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A drag queen is a person, usually a man, who dresses, and usually acts, like a woman often for the purpose of entertaining or performing. There are many kinds of drag artists and they vary greatly from professionals who have starred in movies to people who just try it once. Drag queens also vary by class and culture and can vary even within the same city. Although many drag queens are presumed to be gay men or transgender people, there are drag artists of all genders and sexualities who do drag for various reasons.

Generally, drag queens dress in a female gender role, often exaggerating certain characteristics(such as make-up and eyelashes) for comic, dramatic or satirical effect. Other drag performers include drag kings, who are women who perform in male roles, faux queens, who are women who dress in an exaggerated style to emulate drag queens and faux kings, who are men who dress to impersonate drag kings.

The term drag queen usually refers to people who dress in drag for the purpose of performing, whether singing or lip-synching, dancing, participating in events such as gay pride parades, drag pageants, or at venues such as cabarets and discotheques. In the United Kingdommarker, alongside traditional drag work such as shows and performances, many drag queens engage in 'mix-and-mingle' or hosting work at night clubs or at private parties/events.Drag is a part of Western gay culture; it is often noted that the Stonewall riots on June 27, 1969 in New York City were inspired and led by drag queens, and, in part for this reason, drag queens remain a tradition at pride events. Prominent drag queens in the gay community of a city often serve as official or unofficial spokespersons, hosts or emcees, fund-raisers, chroniclers and community leaders.

Terminology

The term drag queen originates in Polari, a subset of English slang that was popular in some gay communities in the early part of the 20th century. The verb is to "do drag." A folk etymology whose acronym basis reveals the late 20th-century bias, would make "drag" an abbreviation of "dressed as girl" in description of male transvestism. Queen refers to the trait of affected royalty found in many drag characters. It is also related to the archaic word "quean" which was used as a label both for promiscuous women and gay men (see Oxford English Dictionary definition number 3 for "quean").

Another term for a drag queen, female impersonator, is still used—though it is often regarded as inaccurate, as many contemporary drag performers are not attempting to pass as women. Female impersonation, under that name, used to be illegal in many places, which inspired the drag queen José Sarria to hand out labels to his friends reading "I am a boy," so they could not be accused of female impersonation. American drag queen RuPaul once said "I do not impersonate females! How many women do you know who wear seven-inch heels, four-foot wigs, and skintight dresses?" He also said, "I don't dress like a woman; I dress like a drag queen!". Celebrity drag couple "The Darling Bears" go so far as to sport full beards for their performances. Some performers draw the distinction that a female impersonator seeks to emulate a specific female celebrity, while a drag queen only seeks to create a distinctive female persona of his or her own.

La Palma drag queen


There are also performers who prefer to be called "gender illusionists" who do blur the line between transgender and drag queen. Generally transgender performers do not consider themselves to be drag queens and drag queens don't consider themselves to be illusionists, but, as with everything, there are exceptions. Often these distinctions are more generational as laws and acceptance of individuality change and grow.

Many drag queens prefer to be referred to as "she" while in drag and desire to stay completely in character. Some performers object to being referred to as "he" or by their legal name while in character. Drag performer RuPaul is an exception, as he seems to be completely ambivalent to which pronoun is used to refer to him. In his words, "You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis and Kathie Lee; I don't care!"

Biological females performing as drag queens are referred to as faux queens or bio queens.

Drag and transvestism

drag queens perform for personal fulfillment as a hobby, a profession, or an art form; as a way to be in the spotlight; or as a road to local or wider fame. Historically and currently, there have been and are a significant number of heterosexual men, generally actors, who perform in drag. There are also transgender or transsexual people, as well as straight women, who perform as drag queens.

Drag queens are sometimes called transvestites, although that term also has many other connotations than the term "drag queen". "Drag queen" usually connotes cross-dressing for the purposes of entertainment or performance without necessarily aiming to pass as female. It is not generally used to describe those persons who cross-dress for the fulfillment of transvestic fetishes alone, or whose cross-dressing is primarily part of a private sexual activity or identity. As for those whose motivation is not primarily sexual, and who may socialise cross-dressed, they tend not to adopt the typical over-the-top drag queen look.

