When most people think of drag, they think of a man dressed as a woman. This is fair enough. 99% of mainstream drag queens are male. Everything the mainstream audience would have been exposed to would be men dressed as women. The traditional definition of drag would have excluded women from even becoming drag queens. But as we all know – attitudes are changing on every front in the LGBTQ arena. This does beg the question – can a woman be a drag queen, or is it impossible?
The answer is yes. A woman can be a drag queen. While there are still some people who will argue with the more modern definition, there is no denying that there are cisgender women out there doing things traditionally associated with drag. In fact, we now have entire competitions dedicated to female queens.
Here, we want to give you a quick overview of the definition of drag. We want to discuss how it has changed over time, as well as the greater push toward women being able to meet the definition of drag queen.
What is Drag?
If you asked 10 different people to define drag, you’d probably end up with 10 different answers. There is no one definition to drag. While some people will say that drag is all about men playing with gender norms and impersonating women, this is not something that we agree with. In fact, the modern definition is a ‘person that exaggerates gender’ which, if we go by this definition, it means that women can be drag queens. They just have to take the key aspects of being a woman, and then exaggerate them massively. This is something that we have been seeing with cisgender females as drag queens. We’ll discuss that part more shortly, though.
Drag is an art form. When somebody performs drag, they are doing performance art. They are exaggerating the idea of being female. This is in the hair, the makeup, the clothing, and the way that they act. Drag is all about providing entertainment through this idea of exaggeration. Drag is about self-expression. How could you possibly argue that a cisgender female couldn’t be a drag queen if she is acting in the same way that male drag queens are acting? The modern definition of drag being a gender-fixed thing no longer applies. It is all about the performance.
There are plenty of cisgender female drag queens out there. In fact, they have been around for a while. It is only recently that many of them have found mainstream fame, though. Some of them have waded in on the debate about female drag queens. One of our favorite quotes comes from Sigourney Beaver, a cisgender drag queen (and an amazing one at that). She calls herself a ‘female impersonator, impersonator’. So, she in her mind, she is impersonating somebody who is impersonating somebody being female. She is enhancing exactly the same qualities of gender, so why couldn’t she be a drag queen?
If you want an example of what a drag queen can look like in the mainstream, watch ‘A Star is Born’, starring Lady Gaga. Right at the start, Lady Gaga is performing as a drag queen. She is clearly female, and she is clearly amplifying traditionally female characteristics. This is drag.
The Early Definitions of Drag
So, now we’ve said our piece on what we believe is the modern definition of drag, we want to talk about the historical definition of drag. The reason why so many people nowadays struggle to believe that cisgender women can be drag queens.
Back in the 1970s, Lee Brewster, a famous drag queen, run a magazine called Drag Queens which, we assume, gave an overview of issues surrounding drag queens. It was an authority on drag queens at the time, although this is because there weren’t that many drag queen magazines around (it probably was the only one), and there was no internet where people could learn more about doing drag.
In Lee Brewster’s magazine, he defined a drag queen as a ‘homosexual transvestite’. He believed that the only way to be a drag queen was if you were gay, hyper feminine, and very flamboyant in the way you acted on stage. We can see where he came from, to be honest. Back then, drag was a very gay-focused type of performance. You would rarely see non-men appear in drag, and you would rarely see non-gay people appear in drag.
This is still the definition that many people go by. However, it clearly no longer rings true. There have been straight males who have entered the drag queen scene (which implies you don’t need to be homosexual), and there are women (both cis and transgender women) who are clearly doing the same performances as the men, which we discussed before.
A more recent, updated, definition of ‘drag queen’ was mentioned in Psychology Today, where it was clearly established that drag isn’t about playing about with your own gender identity, it is about creating a different, amplified female identity, whether it is a different gender identity from your own, or the same gender identity that you already have, just much more enhanced. It is about creating a character through makeup, wigs, outfits, and the way that you act.
