Tuesday, January 8, 2019

SASHAY THROUGHT HISTORY

In the 21st century, a drag queen is not just a man who wears women's clothes; a drag queen is an entirely separate entity. When so impeccably dressed and flawlessly painted, the person underneath the queen disappears almost completely.

 Oftentimes, I've heard drag performers describe their personas as though they were another person. I know myself that is the case. When I used to do drag all the time, my everyday male person was completely separate from my drag persona. Like many queens like Miss Richfield, Lady Bunny and Dina Martina, I would never let myself be seen out of drag, or at least reveal who I was when out of drag. With exception to close friends,  when most people met me, or talked to me, they had no idea I was the drag queen they talked to the week before who they were slamming shots with. Most queens I know have plunged their hands deep down into their own psyches and pulled out the weirdest, fiercest, and most theatrical parts of themselves, then mashed them together to form something new. A character. An alter ego, if you will.

In this moment, drag culture is bigger and more popular than it's ever been. RuPaul's Drag Race has just had its most successful season yet. With its move from Logo to VH1, it racked up almost 1 million viewers for the premiere and held strong with. The show's third All Stars season just launched, marking a new competition between some of the top drag queens in mainstream media. And even outside of RuPaul's Drag Race, queens have been able to build incredible followings via social media, live performances, YouTube, and podcasts.
Drag hasn't always been received this way. In fact, this sort of public awe — sometimes, it borders on worship — of drag queens has really only cropped up in the past decade or two. Before that, drag was submerged deep in underground clubs and back-alley bars. And before that, it was an exaggerated and integral part of the theater culture. The fact is, drag has been a part of our culture for centuries. And every era and every new iteration of the art form has been crucial to the shape and success of drag today.

Where did it all begin? Few fans of the art form realize that the earliest forms of cross-dressing — simply the act of wearing clothes that are designated as belonging to the opposite sex — are actually rooted in religious rites. In the book Drag Diaries, it focuses on two long-ago origin points: ancient ceremonies  and Japanese theater. The author tells of "cross-dressing was widely documented among the Aztecs, Incas, and Egyptians, among other great civilizations of the past, and exists today in tribal ceremonies around the world." Imagine religious rites of initiation, invocations of the gods, calling down the rains, and warding off evil spirits as occasions that would call for drag in these cultures.

Another book I have read that shed quite a bit of light on what we might call the "sacred" drag queen is titled Drag: A History of Female Impersonation in the Performing Arts. Roger Baker also pulls a thread back to ancient civilizations, noting that drag "presided over the creation of drama in ancient Greece where masked actors played Hecuba and Clytemnestra." Meanwhile, in England, "formal drama came, literally, from the church. In an effort to help the illiterate and, less intelligent members of the congregation better understand church worship, parts of the mass were dramatized in very simple ways." Eventually, these religious performances began to have a life of their own. These eclectic sets of dramas were eventually removed from the church entirely. Rather than perform the stories in hallowed chapel halls, local Guilds would instead take the reins. Very specific groups would tackle the narratives most applicable to their trade. As for the cross-dressing component of these sacred performances, women were omitted from the craft entirely. "Women played no active part in the services and the offices of the church, so the original acting was done exclusively by men, choirboys assisting the clerks and playing women's roles when required," Baker notes in Drag. From there, it's not hard to connect the dots.
 In Drag,Baker writes about the earliest original "plays." In this new iteration of theater, the performances "took to the streets with the improvisation of the strolling players livening up formal scripts. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, troupes began to use courtyards of public inns as a performance space." Baker also notes the continued efforts to keep theater as an activity meant just for men. "To find a woman acting in a public playhouse would have offended not only on religious grounds, but also be seen as a shocking example of inappropriate behavior." As a matter of fact, the first appearances of Shakespeare’s most iconic female characters were all believed to first be portrayed by men. "The first Ophelia is thought to have been Nathaniel Field, who ultimately became as famous as actor Richard Burbage the great Elizabethan heavy. "The first Lady Macbeth might have been Alexander Cooke . . . A young man called Robert (or Bobbie) Gough is frequently named as the first Juliet, and also as the first Cleopatra."

