• Rita Flame

A 2500 Year Old Art - The Art of Drag


When you first search up the word "drag" on Google, the image on the right pops up. The word "drag" itself has numerous definitions, but its definition as "clothing more conventionally worn by the opposite sex" is the most popular. This definition originates from when men used to act both the male and female roles in plays. Specifically, the slang term comes from how the men's costume dresses would "drag" across the floor.

Behind all the dramatic wigs and glamorous dresses is a long history of drag that exists in various cultures. The first instances of drag were recorded in 400 BC. In ancient Greece, women were not allowed to partake in any activities concerning theater since it was deemed as too “dangerous” for them. This resulted in men playing both men and women roles.


During the Shakespearean era, which was around 1600 AD, theater was considered a low form of entertainment and was considered no place for any lady. Once again, men would have to play both male and female roles. However, the men who played the female roles would be paid less compared to the men who played male roles.


In Beijing, China during the late 1800's, just like in ancient Greece, women were banned from the stage's spotlight. On the other hand, men willingly took female roles because these roles required an incredible amount of skill and talent to pull off. The majority of people in China thought highly of these female parts, and these men were put on a very high platform.

In the Victorian era, however, drag shows were considered comedic family friendly shows. The drag queens were considered a part of a “freak show” in a circus act. They were known as freaks of nature for being half man and half woman. Men seen in drag attire outside of drag venues would be arrested because it would be considered as an act of prostitution. In 1885, the Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act was even passed, which made "gross indecency" punishable in the United Kingdom. There was also the concept of "cross-gender" casting, which meant that women would be cast for male roles. For example, the title role in Peter Pan was expected to be played by a woman.



In New York, during the age of the Prohibition and the roaring 20s, mafia-owned speakeasies began to appear to serve various illegal activities such as drinking, prostitution, gambling and homosexuality. Drag was pushed underground alongside with all those other activities because it was considered an illegal act in America.


Decades later, in the 1950s and 1960s, a heaping amount of gay and queer people decided to come out. The mainstream media did not take this well, emphasizing their anti gay stance that homosexuality was a disease or a virus. There was also the introduction of anti cross dressing laws that stated a person had to wear at least three articles of clothing that was considered appropriate based on the sex that person was assigned to at birth. The police had even started raiding gay bars across the nation. At one particular raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York, the patrons decided to fight back for what they believed in. This marked the beginning and turning point of the LGBTQ rights movement led by Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.


Today, Drag has turned into so much more than just an underground secret. Drag is now an art form that is truly appreciated and loved, especially with shows like RuPaul's Drag Race that celebrates the uniqueness and artistic beauty of each drag queen. An outlet for queer and trans people to express themselves creatively, Drag is a beautiful form of entertainment that helps many people experiment and explore their gender identity. Drag is making the world a more accepting place; one drag queen or king at a time.



Sources:

https://hiskind.com/history-of-drag-dorian-electra/

http://www.playbill.com/article/from-ancient-greece-to-angry-inch-take-a-look-at-the-history-of-drag-in-theatre-com-357650

https://allthatsinteresting.com/history-of-drag-queens

https://www.britannica.com/topic/drag-queen

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