1. A Bit Of A History Lesson
Back in the 1500s and 1600s, women weren’t allowed to act on stage. It was up to the men to take on the role of the woman in the play. Some Shakespeare stage plays actually took advantage of the irony of men being the only ones up there.
Even today, some schools will purposely switch some of the roles of the students to give more opportunities or reenact those same confusing gender-bending roles.
2. Kabuki Theatre
Forms of art similar to drag also developed early in history around the world, such as in Japan. While culturally very different relative to western forms of female impersonation, you could draw comparisons between drag and the old Japanese art of Kabuki.
By 1629, women were no longer allowed to perform in Kabuki theatre, and adolescent boys were made to take over their roles. They would dress up in full faces of makeup and women’s clothing, and they would perform in high-pitched voices. Takayo Malone, an event organizer specializing in Japanese culture, explains that “They were often bisexual and the apprentice kabuki actors used their beauty to become big stars by binding a relationship with the higher-ranked samurai”.
3. First Drag Queen
The first person known to describe themselves as a queen of drag was a man by the name of William Dorsey Swann, born enslaved in Hancock, Maryland. In the 1880’s he started hosting drag balls in Washington D.C. which were attended by other previously enslaved men.
These balls were commonly raided by police, and, in 1896, Swann was falsely convicted and sentenced to 10 months in prison on the basis that he was running a brothel. Even though he sent in a request for pardon to then-president, Grover Cleveland, his request was denied. This, however, made Swann the first American on record to pursue legal and political action for the LGBT communities’ right to gather.
4. Stonewall riots
It all came to a head when, in 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York, as was common amongst gay bars and other pro LGBT venues. The police quickly lost control of the situation and many violent riots broke out in an attempt to fight back against the mistreatment of the LGBT community.
Large scale riots ensued including large demonstrations in the city where police officers had to use such tactics as phalanx in order to push back the crowd and setting buildings on fire. This event eventually led to the transformation of the gay liberation movement changing the way LGBT rights were handled forever.
5. Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. Johnson, also known as Malcolm Michaels Jr. was a self-identified drag queen who was considered to be one the frontrunners of the Stonewall uprising. He resisted arrest on the day riots broke out, and in the days following, led a series of other protests and riots demanding rights for gay people.
He was a founding member of the Gay liberation front, as well as a co-founder of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, a shelter for gay and trans kids.
6. Sylvia Rivera
Another frontrunner of the Stonewall riots, Sylvia Rivera was a close friend of Marsha P. Johnson and co-founder of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. Her life as an activist began in 1970 when she joined Gay Activist Alliance at the age of 18. She fought both for gay rights as well as the rights of drag queens to be a part of the movement.
Along with Marsha, she fought against the police who had raided the Stonewall Inn. She said in an interview, “When it happened, my friend was like, ‘Don’t go off.’ And I said, ‘Why not? I have to go off. I have to be part of this.’”
7. Myth: All Drag Queens Are Gay
While it’s true that the majority of people who do drag are queer in some way, straight queens are not unheard of. The first example that immediately comes to mind is Scaredy Kat, a UK drag queen who competed on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK and made headlines for being the first cis-gendered straight drag queen on the show.
If doing drag is what you want to do, then by all means! Your sexuality shouldn’t determine what your interests are. Especially now, we need people to be more comfortable breaking the standards that society has set upon us. Let’s reclaim the world, one straight queen at a time!
8. Myth: Drag Queens Are Only In It For The Money
Obviously, there’s going to be money involved in any type of performing arts. But just because it’s a job doesn’t mean drag queens do it just for the money. Drag is an art, a skill, a hobby, a career, and everything in between.
It’s the love of the act of getting in drag and performing and portraying your persona that makes doing drag so wonderful. Anyone who says they do drag just for the money is lying. It’s a passion, and it’s also hard work. So, while the money definitely helps, it’s more than just a job.
