be easier for them to get used to certain things instead of growing prejudiced. This is a brilliant and extremely informative article which lends these drag queens some visibility in a country which ignores their existence.