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Dean M
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July 16, 2023
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Drag queen? Beginner's guide to understanding drag culture

Alyssa Edwards, Manila Luzon, Bianca Del Rio, Jinkx Monsoon,.. the list goes on. It seems like the words ‘drag queen’ are everywhere these days, between the end of Pride month and all the recent fuss about legislation around this entertainment form. The controversy over the “decency” of drag shows has created lots of questions for people who don’t know much about them.

In this judgment-free, beginner guide, let’s talk about drag!

What is a drag queen?

A drag queen is a performer’s persona, where a person, typically male, overly exaggerates feminine appearances. The extravagance of drag queens by their wigs, makeup, heels, costumes and mannerisms is key to the performance.

Just as a music artist does, a drag queen has a stage name that they go by, pronouns that they prefer while in character and a visual branding that they are faithful to. Adhering to their character is a part of the immersive experience of drag.

What is a drag king? Drag kings is the opposite of a drag queen: a person, typically female, overly emphasizing and characterizing male features in drag show performances.

What is a drag show?

A drag show is a nightlife entertainment event that can take place at a venue, in which a drag performer will dance, lip-sync, sing and do stand-up. It is a highly interactive and immersive show, as the performers are purposely playing with the audience in their drag performance. The drag scene is a staple of the LGBT community, as a space for community, fun and parody.

Is it sexual? Well, it technically doesn’t have to be. But drag shows are a staple of queer liberation, and this includes sexual freedom. This extends to drag shows embracing sexuality and sexual desire, by incorporating playful, provocative sexual innuendos with the public.

Can a drag queen be a female?

Historically, it was more common for men to be drag queens. As we’ve come to understand gender identity in new ways, a drag queen could be someone of any gender performing. Non-binary people have become more present in this space, but so have women, cisgender and transgender.

This applies to sexual orientation too: not all drag queens are queer. Some are gay, some are bisexual, and other LGBTIQ+ community members, but some are also heterosexual. Although drag is based in queer culture, the popularity of it, thanks to the contest-based reality television show RuPaul’s Drag Race for example, has opened it to many new people.

Is a drag queen cross dressing?

Cross dressing and drag do have an overlap: someone is “transgressing” their stereotypical gender by appearing as a different one than they identify to. A man dressing as a woman could be cross dressing or doing drag. The key different here is that drag is a culture, a community and a performance. It is a form of entertainment for an audience, that has certain expectations for a quality show. Cross dressing tends to be more private and personal. The exaggeration of traits isn’t necessary to satisfy cross dressing, for example, when it absolutely is for drag.

That is also a key distinction to differentiating a drag queen from someone who is transgender. Being transgender is an identity and reflects a need to be seen in a particular gender constantly. Both drag performers and cross dressers explore gender expression without it necessarily affecting their gender identity.

Do drag queens tuck?

Short answer: yes. Many do. Tucking is the practice of hiding a penis and testicles in order to avoid a bulge-effect. For the clothing that is worn by some drag queens, tucking is pretty much necessary to nailing the look.

Why Drag Queen Story hour?

The Drag Queen Story Hour, which has stirred up quite the pot these past few months, is a children’s story-reading event led by a drag queen in public libraries. The point of Drag Queen Story Time is to animate the reading of children’s books to engage the kids further in the reading. The drag queen will incorporate voices, commentary, gestures and other acting skills for the reading to be more fun. Nothing sexual, nothing predatory. Just entertainment.

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