One of the most fiercely debated topics in the world of drag is ‘can anyone be a drag queen?’. It isn’t exactly an easy question to answer, mostly because the definition of ‘drag queen’ has changed a lot over the last 50 years or so. So, what is the answer?
Anybody can be a drag queen. While the term traditionally only applied to gay men who wished to dress in drag, the term has been massively expanded. You now find straight men performing in drag, as well as women performing in drag.
Let’s explain what we mean. We understand that there are a lot of people who still think that to be a drag queen you have to be a gay man. It’s true. That was the definition of ‘drag queen’ that we had back in the 1970s, but times have changed. Now anybody can be a drag queen if they wish. They just must meet the definition of ‘drag’. So, what is drag? That’s the first question we’re going to answer!
What is Drag?
Back in the 1970s, when modern drag really started to gain popularity (despite being around for centuries), drag queens had a fixed definition – you were only a drag queen if you were a queer man dressed in female clothing. Well, if you were dressed in female clothing for the sake of entertainment. This is no longer a definition that is accepted by the greater drag community (even if there are a few people who are clinging to it pretty hard).
The definition of drag nowadays is much broader. Drag is a term used to define anybody, no matter their gender or sexuality, who dresses up as a woman with the intention of exaggerating the idea of the female gender for the purposes of entertainment. We are sure that you can agree that everybody can do this.
Now, don’t get us wrong. As we said – there are some people who completely disagree with the idea of anybody other than gay men becoming drag queens. In fact, for a while, in the 90s, there were some clubs that literally barred any drag queen from performing there who wasn’t a gay man. Thankfully, this is an issue that has now been cleared up (in most places). You may still see some people who will be outspoken about the idea of anybody else other than a gay man being a drag queen, which is a bit annoying, but it doesn’t happen anywhere near as much as it used to. We suppose people are now more than happy to accept others.
Who Can Be a Drag Queen?
As we said – absolutely anybody can be a drag queen! Well, almost. You must remember that dressing up in women’s clothing isn’t enough to be classed as a drag queen. You would need to be entertaining.
At the very minimum, if somebody wants to be a drag queen, they need to be able to really exaggerate the idea of being a woman. If you’ve ever seen a drag queen perform, you will see that they act in an overly feminine way. How this is done will vary from drag queen to drag queen, but the goal is the same – to play with gender norms. This is one of the reasons why women are so fantastic at drag queens. Obviously, they already know what it is like to be a woman, so they know how to really play into the idea of femininity and kick it up a notch.
A drag queen must also be entertaining, although what type of entertainment is offered differs from drag queen to drag queen. Some are singers, many are mimers, and you get tons and tons of comedians too. So, while anybody can dress up as a woman and really parody the qualities of being a woman, only a few people will have the ability to entertain people while they are doing it.
Remember – drag is a form of performance art. Many of those who perform in drag are not performing as themselves. They are performing as a character that they have created. Some drag queens have created such fantastic characters that nobody knows who the person behind the drag queen is, they just know the persona they have created. We are pretty sure that this is the goal for most drag queens. Not only does this mean that they have created a persona that is entertaining to the point where people are able to remember it, but it also means that the drag queen has created a wonderful character. A character that people do not see as acting, but as a ‘real person’ (sort of, we assume most people actually see the whole drag part of it. Or, at least we hope they do).
So, what does this mean? Well, it means that it doesn’t matter at all who is behind the character. The character is the drag part. Most of the time, the character has a completely different persona from the ‘actor’. So, does it really matter who is doing the acting if they are putting on a performance? A drag queen act from a straight person can be the same as a drag queen act from a gay person. You don’t gain any special superpowers to do drag just by being gay.
This, we think, is the leading argument against the people who say only gay people can be drag queens. Yes. It is an activity that was originally born in gay bars and clubs (well, at least the modern form of drag), but this doesn’t mean that it must stay there forever. Why not let others experiment with this art form? Why not let people act and create some wonderful characters that everybody can enjoy, and not just in the gay clubs?
Why Are Most Drag Queens Gay Men?
As we said at the start, one belief many people hold is that only gay men can be drag queens. In fact, in the mainstream, a lot of people hold the belief that if a man is doing drag, it means that he must be gay. By now, you already know this isn’t the case. So, why are the majority of drag queens gay men?
Well, this is all due to the evolution of modern drag. While drag has been around for centuries (i.e., people performing in female clothing for entertainment purposes), the drag that we know today was born in gay clubs around the world. Up until around the early 2000s, drag was a predominantly gay activity. While you can easily find drag being performed in various places nowadays, from the 1970s through to the 1990s, the only time you were ever likely to see drag was in a gay club.
This does mean that the people who were regularly exposed to drag would have been gay men. Since straight men rarely would have encountered drag in their lives, it wasn’t really something that would have appealed to them. The same applies to women. However, this has now changed. TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race have catapulted drag into the mainstream, and while the majority of people performing drag are still gay men, we are starting to see a shift in the type of performer. In recent years, there has been a massive push toward straight women doing drag, for instance. You can also find the odd straight man doing a bit of drag too.
Obviously, it will take a long while before drag isn’t, mostly, performed by gay men (if that ever happens, it likely will not), but at least we are now in a position where more people are starting to pay attention to drag, and thus the sexuality and gender of the performers is shifting a little bit. This is a good thing. The more people there are doing drag, the more entertainment we’ll all get!
Issues Facing Non-Gay Drag Performers
Now is the point where we point out that while you absolutely can be a drag queen no matter your sexuality or gender, you are just going to have an incredibly tough time actually practicing your craft. This is because the places where drag is traditionally performed are very slow to adapt to change.
For example – many major drag competitions explicitly state that they are only for men. Up until recently (2019), RuPaul even stated that under no circumstances would he ever allow a non-man into any of his competitions. Although, he did later change his mind. To this date, no non-gay man has appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race in the US, but some international versions have.
Because of this, a lot of non-gay men are finding it incredibly tough to gain traction in the world of drag. While we have seen small changes here and there (some names have become much more prominent), we have a long way to go before people are fully accepting of the fact that everybody can do drag.
Famous Female Drag Queens
While there have been women-only drag queen competitions, the very first woman to ever win a drag queen competition that featured competitors of all sexualities and genders was Monique Jenkinson, otherwise known as Fauxnique. While her win was subject to a lot of scrutiny among drag purists, it seems the fact that somebody like her could win a major drag competition did kickstart a trend toward shaking up who could call themselves drag queens.
Since Fauxnique, we have seen people like Landon Cider, the House of Ninja, and Sigourney Beaver come to prominence. We’ve also seen RuPaul’s Drag Race UK feature Victoria Scone, which goes to show that RuPaul’s ancient attitudes toward drag changed. If he kept the same idea of who should be performing in drag, we would never have seen a woman appear on any of his shows.
Famous Straight Male Drag Queens
Straight male drag queens are few and far between. Perhaps the most prominent is Maddy Morphosis. If you’ve watched RuPaul’s Drag Race in the US, then you will have seen him. He was the very first heterosexual person to compete on the show.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the world of straight male drag queens will ever be all that big. While the number of straight males in this space is increasing, a lot of males do see drag as a predominantly gay activity and are thus steering clear of it.
So, can anyone be a drag queen? Yes! As long as you understand the essence of drag and are reasonably entertaining, there is no reason why you can’t go out there and attempt a career as a drag queen. While non-gay men may face a few challenges, true drag doesn’t care about your sexuality or your gender, and we are starting to see the number of non-gay drag queens expand very quickly!