Drag: (Her)story to Today

The Impact of a Changing Social Norm Recently Considered “Taboo”

Drag today has changed dramatically since it was brought into the public spotlight as taboo. Yet, many people do not imagine that drag has been in cultures around the globe for centuries including in theatrical performances, spiritual callings, and gender change based on cultural heritages. Many people imagine drag as men performing as women for fun, looks, and possibly a good laugh, yet for drag artists it means so much more.

Beginning with the history of drag, it has had major appearances dating back to the ancient Greeks. Said from Amelia Abraham, a freelance journalist with specializations in writing on identity politics. Shakespeare cast men as women for his plays and sonnets, and men who could reach alto/soprano notes played women in the Baroque period of Operas.

Yale students dressed as women for theater in the late 1800’s

Drag also appears in cultures around the globe naturally. One major focus point of drag in cultural heritage is the example of Berdache in Native American People. This is also known as a “two spirited” person, like our definition today of a transsexual individual. Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist with specializations in gender wrote an article focusing on the social science of gender and the connection it has with culture and the berdache. A major difference within the Native American culture and today is the berdache are picked to fulfill a role in society. They are not regarded as trans, but peacekeepers within the masculine and feminine qualities of every society. Similar cultural ideals were found in indigenous South America and Ancient Egypt.

This is We’wha; a Berdache or “two-spirited” person who lived during the late 18th century.

Getting into more recent history, drag came back into the spotlight around the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s. The term “drag” was then coined into our culture and it eventually developed into what we envision it today. Drag today is considerably different than when first appearing in our culture. The first start of drag today was the correlation between drag and LGBT+ culture around the 1930’s to the 1950’s. This is the start of drag in major U.S cities such as New York and San Francisco; also, this includes the start of gay cubs, underground clubs, and drag balls. Drag balls, as said by Dougherty, were collections of people who gathered secretly and performed; can also be known as a masquerade.

This picture comes from a recent play, “Casa Valentina,” where men are acting as women based in the 1950’s.

Drag was a party behind the scenes at clubs and its entertainment has developed into what we know as the golden age of drag. This would be the start of Rupaul’s influence culturally as a drag queen who started his television show in 2009. This brought around big changes for the drag industry, drag performers, and entertainment fields. “When drag was underground, queens could hope to garner a cult following in their city, be it NYC or Dallas or wherever. Now, a drag queen can truly be a global star.” This quote by Ryan Roschke is talking about what the competition has done for drag queens who have competed. International fame has been achieved by some of them including Alaska Thunderfuck and Trixie Mattel.

Maybe it’s best said by drag queens themselves:

Read more:

Rare Historical Photos of Drag

Great and Historical Queens

Gay Men and their Hyper-masculine stereotypes

3 thoughts on “Drag: (Her)story to Today”

  • This history (herstory) is so important to understand in order to be able to educate other people and understand how to keep advancing drag in popular culture. Thanks for the good post!

  • I really enjoyed how informational this post is! I think it is important for others to learn about the history of drag and how it has been around for years before it became so well known.

  • This post is so informative and the pictures are an excellent addition. I especially like the image of the Yale students in the 1800s; this image shows the extent of drag in history. I also appreciate your discussion on the “two spirited” person; it is important to recognize how cultures vary when considering individuals who share both masculine and feminine characteristics. Great job!

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