Drag queen names

Miss Understood, who has appeared in several films and on television
There tend to be three types of drag names:The first are satirical names that play on words, such as Miss Understood, Holly Woodlawn,Peaches Christ, and Lypsinka.

The second type are names that trend toward glamour and extravagance, such as Dame Edna Everage, Chi Chi LaRue, Margo Howard-Howard, Betty "Legs" Diamondmarker and The Lady Chablis. This is the type used by the character Albin in the movie and musical La Cage Aux Folles for his drag persona, "Miss ZaZa Napoli".

The third type is considered simpler but can have an in-depth backstory, cultural or geographical significance or simply be a feminine form of their "boy" name. Often a drag queen will pick a name or be given one by a friend or "drag mother" as a one-time occasion only to discover they like performing and go on to use a less-than ideal name for years. Drag queens do change names as well even using two or more concurrently for various reasons. Some examples of simpler names include Verka Serduchka, Miss Coco Peru, Shequida, Rikki Reeves, and Divine.

It was an original tradition for one's drag name to be the name of the family pet growing up followed by the street they grew up on. Some drag queens may still use this as a baseline name and make a modification to it in order to make a more extravagant, deviant, or sexual.

Drag shows and venues

A drag show is an entertainment consisting of a variety of songs, monologues or skits featuring either single performers or groups of performers in drag meant to entertain an audience. They range from amateur performances at small bars to elaborately staged theatrical presentations. Many drag shows feature performers singing or lip-synching to songs while performing a pre-planned pantomime, or dancing. The performers often don elaborate costumes and makeup, and sometimes dress to imitate various famous female singers or personalities. And some events are centered around drag, such as Southern Decadence where the majority of festivities are led by the Grand Marshals, who are traditionally drag queens.

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  • Some drag queens primarily perform in pageant, hence the term pageant queen. Pageant queens gear their act toward winning titles and prizes in various contests and pageant systems. Some of these have grand prizes that rival those of pageants such as Miss America; see drag pageantry. These drag queens can be known nationally and many work professionally year-round producing and hosting shows that specialize in drag and celebrity illusionists. There is a growing sentiment among many drag queens that real women, transvestites, or anyone with surgical augmentation below the neck should not be competing in such pageants labeled as "drag" pageant. Doing so would change the competition, in their outlook, into a transsexual pageant.


  • Post-modernist drag queens; an example would be The Divine David, now appearing as David Hoyle, who regularly performed in London during the 1990s in clubs such as Duckie, in South London. He used an extreme form of presentation, with make-up that was applied roughly and then smeared across his face. His act was designed to make the audience feel extremely uncomfortable about any preconceived ideas of acceptable subject matter for a drag queen to tackle. One show included cutting up a pig's head and throwing the pieces into the audience. As such, the act bore close similarities to performance art of the 1970s. Vaginal Davis, in Los Angeles, has performed as a drag queen for many years; her genderfuck performances, often mixing male and female signifiers (also called "sloppy drag"), and her many appearances in performance art venues since the 1980s attest to her status as a performance artist. Like RuPaul, Davis is indifferent to whether addressed as "he" or "she."


Societal reception

Within the larger lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) communities drag queens are sometimes criticized for their participation in pride parades and other public events, believing that this projects a limited and harmful image of gay people and impedes a broader social acceptance. In more recent years drag queens have been prominently featured at these same events. A common criticism of drag queens is that they promotes harmful stereotypes of women, comparable to blackface portrayal of African-Americans by white performers that was popular in the early 20th century. Drag queens, however, have wildly varying styles and ideologies so applying this to all practitioners is impractical.

Drag queens are sometimes criticized by members of the transgender community—especially, but not exclusively, by many transwomen—because of fears that they themselves may be stereotyped as drag queens. Canadian transgender activist Star Maris wrote a song entitled "I'm Not A Fucking Drag Queen" which expresses this viewpoint. The song was featured in the film Better Than Chocolate, performed by a male-to-female transsexual on stage at a gay club. The transsexual character, played by Peter Outerbridge, struggles throughout the movie to fit in with cisgender (non-transgender) women, and partially performs the song as an act of cathartic defiance and self-empowerment. Other transwomen reject those fears in the broader context that drag queens, many of whom are gender-variant and sexuality minorities, are more of any ally than a threat.

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