Well welcome boys and girls to my little corner of opinion and honesty here at Gaylife. This month I’ve decided to take you on a history lesson and a journey through space and time. Yes, welcome to the history of DRAG!
I’ve been living as another character for 19 years now and it all started when I was a holiday rep for a notorious company that was called club 18 to 30. In the very early 90’s they bought a holiday company called Sunset Holidays and basically made it into their version of 18-30 and that’s where I met some amazing people that I’m still friends with today. I also met my alter-ego although then she was called ‘Monica Hoophole’, and I have not looked back ever since!
People think that a drag queen is the same as a transvestite or cross dresser and I’m here to tell you it’s completely different! Drag queens are all about entertainment! It’s being a comedian or an actor. For me personally it has nothing to do with wanting to look like a woman which is handy because I look fuck all like a woman LOL. It’s the clown for adults, a cartoon version of a woman. So where did this role in entertainment begin?
Men dressing as women in performance has been around and documented in human history for as far as I could look back, including religious shamens. In Shakespearean and classical Chinese theatre men would play the parts of women as women would not be permitted to appear on stage and this is where the name drag is supposed to have come from. Notes on Elizabethan stage scripts would have the note ‘Dressed as girl’ next to the actor that would be playing the female role. We can see early forms of traditional drag appearing towards the late 1800s and early 20th century. Julian Eltinge began performing in Broadway shows from the age of 10, appearing as a girl, and by 1910 he reached the height of his fame going on a national tour of America and even producing his own magazine.
The term ‘queen’, which was considered a more derogatory term to describe a gay man, has been around since the 18th century. The word has since been reclaimed in a more positive sense. The drag queens of which we speak today first started in the 1950s and 60s. Even though the drag queen scene started around that time, it didn’t properly flourish until the 1980s and 90s. This is, coincidentally, also around the time that gay culture started to develop. In the 1950s and 60s drag was far more underground and even criminalized. But it was always a form of entertainment, and I suppose it became accepted in the mainstream thanks to the performer known as Danny la Rue.
Long before Lily Savage, La Cage Aux Folles or Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, there was Danny La Rue. Britain’s foremost female impersonator born in Cork in Ireland, he became without a doubt the most famous drag artist to date. With his world famous nightclub in 1964, with 13,000 members and celebrities such as Judy Garland, Warren Beatty, Shirley MacLean, Dorothy Squires, Shirley Bassey, Noel Coward , Zsa Zsa Gabor and Dame Elizabeth Taylor were all patrons. Even H.R.H Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon would pop in for a laugh.
There are of course American counterparts like Lady Bunny and of course Ru Paul who has now shot to fame worldwide with his series Drag Race, and no disrespect to these performers, but my history of drag is going back to the UK with performers I grew up knowing. Names like Mrs Shuttlewick, Addrella, Dockyard Doris and of course HRH Regina Fong. These were the performers that shaped the UK drag scene into what it is today! Every weekend they could be seen in every gay pub in and out of London, although it was mainly a London thing! They inspired other performers that now make up the circle of drag royalty that we now have in this country names you may recognise like Lola Lasagne, Dave Lynn, La Voix and Sandra, and of course in Manchester our very own Nana! These performers all deserve our respect, and that is exactly what they are, performers, actors, comics. They have provided entertainment for generations of queens around the UK. And maintaining a career of 20+ years in the current economic environment is deserving of an MBE.
Now with the influx of our American sisters from Drag Race, it has inspired a whole new generation of young queens to give it a go! And my only advice is this. Go for it, embrace it and enjoy it. But don’t be so focused on “looking fishy” that doesn’t keep a crowd of people entertained for very long? Drag queens have always been artists and actors whether you lip sync or sing? If you’re dry and dirty or the class clown it’s all about the entertainment. I don’t want to spend an hour watching somebody look like a girl and that’s it. I want to be entertained and if it’s tacky I don’t give a shit. If it’s funny then you have my attention! Drag in 2015 is a diverse and ever growing thing and more importantly it pays bloody well, so young queens around the world don’t be afraid of your drag sisters give them a hug. They are a fundamental part of your culture and history, however don’t come and hug me I’m not that fluffy! And more likely to punch you in the fucking face!
Anyway, enough from me – I’ll catch you all next month. Laterz bitches.