Sierra Canyon High School

How drag has changed the face of art, fashion, and beauty

“You can create who you are. Gender-bending is just the start. You dress to impress, to express who you are. You are a superstar.”                                               —Dorian Electra


We are in the midst of a revolution. A revolution of gender, of sexuality, of beauty. We are in the midst of a revolution. A revolution of fashion, of music, of art. We are in the midst of a revolution. A drag revolution.

No, they are not the waitresses at Hamburger Mary’s who host bingo and serve you drinks. No, they are not the freaks and queers you love to hate online. No, they are not catty gays living out a convoluted sexual fantasy.

Drag queens are artists, pioneers, and rebels in the world of gay culture. They are the definition of free expression which transcends sex, gender, economic background, and race. Drag is the radicalization of queer culture past, present, and future.

Originating over 2,500 years ago in the Grecian Age, female impersonation was born out of gender inequality. Women were not allowed on stage, so men played female characters in Greek comedies and tragedies.

Fast forward 2,000 years, Shakespeare coined the term D.R.A.G: Dressed Resembling a Girl. Beginning in the 1910s, gender nonconformists were forced to perform as circus acts and in the 1930s, major cities experienced a surge in underground drag performers in a phenomenon known as the “Pansy Craze.”

In 1969, the LGBTQ+ community fought for transgender and gay rights in the Stonewall Riots. In the 70s and 80s, performers like Divine and Tim Curry rose to stardom.

“Paris is Burning” highlighted the drag ball culture in New York in the 80s, and in the 90s, RuPaul’s “Supermodel” and the New York club kids revolutionized gay music, fashion and nightlife. But, it didn’t stop there.

In the present day, RuPaul’s Drag Race has debuted its 12th season (All Stars 3), Trixie Mattel took number one on the iTunes charts with “Moving Parts,” and Courtney Act became the first Drag Queen winner of Celebrity Big Brother.

Drag’s history is rich with history and filled to the brim with culture dating back to 400 BC. The tongue pop has stood the test of time. In a world where gender is becoming obsolete and free expression through all mediums is becoming widely appreciated and accepted, drag queens continue to pave the way for LGBTQ+ culture.

The late 60s gave us the genius of John Waters and Divine—Queen of Filth. From the ballroom scene of the 1980s we got “Paris is Burning” and drag lingo. A drag language has developed over the years with terms like tea, shade, werk, read, fish, clock, realness and more. The club kids of the 90s gave us fierce fashion and legends like James St. James, Amanda Lepore, Kenny Kenny, and Patricia Field.

At face value, it may seem that drag is just men in a mask of makeup, a lioness wig, and thigh high boots. But, it is truly the idea of transformation which is at the core of drag. Drag queens have taken the idea of identity and squashed it with their seven-inch pump.

Drag is truly the art of erasing yourself to recreate whoever you want in whatever way, shape, or form. Drag queens are outcasts. They have been cast aside as outsiders. But, in drag, you can be confident, fierce, and you can discover someone new within you that you never imagined could be unleashed. To be a queen is to be a makeup artist, comedian, hair-stylist, actress, model, lip-syncher, fashion designer, and dancer. To be royalty is to be an artist.

While drag queens are beginning to turn mainstream, alternative styles of drag as well as drag kings and trans performers are often overlooked. Punk drag, revolutionized by the Boulet Brothers and their competition show Dragula, shows a more grunge, filthy, horror side of the drag industry.

It isn’t all sequins all the time. Drag kings like Landon Cider and trans queens like Peppermint fight for equality within the drag community. There is a common misconception that trans women cannot be queens and queens cannot be trans. However, this notion was destroyed by brave queens like Sonique, Carmen Carrera, Monica Beverly Hills, and Peppermint (and more). The 1969 Stonewall Riots and the Gay Liberation Movement paved the way for queens like these. Drag is political.

Drag is shocking. Drag is Leigh Bowery and Michael Alig. Drag is men in makeup and bearded women. Drag is death drops and tongue pops. Drag is hairy chests and unshaven legs. Drag is Divine in “Pink Flamingos” and Violet Chachki’s 18-inch waist. Drag is Vander Von Odd and Biqtch Pudding. Drag is disgusting and stunning. Drag is degrading gorgeous. Drag is beautiful and bizarre. Drag is the art form that drops your jaw.

We must continue to transcend, bend, and break the boundaries of gender. We must continue to support self-expression of all forms. We must continue to be artists, to be creative. We must allow our differences to bring us together rather than rip us apart. We must encourage the idea of re-identification. You must unleash the power of you in whatever way you choose. z

We are in the midst of a revolution. A revolution of gender, of sexuality, of beauty. We are in the midst of a revolution. A revolution of fashion, of music, of art. We are in the midst of a revolution. A drag revolution.

“Create yourself on the stage. Gender’s a game but the rules have got to change. Transcend it and blend it and bend [it] ‘till it breaks. You are what you create.”   —Dorian Electra