When it comes to the Texas Legislature, long gone is the expectation that our state government is committed to bettering the collective lives of Texans. This legislative session is no exception, with the conservatively run chambers banning local municipal control, county-wide voting, and this year's wild card: drag queens. Now, I can't help but notice the sweet irony that drag is the target of conservative men who wear heeled boots and walk around with the evidence of badly dyed hair, but really, one has to wonder what brought us to this point and why now?
Now the history of drag begins almost as early as time records. Drag is the art of dressing and acting exaggeratedly as another gender, primarily for entertainment and theatricality. In the early days of theatre, women were not allowed to perform on stage. So men filled these roles by wearing wigs, exaggerated makeup, and playing the parts designed for women, resulting from the Christian church deeming women as inferior and unfit to participate in theatre. (Believe it or not, there's a high likelihood that the first stage adaptions of "Romeo and Juliet" involved a man reciting "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" in a convincing attempt to play a teenage girl.)
Drag came to the United States mainstream during the Vaudeville era of the 1920s when Julian Eltinge became the most well-known drag queen. At the time, Julian became the highest-paid actor in the world, surpassing Charlie Chaplin. Drag would boom in popularity during Prohibition due to the LGBT community going underground and finding more freedom and self-expression in speakeasies. New York would eventually ban female impersonation, ending Vaudeville.
With the rise of societal norms and "traditional" values during World War II, drag would not see a bonafide comeback until the 1970s at the height of disco. Drag began to be celebrated among the LGBT community in bold and glitzy ways. Drag queens, most notably Marsha P. Johnson, protested police raids on gay clubs in New York City during the Stonewall Riot of 1969, which led to the formation of the Gay Liberation Front. Drag began to transform into political power and self-empowerment among the LGBT community.
In the last 50 years, drag has become an increasingly visible part of mainstream pop culture. RuPaul, one of the most famous drag queens of the 90s, has opened pop culture with her reality show (and countless franchise spin-offs) RuPaul's Drag Race. From fashion to language vernacular, drag is no longer the act of suppression but the celebration of life through color, music, and acting.
Conservatives have argued that drag queens are "groomers" trying to rob children's innocence and convert them into some cult. As someone who was raised attending drag shows as a child thanks to a hairdressing mother who was tuned into the culture early in life, I can affirm that this is far from the truth. What we are seeing instead, much like the anti LGBT sentiments of the 70's, is a deliberate attempt to suppress a strengthening movement in culture and acceptance. Several states across the country have enacted drag bans and even taken a step further, making laws that are so ambiguous, they could ban Dolly Parton.
So what can we do about it, if anything?
Ultimately, educate yourself. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. By learning about the LGBTQ leaders and drag queens of our past, we can make educated decisions in the present. If more legislators spent time learning and being a part of the world they try so hard to suppress, we would likely be a different place. Hopefully this blog provided a place to start with your drag education, and if you ever want to go catch a local show, I am more than happy to direct you to a venue. (fun fact: Texas is known as the state with some of the best and most high profile drag)