A Quick History of Drag

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A Quick History of Drag

For the longest time, drag has remained in the outskirts of culture. Society knows that it exists, but some people don’t acknowledge, more so celebrate, this art form.

Artists like David Bowie and Lady Gaga, and shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and Dragula have managed to push the boundaries of pop culture. They have helped in allowing drag to slowly enter the pop culture circle. However, there is still a large number of people who have plenty of misconceptions about drag. 

What is drag?

Many have this misconstrued notion that drag is just for queer people in wigs, costumes like skimpy leotards, and jewelry with simulated diamonds. But, it is much more than that.

Drag is all about inclusivity. It has evolved to include everyone regardless of age, gender, sexuality, and race. Furthermore, it is more than just playing dress up and lip syncing to a Britney Spears song. There are drag artists out there who use their art form as a political platform to fight for the rights of marginalized groups.

How did drag start?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “drag” existed as early as the 1300s, but it wasn’t until 1870 in the United Kingdom that it was used in a gender-bending context. Printed in the Reynolds Newspaper was the line, “We shall come in drag,” which meant men wearing women’s clothing. It should be noted that the phrase originated in theater, where petticoats were worn by men who performed as women.

The 1920s later came, and with it the use of the word “drag.” In 1927, it was obviously linked to the LGBTQ+ community. Segregation in bars during the 1920s, meanwhile, led to the popularization of drag balls. Created as early as the 1800s, drag balls are social gatherings where queer people dress up according to categories or themes. These are known to be lavish.

The year 1932 arrived, and with it came further discrimination even within the queer community. Gay men were either masculine and straight passing, or “fairies” (those who participated in drag culture).

The 1970s diminished drag culture, as there was a rise in masculinity. But this time was also when drag further developed into an art form. It was no longer comedic, and just men dressing up as women. A decade later, drag was about looking as womanly as possible.

In the 1990s, drag kings were introduced. Among the few during that time was Murray Hill. This was also when RuPaul first started rising in popularity as the Washington Post gave him the mantle “America’s Favorite Drag Queen.” Distinction between drag performers and transgender people were also made during the 90s.

The 2000s is when drag became more expansive. In 2009, LogoTV introduced RuPaul’s Drag Race, a competition hoping to find America’s next drag superstar. The show is one of the most powerful influences that allowed drag to become more known, accepted, and celebrated.

Drag as an art form will continue to develop as more people participate in it, but one should never forget its queer and inherently political roots.

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