Derrie Shurville, St James’s Digital Communications Officer, talks about Drag from a feminist perspective.
I first got the drag bug when my girlfriend insisted that I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, mostly because she quoted phrases, and I didn’t get her jokes. I binged on 4 seasons back-to-back and was truly hooked.
My previous knowledge of drag was extremely limited to bumping into them in Soho bars. I had found them very intimidating, mostly due to their over-the-top make-up, giant heels, and sassy demeanour. I felt a distinct lack of glam, glitter and gregarious attitude, especially in my ripped jeans and comfortable footwear.
Thanks largely to the success of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the art form of drag is now seen regularly on mainstream TV channels, magazine covers and is the subject of multiple vlogs and podcasts. I shan’t go back in time and give you the history of drag, as Elijah has done this splendidly already with his (well Barbara’s) Drag: A history of Transvestism. Although I’ve included a fabulous little video by one of my all-time favourite drag queens, Trixie Mattel, at the bottom of this post that gives a brief introduction to drag and it’s history/herstory.
So let’s be clear, Drag is about a minority (usually gay men, but also women) putting on make-up to express and explore their identity or to express their art in this, that can be read as ‘controversial’, way. They are not copying women; they are revealing an aspect of themselves or they are sharing their art with other people. They are also sometimes pointing out the ridiculousness of gender and the rigid walls that surround it.
Drag is, among other things, about refusing to accept those stereotypes on clothes and the way men and women are apparently supposed to look, which I absolutely concur with. It’s a type of activism that I fully support as a feminist.
If you engage with RuPaul’s Drag Race you’ll see how the show isn’t just about the competition tasks but the journeys of the individuals. We encounter touching moments, where during the process of dragging up, the queens open up about their lived experiences.
When RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered, it was groundbreaking for its representation of the LGBTQ+ community. The queens gave us their heartbreaking stories and created conversations around topics that were typically deemed taboo (like how to properly tuck). Throughout their challenges, they brought up topics that matter to the queer community and gave us a brief history of important LGBTQ+ events, like the Stonewall Riots and why phrases like, “Do you know Dorothy?” and, “My best Judy,” exist.
In the past, the show has tackled issues such as addiction, social justice, and gender inclusivity. The topic of HIV and AIDS has also been talked about over many seasons. In season 6 of Drag Race Trinity K. Bone’t revealed to the other queens and fans about living with HIV and the stigma surrounding the diagnosis. “There’s a lot of people out here who are not educated that you can be with someone who is HIV positive if they are undetectable and not catch the virus.” This really helps promote tolerance and understanding.
What I love about the rise of RuPaul’s Drag Race is that it’s brought a lot of queer topics into the mainstream, normalising them. For instance, it’s not just the LGBTQ+ community that love watching the show, straight women are also huge fans. Then what happens, and this happened to two of my three brothers, is that the straight women insist on watching it with their boyfriends and before you know it, straight men are using the phrases; “the library is open”, “sashay away”, “yaas queen”, “back rolls” and “I feel very attacked right now!” Even my Father has embarrassingly been known to say “Much Betta!” quoting Baga Chipz, his favourite drag queen from the first series of RuPauls’s Drag Race UK.
RuPaul’s famously said ‘you’re born naked and the rest is drag’, which illustrates how gender is a performance not only among the drag queens, but also among everyone else. This resonates with Judith Butler’s idea of gender being always a copy of someone else’s gender, regardless of following or overthrowing the rigid boundaries of this social construct.
Drag brings fun aspects of gender to the front by exaggerating specific aspects of it. In a way, it celebrates femininity in a variety of artistic ways. I highly recommend that you come along to PREACH!
So I’ll leave you with a quote that RuPaul uses in every episode:
“If You Can’t Love Yourself, How the Hell Are You Going to Love Somebody Else? Can I get an Amen!”– RuPaul Charles
Drag Race: All Stars 3 winner Trixie Mattel explores how the word “drag” became popular in queer communities and mainstream culture.