Take time to remember drag history

Guest Commentary

The art of drag is a very serious part of the LGBT community. Being a drag queen makes you a member of a unique family that many others, either straight or LGBT, don’t understand. I hope this article will enlighten you in a way that will help you understand and give drag queens the respect that many of them deserve. Drag queens have been known world wide, like the renowned drag company, Phenocio’s. It operated in San Francisco from 1940 to 1991. Also, there’s Baton’s night club in downtown Chicago, a well-known nightspot since late 1968 and the first drag bar in the entire southeast, Oleens, right here in Charlotte. (It closed just a few years ago and is now a Dunkin Donut Shop on South Blvd.)

Drag queens have been involved in LGBT advocacy since the early days of our movement, like the leadership at the famous Compton’s Cafeteria demonstration in 1967 and the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969. If there was trouble in our community, the drag queen was at the forefront of the problem to make a stand and take action. Gay bashing was at an all-time high in San Francisco’s Castro district — these hate crimes were ignored by the bigoted police of the times. The non-action by law enforcement inspired the drag community along with hustlers and other street folk to organize and patrol the streets in the tenderloin of San Francisco as a vigilante group called the Lavender Panthers. They protected the gay community from assaults and murder from 1970 to 1974.

Drag has a modern history stretching as far back as the 1920s (though it should be said all Shakespearean actors were, in essence, performing in “drag”), long before any organized LGBT advocacy movement started in the 1950s. The first organized drag queen group was the Imperial Court in 1964. Today, many drag queens offer support to the community through volunteer work, from gay or drag bingos to Pride festivals and events to raise money for breast cancer and HIV/AIDS research, prevention and education. I have never seen a Pride event without a drag queen riding on a float, displaying her crown or gracing the makeshift stage to entertain you during the festival. Drag queens will be there when it counts.

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What makes a drag queen is true grit, dedication and a strong sense of pride. A drag queen has to be strong to take the ridicule that many people even from our own community dish out because of misunderstanding. They must be strong because many will never have the chance of being a CEO of a bank or upper management at a large corporation. That’s not because drag queens are uneducated; on the contrary, they are very intelligent and can hold a very educated conversation. Many have college degrees.

Many in our community feel a drag queen is too flamboyant and only good for a show on a Saturday night at the club. I can relate because I am proud to be transgender and identify as a drag queen myself. I have been in meetings with some LGBT organizations that speak of drag queens as a lower part of our community. How easy they forget the sacrifices drag queens have made in recent history. Being a drag queen is not just wearing woman’s clothes but also is a state of being who they are.

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Drag queens have a sense of loyalty to each other in the drag community. Oh sure there is the occasional animosity and arguments but most never hold a grudge. I have seen arguments and hard feelings, and then in the next minute they are helping each other through a crisis or by getting ready for a show. Never for one minute think you can get over on one without the whole lot of them jumping back on you. Drag queens stick together, and no matter what city in which they find themselves, they’ll have friends of commonality. Drag queens are a unique people that are very family-oriented, unlike some others in the LGBT community who turn a bind eye when help is needed.

Doing drag takes a very talented, dedicated person to move from amateur to professional status. It takes a lot of financial support for makeup, material to make clothes if you know how, or, like me, to buy some anywhere you can. It takes a lot of preparation, whether you’re preparing for just one number or a whole pageant. To a drag queen it is a privilege to entertain on stage; she never makes back what she spends. So the next time you see a drag performer entertaining at the club, show your support by tipping her. Give her, her honor due.

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One Reply to “Take time to remember drag history”

  1. Wonderful article, Janice!

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