Drag! The very word brings to mind lavish images of high heels, elaborate jewelry and big hair. But where did this word come from, how has it changed over the decades, and what does it mean to us today? Why and how this word took on the meaning it now has is a lesson well worth telling.
The Roaring 20’s, popularized the Polari – a type of slang. Polari was used by homosexuals and other marginalized communities to disguise themselves from undercover police.
Later on in the decade, the term drag was linked to the gay community, due in part to the lavish balls held by the community, wherein gay men dressed in elaborate costumes or drag to showcase their individual styles and personalities.
In the 1960’s, very few establishments welcomed gay people, and the culture was marginalized. The Stonewall Inn owned by the Mafia, was one of the first bars to cater to drag queens and kings in New York City.
The Inn catered to some of the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community. Among them was Marsha P Johnson. Marsha’s drag was with groups that were more grassroots, comedic, and political.
Police raids on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, and in response to a police raid that began in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the patrons of the Stonewall fought back when police became violent.
This event marked the beginning of the LGBTQ community’s uprising against oppressors, and is also why Pride is celebrated in late June to this very day.
Drag has evolved over time and can be seen in movies like Pink Flamingos, the Rocky Horror Picture Show to television shows like RuPaul. It also gave understanding of the difference between drag and transgender, an important distinctions that is still a mystery to many.
Today, we understand that drag is everything from dressing up to elaborate make-up to a persona. It has its roots in queer culture and rebellion against the status quo. In Canada, we have all sorts of talented queens and kings – some of whom have performed for OPSEU members – including queens such as Priyanka and Tynomi Banks, who are contestants in the upcoming show Drag Race Canada, airing July 2nd, 2020.
The next time you take in a show, or go to a drag brunch, or a drag queen storytelling session, we hope you’ll be able to appreciate the artistry for its rich history as you enjoy its over-the-top artistry and talents.