History of Drag Queens

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India should be ashamed of treating Pinki Pramanik the way it did. Her gender “condition” became the reason for society to dismiss all her achievements as fake. Her life became a cause of shame. It just brings us face to face with one of teh most serious ideologies that plague our society. We think of male and female( the biology determining the gender expression completely) as two different pillars of identity, with everything in between as an anomaly. We think of diversity as a vertical hierarchy, why can’t it be horizontal instead? I talk of people who have taken their transgressive gender expressive on their stride and celebrated that in popular culture.

If you see a man dress up as a woman(using both terms as the society thinks of them), it produces a comic effect. However, it is cool for a woman to have her hair cropped and dress in pants. A strong subversion of this rule is the drag queen tradition, yet to develop in the eastern countries. This article will deal with drag history. The concept of cross dressing comes from theatre, in fact ironically it is a product of patriarchy itself. Women were not allowed to act on stage for a long time. So ever since Greek theatre, men have dressed as women on stage. It was particularly problematized in Shakespearean theatre, because he himself introduced characters with double or triple layers of gender transitions. For example, in AS YOU LIKE IT, Rosalynde is a woman who dresses as a boy Ganymede, who again acts as a girl. And the character Rosalynde herself is played by a boy on stage.

“Drag queen” is defined by Merriam Webster dictionary as “a homosexual man who dresses as a woman especially to entertain people”. Other etymological definitions go: “Sense of “women’s clothing worn by a man” is said to be 1870 theater slang, from the sensation of long skirts trailing on the floor (another guess is Yiddish trogn “to wear,” from German tragen).” Some researches note non English roots for the word and the concept. Bardah was a Persian word meaning “slave”, which got modified into the Spanish term bardaje and into French as bardache. The French word was then used in America in the American-English with the colonial interaction, forming berdache. This however meant, in a derogatory sense, indigenous men who assumed the role of homemaker and dressed as a woman- the househusband, whose wife was the sole bread earner in the family.

Since the eighteenth century, drag queen was a concept associated with gay men as an abuse. The drag queens of which we speak today first started (particularly in the US) in the 1950s and 60s. Even though the drag queen scene started around that time, it didn’t properly flourish until the 1980s and 90s. Initially, drag culture was an underground culture, criminalised and never acknowledged as high society elite or middle class culture. . This was also the time of the Stone Wall Riots in the US- the turbulent time when the LGBTQ became a community, and demanded their human rights. The slogans “we are here, we are queer” and the turn of the drag culture as a positive, cultural form of protest against sexism, began more or less together. These were a series of violent demonstrations against a police raid that took place at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. At the time, the Stonewall Inn was owned by the Mafia. It housed the most marginalised people in the country, the gays, transgenders, transsexuals, and cross dressers. It was a shady place, tabooed and considered equivalent to a red light area. Drag performances were the cultural side of these protests and became a huge source of inspiration for the solidification of the LGBTQ community. Within six months after the riots, two gay activist organisations were formed in New York, which became quite vocal politically and socially about the rights of sexually marginalised people.

One well-known Amerian political activist was José Julio Sarria (also known by her drag name Empress José I). He was a drag queen and the founder of Imperial Court System. During his performances, he enacted a tragic condition of the sexually discriminated against, and warned his audience against the violence of the police, appealing to them emotionally. In 1961, he was the first openly gay person to run for public office. He campaigned for the post of San Francisco City supervisor. He didn’t win, but stood 9th out of 32- the number was a huge encouragement for the entire gay community. It meant that even though people hated them, they were not considered non-humans, and there were people ready to extend their support to them.

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San Francisco was a known gay village. Most gay bars were closed down now. The times corresponded with the rise of the Beat Generation, with Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg, openly expressing their homosexuality in their art. The San Francisco Tavern Guild was formed. This would be the catalyst to the rise of a whole system of LGBT rights groups coming together under the name Imperial Council of San Francisco.

Drag culture is a form of art, requiring effort and passion. It involves elaborate costumes and make up, which become a political statement of their own. Drag queens range from amateur performances at small bars to ornately staged theatrical presentations. Pantomime, dancing and singing are usual performances.

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