Is drag even real?

What is drag? What does it mean? How is that meaning changing? And when the meaning of drag changes, does it even exist anymore? I don’t have answers to these questions, but these ideas have been swimming around in my head this week. I’ve been co-teaching a class about drag and occasionally we have talked about the idea that drag might extend it’s meaning beyond the performance of gender to other categories which are cultural and performative. I don’t want to say I’m giving answers here, but just exploring some of those swirling questions a little – particularly, if a woman is performing a type of woman which contradicts her everyday identity, is that drag or is it acting? And why is drag different from acting?

I’m completely in two minds about this, and there are convincing arguments on both sides. Is drag only drag if there is some cross dressing element to it (and do I include the double cross-dressed performances of faux queens in that category)?

Well first, I absolutely do consider faux queen performances to be a type of double cross-dressing, in the sense that female bodied folks are imposing a type of female aesthetic on themselves which is more commonly associated with male drag queens. In many ways, I find getting into female drag to be a far more masculine experience than I would feel in my everyday life as a woman. There is something about it which feels like you are performing a boy who is performing a lady. In that sense faux queens are women dressing as men dressing and women – and if cross dressing is important to drag, then faux queen performance certainly is drag (a kind of double drag). Phew!

The other question is are women who perform as women (say in a play or TV show) in drag? For example we might think of Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley in Abfab as Eddie and Patsy to be in drag. But are they doing drag, or are they acting? They are certainly doing gender, doing class and doing hyperbolic caricature – all important aspects of drag performance – but because there is no cross-dressed element,is it drag? If a man played Patsy would it be different, simply because there is a cross-dressed element? I’m just not sure…

It comes down to cross dressing (and double cross dressing), and that seems to be the all important aspect of drag. I wonder why we are so concerned with that?




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