In the 21st century, a drag queen is not just a man who wears women’s clothes; a drag queen is an entirely separate entity. When so impeccably dressed and flawlessly painted, the person underneath the queen disappears almost completely.
Oftentimes, I’ve heard drag performers describe their personas as though they were another person. They’ve plunged their hands deep down into their own psyches and pulled out the weirdest, fiercest, and most theatrical parts of themselves, then mashed them together to form something new. A character. An alter ego. A super-“she”-ro, if you will.
In this moment, drag culture is bigger and more popular than it’s ever been. RuPaul’s Drag Race has just had its most successful season yet. With its move from Logo to VH1, it racked up almost 1 million viewers for the premiere and held strong with over 800,000 season finale viewers. The show’s third All Stars season is about to launch, marking a new competition between some of the top drag queens in mainstream media. And even outside of RuPaul’s Drag Race, queens have been able to build incredible followings via social media, live performances, YouTube, and podcasts.
Drag hasn’t always been received this way. In fact, this sort of public awe — sometimes, it borders on worship — of drag queens has really only cropped up in the past decade or two. Before that, drag was submerged deep in underground clubs and back-alley bars. And before that, it was an exaggerated and integral part of the theatre culture. The fact is, drag has been a part of our culture for centuries. And every era and every new iteration of the art form has been crucial to the shape and success of drag today.
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Editor: Yanisa Boonyawat