Wow, Slate actually has an interesting article for once! On Outward ["expanding the LGBTQ conversation," whatever the hell that means], Miz Cracker writes a post on "Getting into Drag: The Many Meanings of Being a Queen." To answer the question of what drag is, the author interviews other drag performers. In bullet form, her findings are as follows:
- Drag ain’t necessarily about looking glamorous and fashionable. Nor is it necessarily about appearing unclockably feminine.
- Drag may be thought of as an acting job, performance art in which one creates and embodies a character.
- Drag usually has subversive elements in which the performers comment on and criticize society.
- Drag has an ambiguous relationship to trans identities. For some people, drag is a means to seriously explore alternative gender presentations. For others, it is not particularly reflective of their own gender identities.
In my estimation, Miz Cracker neglects some important aspects of drag. For one thing, she doesn’t really interrogate drag queening’s history as an art practiced by men, frequently in comic contexts. Thus it has an ambiguous relationship to the concepts of femininity and womanhood. In its exaggerated style, does drag reflect a loving tribute to women and femininity? Is it rather an over-the-top misogynist mockery? Drag is not inherently fabulous and therefore unproblematic, and I think a truly substantive inquiry into its nature should address its messy history.
For another thing, how does race play into dragging? Toward the end of her article, Miz Cracker refers to Kizha Carr’s treatment of racism in one of her routines. She also adds that drag "is the only forum where [she] can speak candidly…about the issues shaping [her] life," one of which includes racism. Right, so drag queens of color may take race as a subject for commentary, but how does race more generally inflect queens’ initial decisions to go into drag queening and then the development of their art in general? Drag queens from different racial and ethnic backgrounds probably have different reasons and philosophies, depending on their cultures of origin, that help them interpret their work, and we can’t have a full discussion about the meanings and goals of drag without that information.
Finally, how does socioeconomic class contribute to the discourse on drag? All the queens in Miz Cracker’s article, including the author herself, talk about performing in bars, dealing with sexual harassment from audience members, etc. In other words, the queens spend much of their time playing small venues and not earning tons of money. They work hard and depend on an uncertain income. Even though Bob TheDragQueen appears in the article with bling that says RICH clamped between her teeth, she and her sisters probably really aren’t.
What’s going on here? Aspirations to upward mobility? A proclamation of self-worth through looking richly caparisoned? I dunno, but I’d sure like to find out.