…and the rest is drag.
“You’re born naked and the rest is drag” is a quotation from the famous drag queen, RuPaul. The phrase implies that our behavior is simply an imitation and that we construct our own identity by copying behavioral patterns that we have already encountered. Drag is the practice of wearing makeup and clothing to portray the opposite gender that you identify with. Drag is, at the very core, men dressing as women and women dressing as men. The term “drag” is actually an acronym of “dressed as a girl.” The practice of female impersonation dates back to the times of Ancient Greek theatre. In Ancient Greek civilization, women were deemed inferior to men and unfit for the stage and therefore, female roles were played by men. Drag could later be found in the Renaissance era in Shakespearean shows and then in Japanese Kabuki theatre. Modern interpretations of drag take form in drag shows, in which drag queens and kings usually perform a comedy act or musical act on stage, and most popularly in the television show RuPaul’s Drag Race, in which drag queens compete for the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar. The show has become extremely popular among the gay community and is now becoming accepted by both gay and straight individuals alike. However, many criticize the television show for reinforcing male hegemony and for over commercializing drag and making it a part of mainstream culture.
Drag and Gender Hegemony
One observation being made of drag culture is how it intersects with gender hegemony. It is no secret that we live in a male dominated society. Males have had the upper hand over females in just about every major society since the beginning of time. This is where the concept of gender hegemony and hegemonic masculinity come into the picture. Hegemonic masculinity is the idea that males possess the dominant role in society and women possess the subordinate role. Hegemonic masculinity reinforces the notion that men should be muscular and void of all emo
tions or weaknesses and that if you do not act this way, you are not a real man. The most prominent examples of how powerful and attractive the concept of hegemonic masculinity is to males can be seen in the NFL with professional football player Michael Sam. Sam is noted for being the first publicly gay football player to be drafted to the NFL. When Sam was asked about how he reacted to the support that he received by fans at his university, he was quoted as saying “I wanted to cry, but I’m a man”, which reinforces the idea that real men do not show emotions. What is interesting about this is that the patriarchal society views homosexuality as the complete antithesis of hegemonic masculinity, so even Michael Sam, who cannot perfectly embody hegemonic masculinity is still striving for that hegemony because as males, the idea is too perfect to pass up. Michael Sam, like all gay men including drag queens instead fall into a category known as subordinated masculinity, which is essentially the type of masculinity that is deemed not masculine enough and therefore automatically associated with femininity.
Biologically male drag queens very much challenge the notion of hegemonic masculinity because becoming a drag queen inherently and in most cases requires males to wear excessive amounts of makeup, over-the-top wigs and colorful dresses, all of which are a significant deviation from what society perceives as male hegemony. There are “fishy” queens, such as Courtney Act, Farrah Moan and Tatianna who are almost entirely indistinguishable from a biological female. And then there drag queens such as Milk and Conchita Wurst who embrace the gender bending aspect of drag and usually portray some aspects of their male selves. For instance, Milk is often seen with chest and facial hair when in drag and Conchita Wurst is known for her fabulous beard, which she grew herself. Regardless of if a drag queen is more fishy or campy, the practice of drag greatly challenges gender hegemony
However, many argue that drag also reinforces hegemonic masculinity as drag emphasis is clearly placed upon drag queens, who are biologically male rather than drag kings, who are biologically female. The drag king community is a community that is more-often-than-not overlooked among the entire drag community. There can only one reason as to why drag queens have become such a popular part of LGBT culture and not drag kings and that is because of male hegemony and the patriarchal society that we live in today.
Drag and the Media
There are many positive aspects to drag queens appearing more in the media, especially on RuPaul’s Drag Race. However, the most visibly positive aspect is simply that the show helps gay men and women come to terms with their sexuality and embrace their inner fabulousness. The show features many drag queens who found themselves kicked out of their own homes and ostracized from friends and family but who are now strong queens appearing on national television. RuPaul is also quoted in saying “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love someone else? Can I get an amen?” at the end of each episode. This quote has become a mantra for gay and straight people alike who have trouble accepting who they are and it has facilitated
in hundreds of gay men becoming drag queens and embracing their sexuality in order to be like the prominent figures that they see on television.
There are, however, negative aspects to drag queens becoming so mainstream in the media, the most prominent being that RuPaul’s Drag Race sets an extremely high and unrealistic bar for what viewers expect of drag and it makes viewers believe that they queens that they see on RuPaul’s Drag Race are the only drag queens that exist when actually, the queens that do make it onto the show comprise a very small percentage of the total number of drag queens in the United States. Viewers will go to a drag show put on by a local drag queen and be immediately disappointed because the drag queen they are watching might not have the same perfect makeup skills as Miss Fame or the same sickening runway outfits as Raven. However, this is rather unfair to drag culture in the United States as the vast majority of drag queens put on shows in local gay bars and make maybe $10 per night if they are lucky and these queens work just as hard if not harder than more mainstream and popular queens such as Adore Delano and Detox Icunt who fans pay up to $100 to see in a show. A simple solution to this problem is for people to simply support their local drag cultures by going to shows at their local gay bars and clubs and tipping the queens and giving them an audience to perform to. Without the queens that wear ripped up stockings and lace front wigs, you would not have legendary queens like Alaska Thunderfuck, Katya Zamolochikova and Bianca Del Rio.
“You’re born naked and the rest is drag.”
When it comes down to it, drag is simply a performance, just as gender is a performance. The phrase, “you’re born naked and the rest is drag” implies that every human in the entire world is in drag because our self-identity is ultimately a performance. We see the way that people behave and we copy those behavior patterns and that is how we identify ourselves as male or female. Drag queens and kings imitate the way that stereotypical men and women act and create an entirely new person with an entirely different gender based on their new behavior. Therefore, the act of drag and gender performance inherently implies that gender is imitative and that we are all simply born a blank slate and the rest of who we become is simply drag.