9. Alyssa Edwards & Coco Montrese Feud
A great example of drag being more than just for monetary value is the case of Alyssa Edwards and Coco Montrese. These two were the best of friends before their fight for the crown at the Miss Gay America national pageant. For the two of them, it was about the fame, the beauty, and being crowned Miss Gay America.
It all came down, however, when Alyssa, who had originally won the competition, was deemed unworthy of the title. Coco Montrese, originally the runner-up, was crowned the winner by default. This put a large strain on their friendship, as the two disagreed as to who should have been the real winner. For them, it wasn’t just a job. It was their entire life’s goal.
Divine was a drag queen and actor born in 1945 as Harris Glenn Milstead. At 16, he met John Waters, a boy who lived down the street who would go on to become an iconic film director known for his trashy movies. Divine worked together with him as a common actor in Waters’ film, dressed up fully in drag.
Divine became so iconic that Ursula’s appearance from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” was also largely based on Divine. Truly a legendary figure!
11. Myth: All Drag Queens Really Want To Be Women
Well, this depends on what you mean by “want to be women”. We’re running under the assumption that this means “instead of being a man”, since, obviously, drag was originally a form of female impersonation. The thing is being a drag queen is not the same as being transgender. Not every drag queen is trans, and certainly not every trans person is a drag queen.
Just because they look and act, in many cases, more feminine, doesn’t mean they want to change their gender or sex. In fact, transphobia does, unfortunately, exist in the drag scene, and as we’ll see, even the most prominent drag queens can (mistakenly or not) make transphobic statements.
12. RuPaul's Transphobic Remarks
RuPaul, the (rightfully) self-described queen of drag, and host of RuPaul’s Drag Race, a Project Runway-style competition of drag queens, had originally stated that he would not consider a transgender contestant on his show.
His reason for this was that the situation changes once you start transitioning, as the advantages that comes with it “changes the whole concept of what we’re doing”. He did, of course, issue an apology for the hurt he caused the trans community, but the damage had already been done.
13. Drag Race's Insensitive Activities
In the earlier seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, their were some aspects to the show that also concerned the trans community. Before being explained that week’s challenge to the contestants, Ru would show up on a screen and exclaim “you’ve got she-mail”, which was a direct play on “Tyra Mail” from America’s next top model.
This was later changed to a less offensive “she done already done had herses”, a quote that RuPaul had once heard someone say (and which poked less fun at trans people). Not only this, but issues arose over another segment in which contestants tried to guess whom, amongst photos of women, were actually a female or a “she-male”. This was also, unsurprisingly, removed.
14. Drag Race Inclusiveness
Despite all the comments and weird segments that seemed to poke fun of the situation, RuPaul’s Drag Race has featured numerous trans drag queens.
In the most recent (US) season, they even featured the shows first female-to-male drag queen, Gottmik, who proceeded to (SPOILER ALERT) make his way to the season finale. It’s clear the atmosphere surrounding the show has changed quite drastically since the first season, and it’s wonderful to see such a diverse group of people making their way on stage!
15. Myth: Being A Drag Queen Makes You Less Of A Man
In today’s climate, it’s easy to forget that doing things outside of the norm doesn’t make you any different from the rest of us. While we are slowly, but surely becoming more progressive as a society, it’s just not reasonable to expect that everyone can change their opinions overnight. That being said, doing drag doesn’t make you any less of a man.
Many drag queens look just like any other person outside of their queenly attire. If you’re having doubts, ask yourself this question: Are you less so your own gender just because you like stereotypically male/female activities? You can do what you want to and still be yourself.
16. Myth: All Drag Queens Are Tops/Bottoms
We’re not going to explain this one to you. If you know, you know. But why is everyone so fascinated in trying to figure out who give and who receives? Regardless, this is just another useless myth to try to put drag queens into a box and try to generalize them as if they are a specific breed of human.
Drag Queens have different preferences just like any other person. Stop thinking “all drag queens are this or that” because you can’t fit people all into the same category and expect it to be true. That’s stereotyping.