The Push Toward Women Becoming Drag Queens
This headline is a bit ‘wrong’. This is because there hasn’t really been a major push toward women becoming drag queens. While female drag queens are becoming more and more common, they have always existed. Even back in the 70s, if you went to gay bars, there’s a good chance that you would eventually encounter a woman playing a drag queen. What is happening now isn’t so much a push toward changing the definition, it is more a push toward giving these performers recognition.
In the mid-1990s, there was a big push from female drag queens to become more recognized by clubs. Back then, many women were getting fired from nightclubs when their real gender became known. In fact, many female drag queens were struggling to find work. As a result – they started to form their own pageants, or looked for bars that would be accepting of the art, not just of the person behind the art. Much of this happened in San Francisco.
Perhaps the greatest acknowledgement that female drag queens could exist was in 2003 at Miss Trannyshack. If you live in San Francisco, then you’d know that Trannyshack is a major drag club. Each year, they hold an event to crown the best drag queen. In 2003, the title was won by Fauxnique. She was the very first cisgender woman to ever win a major drag queen competition. As you can expect, she was absolutely berated for this. She received a lot of anger for taking something away from the gay community. However, we don’t think she did. The major drag event organizers don’t think she did. Instead, she enhanced the art, and drew even more attention to the idea of females as drag queens, and we can absolutely offer praise as she put herself on the line in an industry that wouldn’t traditionally be accepting of who she was.
Since then, we’ve seen even more female drag queens come to the public’s attention, for example, in the TV show Legendary, the House of Ninja group were all female drag queens. Victoria Scone, in the British version of RuPaul’s Drag Race was born female and identifies as female. We also have the likes of Scarlet Cyanide, Clover Bish, and Sigourney Beaver.
So, once again, it is insanely clear that attitudes are changing. If female drag queens are appearing on major TV shows and being referred to as drag queens, how can anybody possibly argue that they don’t exist? Just because they have only just started to become prominent doesn’t mean they didn’t exist in the past, right?
Is Faux Queen an Offensive Term?
If you have seen people discuss female drag queens in the past, then you may have seen them referred to as ‘faux queens’. This term is seen as offensive in the business. While there are some people who may let it slide because the definition has been around for so long, most people absolutely hate it. When you call somebody a ‘faux queen’, you are, essentially, saying that they are not a real performer. You are telling them that they are only playing at doing drag. You are instantly dismissing all the hours, months, and years they have poured into refining their art.
So, what do you call them? Well, just drag queen is fine. That’s what they are performing as, and we are sure that if you recognized a female as a drag queen, they are going to love that you have recognized the huge amount of effort they have put into developing their talents.
A Little About Drag Kings
We know that this page is about drag queens, but we would be doing a disservice to the legions of women performing drag if we didn’t mention drag kings. While they are nowhere near as common as drag queens, you’ll find drag kings performing up and down the country.
As you can imagine – drag kings are the polar opposite of drag queens. Rather than push the boundaries of femininity, drag kings are all about pushing the boundaries of being masculine. Enhancing all the qualities of being masculine.
Why are we mentioning them? Well, two reasons. Firstly – because we believe that drag kings are often forgotten about. They deserve far more attention than they get, and if you ever see a drag king act, you should check it out. Secondly – you have males performing as drag kings. Nobody in the whole drag king performance arena argues that males can’t be drag kings, hence why nobody should be arguing that females can’t be drag queens. It is the same type of performance.
While there are some people that will disagree with this statement – the modern definition of drag queen means that women absolutely can be drag queens. Obviously, they are never going to be as common as male drag queens. This is all because of how the concept of drag queens was born in the gay community. However, there are plenty of top female drag queens out there. You really should check them out. Once you do, you’ll realize that drag isn’t about the gender that you are underneath. It is about how you express gender on the exterior. It is about getting into a character. Trust us – some of the performances that female drag queens put on will rival that of male drag queens. In fact, in many cases, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the two because those females absolutely would have ‘nailed’ the art.
Of course, you can always stick to the old, somewhat awful, definition of drag queen and say it is only about homosexual men performing as women. But you know as well as we do that this definition is wrong. It may have been the case in the past, but the whole concept of drag has evolved since then, and the definition should continue to evolve too.