While this theatrical history provides an illustrious chronicle of men dressing as women, Baker, made sure to draw a distinction between drag culture's theatrical roots and the drag queen as an entity in itself. "Were the Elizabethan boy actors drag queens?" he asked. "I think the term goes beyond them." In fact, the first true so-named drag queens didn't emerge until the 19th and 20th centuries.

21 comments:

  1. milton berle did NOT make a good drag queen! but lady bunny and rupaul sure do!

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  2. I believe Drag is performance art. It skews gender norms but it also requires sheer amounts of creativity. I love old school drag, pageant drag, artsy drag, everything. I find it entertaining and fascinating. I actually started following Sasha Velour (who won Drag Race) and she gives me life.

    XoXo

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    1. In my opinion, Sasha Velour is one of the freshest queens on the scene, bring fashion, art and performance to a new level. Her shows are not to be missed. Very avant-gaurde.

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    2. @Sixpence- It also seems to require sheer amounts of makeup, hair and Aqua Net!

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    3. Haha and lots of full coverage foundation and at least two three oh nines. That without counting the pantyhose 😆

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  3. I have never had a professor as sexy and fashionable as you Mistress!!!

    Great post and had no idea drag in some form extended so far back.

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  4. What is amazing is how many queens don't realize just how far back drag went...I know I didn't.

    And the blond wig always looked better on you dear.

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  5. A great post! And I have seen you three times in drag... two of the above...and still can not get over how different you are. It's amazing to watch. Although drag or yourself...your still a minx when it comes to men!!!!

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  6. Roger Baker was an expert in his field - I've not read the book, but I know he was a major player in the Campaign for Homosexual Equality here in the UK in the years (and years) it took to get the law changed. I look forward to the next chapter in your history of drag series... Jx

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    1. You love his book. So many interesting things and tidbits.

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  7. Izzat you up there, Mistress? Wow! I bet you'd never get confused with a Jerusalem Beetle! I love these history lessons. This is how I found you in the first place.

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  8. I am in awe of the art of drag; all that talent and creativity is just stunning.
    Also stunning, is the history you're sharing. Some things I knew, and others are new to me,
    Thanks!

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  9. Love RuPaul's Drag Race! I first started watching by accident, the All Star Season 3, love BenDelaCreme! I was flipping through channels one night, caught the runway part and thought, "Oh, it's Project Runway," but later, caught on, it wasn't! Been enjoying the show (and watching reruns) since.

    When I first saw RuPaul, I thought, "What a gorgeous woman!" Then someone said, "That's a dude...a fine dude!" Fine indeed! There were drag queens in my remote, rural coast. But they were very down to earth, nice looking, girl next door of not proper classy lady looking. Then I visited some cousins in San Francisco, and Bam! Colorful, Vibrant, Fabulously Over The Top, highly stylized queens!

    To me, Drag is an art form. It's wonderful and entertaining performance art!

    And you look spectacular and stunning!

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  10. Fascinating. I had an acquaintance in Boston in the early '80s, a burly 6'4" bank executive, who regularly did drag, although he wasn't an actual performer. He'd be out as often as he kid in P'town as Miss Ohio. He was so completely transformed -- and so in performance mode -- when in drag that I never had any idea how to relate to him.

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    1. There are quite a number of drag queens who dont perform, but just do drag for the art and are just as liked as the performing ones. I like to call them scene queens.

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  11. Nothing like a glamzon to give us a very interesting lesson. It's all so interesting to hear about. Wonder what they'd think of the appearance of our queens now?

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  12. I imagine when they finally did let women perform on stage is when drag took on a life of its own. Before that it would have just been a necessity.

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  13. Very cool!! Some history I didn't know. As a woman, its so fascinating to see men dolled up and look absolutely stunning and more than a woman than I am. LOL! I've always been intrigued and totally support it! A past coworker used to date a guy that competed in drag shows and it was so amazing to see his transformation and I had more fun at those shows ever!!

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  14. As soon as you started making your point, I totally agree with what you were saying, drag is not a guy in a dress, he is a full on character different from himself in every day life. Like if Clark Kent became a drag queen instead of Super Man. ;)

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  15. I too always find these post very interesting. And like Holli says...some of these queens look better than me. LIKE YOU!

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Go ahead darling, tell me something fabulous!

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