17. Myth: Anyone Can Be A Drag Queen
While you might be thinking that anyone can don a dress and put some makeup on their face, that’s not enough to be a drag queen. It takes a lot of work to do what these people do. Many make their own outfits, work hard on perfecting their on-stage presence, and are pros at doing their makeup. It’s not just a dress and makeup, it’s an artform.
Some people just aren’t cut out for the job. But don’t let that stop you! If you’re looking to become a drag queen, there are many places you can start, and many queens are willing to help you get started and will even make you a part of their “drag family”.
18. Putting On Makeup Takes A Long Time
This may come as no surprise to some, but drag queens wear a lot of makeup. If it wasn’t obvious already how much work it takes to be a drag queen, you’ll be shocked to hear that it can take upwards of two hours for the queens to put on a full face of makeup!
Though there are queens who can paint themselves much faster, it’s generally known to take a long time to get ready. How long does it take you to put your own makeup on?
19. Myth: People Who Do Drag Want To Wear It All The Time
You can’t honestly expect people to keep up the act forever. While there may be people who prefer to always be in drag, as it feels like a comfort space for them, there are still others who do it as a career, as an art form, or as an occasional hobby.
Part of being a drag queen is loving who you are as a person and that means being yourself both in and out of drag. There are plenty of people who do drag during work hours and remain in their standard outfit during the rest of the day. Loving drag doesn’t mean that’s all you want to do. Though I’m sure many people would be happy to stay in drag for extended periods of time.
20. Lady Bunny
Although drag queens mostly don’t do drag during every waking hour, there are some queens rarely seen out of drag. Lady Bunny is one of New York’s legendary drag queens and has been great friends with RuPaul for what seems like forever.
But she’s not just one of drag’s biggest icons, she’s also the founder of the huge annual outdoor drag festival in Manhattan, Wigstock, that began in 1984. If you haven’t heard of Lady Bunny, you’re probably neglecting your drag studies.
21. Myth: Drag Queens Go By Their “Boy Names”
Considering the fact that many queens don’t always want to be in drag, it stands to reason that many of them use their “boy names” on a daily basis. While it’s true that you should probably refer to the queens by their drag name when they are in drag, there are plenty of moments when it’s appropriate to call them by their real name.
When they go out with friends out of drag, they’re probably calling each other whatever they feel comfortable. Also, some queens actually use their real name as their drag name! There’s no rule saying that they have to change their name to have a different persona. Just remember to be respectful of their wishes, and refer to them by the appropriate name and gender pronouns.
22. RuPaul Origins
The man we know today as RuPaul Charles was born in San Diego, California. He would begin his career in 1980’s Atlanta, Georgia as a struggling musician and filmmaker. He would also frequently appear on The American Music Show, and was even an extra in The B-52’s music video for “Love Shack”.
He would rise to national success with his song “Supermodel”, hitting the tops of many billboard charts. He was eventually given a talk show on VH-1 and would go on to begin a new show that many of us know and love, RuPaul’s Drag Race, in 2009. He has now rightfully cemented his place as “The Queen of Drag”, using his "boy name" RuPaul.
23. Myth: Wearing A Dress Makes You A Drag Queen
There’s a big difference between crossdressing and being a drag queen. Just because you don a dress doesn’t mean you are a drag queen. As stated before, a lot goes into being a queen, like the performance, the acting, perfecting your persona, and not to mention that unforgettable makeup.
Some people prefer to dress in traditionally female clothing, while others prefer to do that as a form of art. It’s all a matter of perspective at the end of the day.
24. Myth: All Drag Queens Shave
The days of drag queens being equated to female impersonators is long over. These days it’s all about what you, as a drag queen, bring to the table. Many a drag queen strive to push the boundaries of what drag is, and for some that is blurring the lines of gender.
You can find many drag queens these days sporting a beard, or a hairy chest and still serving the best looks out there. Whoever said you need to shave to be a drag queen never knew just how much the times would change.
25. Conchita Wurst Wins Eurovision
Speaking of the changing times, there is a drag queen with a beard who actually rose to international fame by winning the 2014 Eurovision song contest. The first to win for Austria since 1966 (and the first solo singer to win overall since 1970), Conchita Wurst was lauded by fans.
