by Matthew Yapp
The world is a stage, and while some are content to perform on that stage in everyday clothing there are many who would prefer something with a little more flair. That’s where drag comes in. Drag has been a staple of the queer community from the very beginning; drag performers going all the way back to Stonewall have been trailblazers for the LGBTQ+ community. We still see this today, with some of the most prominent and vocal names in the community doing drag, but what exactly is drag? While many see it as men dressing as women, it goes far deeper than that. We got the opportunity to speak with a Muncie-based drag queen, Aura Aurora, and learn what drag means to them, their drag experience, and the changes they’ve seen in the drag world.
In our interview Aura discusses how she has seen anyone from transgender women to straight men doing drag which comes as a shock to many. Two of the most prominent queens of all time are the legendary Divine, known for Hairspray and Pink Flamingos, and RuPaul, known for her music career and talk show in the late 90’s. Both queens are cisgender, meaning they identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Because of well-known names like theirs and other queens held to the same caliber, it became the standard that a drag was just a gay man dressed up as a woman.
Generally, during a drag show people get on stage in over-the-top clothing: giant gowns, huge hair, and dramatic makeup. The act itself can be anything from stand-up to dancing, but the vast majority of drag performers find a way to incorporate lip-synching one way or another. While men usually choose to perform songs by women and vice versa, drag isn’t necessarily about performing as the opposite gender. Drag is just about performing gender by taking societies perceptions of what a man or what a woman should look like and turn that into a show. In fact, Marsha P. Johnson, one of the biggest names to come out of Stonewall, was both transgender and a drag queen. While cisgender men are still considered the norm in drag, great strides have been made in getting away from that idea with huge names like Peppermint, the RuPaul’s Drag Race season nine runner-up who came into the limelight to represent trans queens.
Another thing we were able to discuss with Aura is drag’s new push into the mainstream. Aura credits this to societies acceptance of queer people. Societies’ very, very, VERY, slow adoption of the LGBTQ+ community, specifically drag performers, into conventional society can be seen just by looking at your television screen.
RuPaul’s Drag Race, which has been on for nearly a decade now, works in the same way that shows like Project Runway or Masterchef do. The show starts with 13 or so contestants and every week a different drag-based challenge is thrown at them. At the end of every episode a queen is eliminated until we are left with one, America’s next drag superstar. RuPaul’s Drag Race has brought over a hundred different queens, all of whom fall into the queer spectrum in one form or another, into the living rooms of families across the country. Not only that but many stars from the show have moved onto shows like America’s Next Top Model, and Scared Famous. Most notably, season six finalist Courtney Act won the most recent version of the UK’s Celebrity Big Brother. This was especially surprising to some because the winner is chosen by audience vote, meaning that the average family sitting at home was open-minded enough to not only enjoy seeing a drag queen on tv, but to pick up the phone and vote for her. The times they are a changing and it’s beautiful to see.
With drag becoming increasingly common in society one must think about how many more drag queens will be inspired to move onto the stage in the future. Imagine a child being able to turn on the tv and see someone like them be unashamedly queer and not only be accepted, but celebrated. It’s incredible to think what that will do for their confidence and allowing them to come to terms with who they are. For many queer people life is a drag, but with society embracing the idea that not everything has to fit into the spectrum we’ve grown accustomed to, hopefully things will improve.
Matt is a Communications Major and the Managing Editor (2018-2019) of Byte.