Just wondering?

Just wondering, …

Will we one day look back on drag queens in the same way that we now look back on the Black and White Minstrels?

Is it the same or is it different? I can’t make my mind up.


  1. asked the man who dresses up in gold, dripping with lace (etc)!


    Just watch The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert again, and you’ll come to a decision I’m sure.

  2. Kelvin says

    Actually, when I posted that comment last night, I just had watched Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

    I’ve never been into lace, funnily enough.

    Gold yes. Lace no.

  3. John Penman says

    No, the drag will continue as long as we enjoy panto at the King’s, traditional liturgy and glam rock stuff like Mamma Mia which iIwas watching last night!

  4. Are pearls involved, here, I wonder ?

    ‘Pearly Kings AND Queens’ having stood the tests of time.

    I guess that lace has done quite well over the centuries, too.

    Maybe the greasepaint was the problem……. Kelvin, if you feel in need of face paint, and eschew ‘The Braveheart’ look, or ‘Toddlers’ Tiger’, then note that ‘Revlon’, ‘Boots No.17’ and ‘Maybelline’ makeup seem to be doing ok……

    No. Maybe better not………

  5. ChickPea says

    John Penman – I applaud you ! Mama Mia Triumphs Again !!

  6. Kelvin says

    I’m grateful for the make-up tips.

    I don’t think I’ve ever consciously worn pearls. Though the 365 Tay Pearls which bedeck the Bishop of St Andrew’s, Dunkeld and Dunblane’s glorious mitre catch my eye every time I see them.

    At this point, I introduce Shakespeare into the argument, and note that although we still enjoy the cross dressing that is an element in so many plays, we might feel uncomfortable about an actor blacking up to represent Othello.

    I don’t seem to feel troubled by people playing with gender. However is there not a reciprocity in Shakespeare that is missing in a drag queen’s act. Does the same go for panto? Do the principle boy and the dame kind of cancel one another out?

  7. I thought drag queens were ok, PC wise, because gender etc is , unlike race, a construct so it is a good thing to play with boundaries in that way. On Saturday, I found it odd that so many drag queens look like Sarah Jessica Parker.

    Robert Downie Jr blacked up for his role in the movie Tropic Thunder (don’t think it’s out here yet, but Gadgetvicar has reviewed it on his site) and that caused a lot less controversy than expected.

  8. A few more thoughts to sprinkle into your mellifluous mixture:
    – Making up is often to be commended, but requires most careful attention to detail…
    – ‘Playing with gender’ seems a basic need for most persons from quite a young age, and tho many appear to ‘grow out of the notion’, the relaxed clothing options of today maybe allow much more flexibility than was available to previous generations. Maybe ‘gender’ is a balancing act in many more ways than usually acknowledged.
    – as for pantomime – seems to me that dames have very much much much more fun than principal boys………. tho I guess Shakespeare might disagree…….

  9. PEARLS!




    ps the capitalisation was deliberate, so don’t bother trying to flame me!

    pps Priscilla is a great film.

  10. Kelvin says

    Priscilla is indeed a great film.

    Ryan – I’m not sure whether drag queens are always going to be PC. I’m not sure that all other people who identify as T in LGBT would find drag queenery that helpful.

    As for what us feminists think of it all…

  11. One difference is that people in blackface did not generally face discrimination (if they were white, they were treated as white not as black or worst than black). Drag queens and men dressing in women’s clothes in general did face discrimination (outside of a few specific cultural settings such as dames in panto). I’m not sure whether this is significant.

  12. Elizabeth says

    And interesting comparison. Some women do indeed object to drag queens in the grounds that it exploits negative stereotypes about women, in a similar way that blackface (at least, blackface minstrelsy as it was practiced in North America, which is what I know – a smidge – about) exploited negative stereotypes about black people. But I still am rather tempted to think it’s different. But maybe just because it has been defined in many ways as a gender-bending, boundary crossing, liberating experience. Whereas blackface primarily worked to enforce stereotypes and status quo (of deep, blatant inequality). But that doesn’t mean that we might not understand it differently in the future, particularly for trans people. Mmm, pondering continues . . .

    Also, ryan, I disagree about gender being constructed while race is not. What makes race a ‘given’, rather than a construction? In Bodies that Matter, Judith Butler has an interesting analysis about the construction of race (and how it is folded in with the construction of gender and sexuality) in Passing, the excellent 1929 novel by Nella Larsen.

  13. I still think you should all lighten up and get together round at Kelvin’s with a carry-out to watch The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. That’d sort the men from the … oops, sorry!

  14. John Penman says

    Well said Layclerk! Too much introspection here. Enjoy and rejoice in the drag and treat it as subversive fun. Get tickets for Hairspray when next you’re in London (Michael Ball is great in drag)!

    BTW not sure how drag is unhelpful to Transgender people – surely transvestites are totally different from TG’s?

  15. I always loved the self description of Eddie Izzard, who used to dress as a woman (for those who don’t know), as being a lesbian trapped in a man’s body!

  16. Rosemary says

    I think some things die a natural death – for instance the Victorians and Edwardians had a great line in male impersonators – Vesta Tilly being the most famous. The desire for them died out – I think because women are now free to wear bloke’s clothes – jeans, shirts, whatever. I have a female friend who always dresses in bloke’s clothes, ‘en travestie’, in the old phrase, but it causes no comment even in a very small community.

    It is still infinitely harder for a man to appear dressed in some woman’s clothing (though my ex husband did wear some cast of jeans from a very beautiful actress, and refuse to part with them until threadbare) – if it were ever to change, I suspect the drag queen would also pass from favour, though perhaps not the pantomime dame. I can (and do) appear on a gentleman’s shirt and nobody blinks. Were a bloke to appear in public in a very feminine shirt I think it would (in some places and circles) cause comment.

    Hence the drag queen, and the licence to transgress.

  17. Rosemary says

    I should have added – that the clothes indicate a deeper attitude to roles – what is and is not transgressive behaviour. I think society currently has more of a problem with men expressing aspects of themselves labelled as ‘feminine’ than it does with women expressing masculine traits.

  18. Elizabeth –

    I thought one of the purposes of the term gender is to distinguish it from biological sex which is obviously, like race, a fact of sorts; I was thinking of Gore Vidal’s point that , if antisemitism disappeared, the Jewish identity would still be as strong but if societal homophobia disappeared then terms like gay would lose their purpose somewhat. But I haven’t read the books you cite and freely concede that I could well be wrong.

  19. Marion Conn says

    Hi, movies play with this idea. What about Tootsie, Mrs Doubtfire, Victor/Victoria and i think there is a scene in The Rocky Horror Picture Show as well.

  20. The Buffolo Bill dancing in front of the mirror scene from Silence of the Lambs is good too (the song is called “Goodbye Horses” by Q Lazzarus and quite easy to find on iTunes. Worth reemphasisng that Silence is not GLBT-phobic as the point of Buffolo Bill is that he is *not* a true transsexual, as emphasised in the novel)

  21. I think that the Drag Queen will live on for some time yet. There’s still something subversive about drag – it can still be used to ruffle the feathers of Daily Mail types.

    The B&W minstrel tradition was more about providing entertainment for the Daily Mail types at the expense of a minority. The complete opposite of subversion.

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