Though, obviously, Conchita was met with much criticism throughout the entire competition as well. This makes it all that much better when she raised the trophy and announced “We are unity and we are unstoppable,” a quote especially meant as a message towards opponents of LGBT rights.
26. Myth: All Drag Queens Are Rude and Sassy
With all the shade these queens dish out, all the sass, and all the reads thrown about, it’s no wonder that some people might believe that all queens have a lot of chutzpah. But for many queens, this is just part of the entertainment.
Just like there are rude people in your daily life, there are also rude drag queens. And there are just as many warm, kind-hearted queens out there as well. A well-timed “insult” can be super entertaining. Haven’t you ever watched a celebrity roast? Same deal. Part of being sassy is learning when it’s too much. If you’re looking for some iconic moments of queens that do come off as rude, however, look no further as these next few are sure to satisfy.
27. Willam Kicked Off Drag Race
We’ll begin with Willam, a contestant from season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race with a large YouTube presence. During the competition, queens who don’t do well in the main challenge are pitted against each other for a “last chance to save [themselves] from elimination”.
While Willam was not supposed to be eliminated that week--he actually won the challenge--he was ultimately eliminated for breaking the rules, while the other queens survived. Moments earlier, he seemed unwell and proceeded to hurl offstage, leading the fans and the other contestants to wonder what happened.
28. So, What Did Happen?
Well, it was rumored for quite some time that Willam had gotten drunk during the judge’s deliberation period and returned to the stage just to get himself caught in the act. It was revealed during his season’s reunion, however, that this wasn’t the case. It seems he was meeting his boyfriend to fool around during the taping of the show, which is supposed to be a well-guarded secret.
He eventually revealed the truth himself, and, knowing he’d be eliminated, gorged on the food they were given. This, as well as a tight-fitting dress, is ultimately what led to the gag-worthy (pun intended) moment on stage.
29. I’d Like To Leave It On Please
Another iconic moment from RuPaul’s Drag Race herstory was the elimination of queen Valentina. A battle ensues in which the queens must lip sync to a song and perform a dance better than the other. While there have been other queens to forget the lines, this moment went down in history as a first.
Valentina wore a mask for her look, but when asked to take it off during the battle, she responded, “I’d like to leave it on please”. It wasn’t long before the judges realized she didn’t know the words, which basically amounts to an automatic elimination from the competition.
30. Toxic Fandoms
Although drag is one of the biggest subcultures of the LGBTQ+ community, it is not without its own faults. It doesn’t seem like anything in this world is safe from the trolls of the internet. During a reunion event for RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9, it was revealed that the fans of Valentina were in an uproar about her elimination.
They even attacked another queen, leading Valentina’s co-stars to confront her for not standing up against her fans, and ultimately ended by changing her awarded title of Miss Congeniality to “fan favorite”. The award has been named as such ever since.
31. RuPaul Vs. Pearl
Pearl, a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race, was so excited to be on the show that when he met Ru for the first time, he told him, “It's such an honor to be here, such a pleasure to meet you”. In response, he was reportedly told by RuPaul himself that, “Nothing you say matters unless that camera is rolling”.
This obviously broke her spirit. Who wouln't feel horrible after their idol completely dehumanized them? "It was so heartbreaking because I idolized her, I worshiped her, and I felt like it was so disrespectful," she said on the topic.
32. Pearl Defends Herself
Although she stayed silent for four years about the subject, his attitude toward RuPaul was evident during an exchange between the two, in which RuPaul told Pearl that she lacked personality, to which she defended herself, saying she thinks she has a great personality. Ru didn't take it so well and after a brief stare Pearl asked, "Is there something on my face?"
The shade of it all! Apparently, Pearl was later threatened by a producer that she wouldn’t get to come back to the show again. “To openly punish me for being honest about a situation that happened with me after four years of silence is disgusting and shameful.”
33. The Sherry Pie Scandal
One of the more recent scandals of drag culture comes from the case of Sherry Pie. Real name Joey Gugliemelli, Sherry Pie was a contestant on Drag Race Season 12. It was only after the announcement of that season's queens that allegations of his catfishing came to light.
There were many men who became vocal about Sherry Pie impersonating casting directors in an effort to solicit inappropriate videotapes from these vulnerable men. Once the news came out, the editors did their best to cut Sherry Pie from the show, and she did not make it to the finals. Unfortunately, by the time this news came to light, filming for the show had already pretty much finished, and her presence on the show could not be completely erased.
34. RuPaul’s Drag Race is Fixed
Many people have actually accused RuPaul’s drag race as being fixed, due to the sheer amount of editing put into the production. “I've always said what I said, but people truly don’t understand how context comes into play, and they’ll cut off something and add it to another thing and then make this whole different story,” said Phi Phi O’Hara in an interview with Vulture.
“They’ve just made me look like another backstabbing manipulative monster.” Unfortunately, reality TV isn’t all that it’s chalked up to be, as these companies will often edit their shows to fit a more entertaining narrative.
35. Miss Vanjie
One bit of the show that was definitely not staged was the elimination and subsequent viral video of Vanessa Vanjie Mateo’s walk off the stage. In what was to become one of the most iconic and memed moments of Drag Race history, Vanjie slowly walked backward off stage repeating her name over and over as she tried to register to be the first one out.
Throughout the show, this moment would be brought back up, to RuPaul’s dismay, as he held back his laughter and tears in an effort to remain professional. This moment became so iconic that they granted Vanjie another shot on the next season. She made it to the top 5, further cementing the importance of second chances on the show.
36. Jimmy Fallon Ripped Off Lip Sync Battles
Jimmy Fallon’s lip sync battles segment is almost undoubtedly a offshoot of RuPaul’s Drag Race’s own lip sync for your life bit. Apparently, this seemed to leave a lasting impression on the talk show host, as he decided to recreate it for his own show.
When Vulture asked about his feelings on it, RuPaul responded, “Oh, I don't think of it. It's a poor rip-off of our show... Regular, straight pop culture has liberally lifted things from gay culture as long as I can remember. And that's fine, because guess what? We have so much more where that comes from."
37. Myth: Only Men Can Be Drag Queens
While you might be thinking at this point that only men and trans people can be drag queens, that's still not the case. Drag has evolved into its own genre these days, and it's more about the art form than being a man impersonating a woman. It's anyways not proper to call drag impersonation due to this shift in genre.
If you are able to appreciate and recreate this art form, you can do drag regardless of your assigned sex! And no, we aren't talking about drag kings; women can do it, too! There was even a RuPaul's Drag Race special where celebrities came onto the show and did drag. Two of these episodes featured women!
38. Have Brunch With The Queens!
Ever wanted to have a nice date and some food with some drag queens? Well, unfortunately, you probably won’t be eating directly with them, but you can watch them perform at some of the largest events to feature drag queens!
Bring a date, and head on over to L.A. or Miami for weekly shows hosted by some amazing queens, including the first drag performer to be elected to public office. Now that’s already quite a lineup!
39. Gay Icons Of Drag
Did you know that many of the “gay icons” held high, especially in the drag community, are not even necessarily a part of the LGBTQ+ community? The many celebrities of note include Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, Marylin Monroe, Elvira, Cher, Dolly Parton, and even Mary Antoinette!
Drag queens love to adopt their style and make it a part of some of their most iconic looks. Who knew that the most iconic people of LGBT culture were straight, let alone could come centuries back?
40. There's A Whole Lot Of Drag TV
If you haven't heard of RuPaul's Drag Race yet, you're either not actually reading this article, or you're living under a rock. That being said, there are tons of Drag Race if you want to dip your toes into that genre. They have seasons from the US, UK, Canada, Spain, and more!
There are also a bunch of educational documentaries out there to learn more about the queens that make history, such as "The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson". You just have to check out everything if you want to get a better understanding of drag culture. It's also super entertaining, and we highly recommend it.