Can women be drag queens?

Jeeeeeez, what a week. I usually shy away from topics like this but frankly, after the last couple of days, I’m pretty mad at the world. I’ve faced sexism in my fave queer pub, been told I should kill myself by an idiotic transphobic troll and watched as a RuPaul used an interview in the Guardian to delegitimize not only my drag but that of my fellow trans and non-binary performers. So considering all of this and the fact that today is International Women’s Day, I decided to channel my energy here and give my own personal perspective on this subject. I often get asked (primarily by cis straight men) “can women be drag queens” but it’s a question I don’t feel I have to answer. It isn’t my responsibility to be the educator because I’m essentially being asked to defend my existence. But then it made me think: what does your average lovely person do when they want to understand a subject but don’t want to potentially insult someone? They Google it. So if you’ve ended up here to self-educate, then I feel pretty happy to help out. Here’s a short guide to this drag(ing) debate and the question that won’t go away. The answer to which is simply:

Yes

I exist. Therefore, yes. End of story really. And I’m not the only woman who performs drag. Thousands of femme-bodied performers across the planet do drag, in many various forms. But before I get onto that, let’s take a moment to talk about gender. If terms like ‘cis’ or ‘non-binary’ aren’t something you’ve come across before or you aren’t so sure you understand yet, that’s ok and I definitely encourage you to read up on this first. I recommend Sam Dylan Finch’s Transgender 101 guide on Everyday Feminism as an excellent place to start. I also want to point out that I can really only talk about my own lived experience as up until now (mixed with lashings of queer and gender theory from that dusty old degree I did nearly two decades ago) and other drag performers will have different perspectives on this debate to me. I’ve added some pictures throughout this blog with quotes from other performers, so just click on these to check them out. Plus there’s a further reading list at the end so you can hear from other writers too. It’s also worth noting that terms used and attitudes towards subjects like gender, drag and feminism are constantly evolving, so my current viewpoint could easily seem a little outdated in a few years. So read on with an open mind.

Can women…

As I mentioned before, it’s International Women’s Day and I feel it’s more important than ever to think about why we are asking this in the first place. Why do we always question what women can do? Especially when it comes to careers/spheres/practises/lifestyles that have traditionally been male-dominated? What is it that makes us want to limit the world of women? Can’t the answer to these questions always simply be “why not?” Why are women always being asked to justify their lives in ways men never are? Just think of all the things we could accomplish if we didn’t have to address questions like this all the bloody time…

Can women be dragqueens @minkaguides Georgie Bee

📷: Pepo Fernandez

“Let’s get one thing clear – you absolutely do not need validation from RuPaul.”

Georgie Bee

What my drag is to me

“Oh, so you’re a woman, impersonating a man, impersonating a woman” is often a bit of rough logic thrown my way when I mention I do drag. Funnily enough, though, men don’t really have much to with my drag queen performances. To me, drag is a hyper-performance of gender; a fun exploration of these ridiculous notions of ‘men’ and ‘women’ that society thinks we should perform in our everyday lives. So naturally, I’ve found drag to be one the best platforms for me to express what my own experience of being a woman is. I’ve explored everything from perceptions of female arousal to the everyday acceptance of violence against women in my shows. By transforming myself, my face, my body into this extreme idea of how we think women should appear and behave gives me the chance to address what being a “woman” is.

I had an incredibly long gestational period before becoming a drag performer and a lot of time to think about why I wanted to do it and what I wanted to convey through it as a medium. TBH I suppose a lot of drag performers probably don’t think about it all quite this much. But I do take this colourful and non-conforming world very seriously: it’s a life-long passion and a really important performative medium to me. A powerful feature of drag is that it’s irreverent and joyful at the same time as being very emotional. In one sense it’s a bit of outrageous fun mixed with a whole load of make-up, wigs and interesting footwear; and in another, it’s a provocative, radical act that attempts to disrupt this binary world that we live in. My partner, who has been performing drag longer than I have, describes it as a superpower because it transforms you into an icon that inspires reverence. And if there’s one thing we need to be giving women, it’s more superpowers.

Can women be drag queens @minkaguides Holestar

“15 years years ago I intended to reclaim over-the-top femininity to the female body and fuck with gender stereotypes. And my dear, I’m still here.

But sod me. Trans women, all women, everybody has the right to play. Keep trucking kids. Do you.”

Holestar

So what do I call women who are drag queens?

Drag queens. That’s the really easy bit. You’ll hear lots of terms bandied about – bio queen, faux queen, female drag queen etc – but all these words do is demean what some drag queens do and indicate that they’re not equal to other drag queens – even though we’re sharing the same stage, doing the same shows, all doing drag. I (currently) like the term “femme-bodied drag queens” when having a discussion that requires you to differentiate because it acknowledges that we aren’t simply working with a binary of male and female but there’s a whole big, beautiful spectrum with gender that we need to acknowledge.

Can women be drag queens @minkaguides Victoria Sin

“To embody a set of cultural constructs historically associated with women, a lot of the time at the comedic expense of women, while excluding women, within a sex-gender system which disproportionately causes violence towards women – especially trans, women of colour & gender nonconforming individuals – is a perfect example of how unapologetically/self-righteously patriarchal, misogynist and even colonial attitudes are freely perpetuated within gay culture.”

Victoria Sin

Arguments against women being drag queens

One argument against women performing as drag queens makes me laugh because it sounds so familiar – just in reverse. Back when I was first introduced to the queer activist world at university (many moons ago), there was a lot of debate about drag queens and how they exploited the sexism in our society, copying the world of women for a cheap laugh and particularly co-opting the culture of black and latino women. I agree that there are some incredibly sexist and racist drag performers out there (I talk about the difference between progressive and offensive drag below) but for me, feminism was never about holding onto the social constructs that we identify as ‘female’ and not letting anyone else touch them. If someone who doesn’t identify as a woman wants to wear make-up, dresses and heels, I’m all for it. But to then be told that me performing as a drag queen co-opts gay male culture is laughable. Exactly who were you pretending to be in the first place? It’s also interesting that it’s specifically the culture of gay men is apparently being co-opted. Whilst we’ve long used the term LGBT+ to refer to the queer community, it has always been dominated by gay men, while lesbians, bisexuals, trans people and everyone else who fitted under this umbrella term were routinely sidelined. So this is not the inclusivity and diversity of queer culture that they seek to protect but the exclusivity of the gay male community – one which is renowned for being incredibly sexist, racist and ableist. So why in this day and age would we want to protect something that serves only cis gay men and shuts everyone else out?

Can women be drag queens @minkaguides Crystal Lubrikunt

📷: Anna Swiczeniuk

“Yes, drag most definitely is a ‘fuck you’ to toxic masculinity and the male-dominated society but would you look at the gender most of us are portraying? FEMALE. What type of person inspires our characters/personas? WOMEN. To discourage women or shut them out of drag CONSCIOUSLY is backwards.”

Crystal Lubrikunt

RuPaul has often been quoted as saying “I do not impersonate females! How many women do you know who wear seven-inch heels, four-foot wigs, and skintight dresses?” Ummm… hello? Has he never met Cher? But seriously, it’s insulting to the intelligence of everyone in the room when drag queens try and suggest this. I mean, we all know you’re not shopping in the kids or the sports department – you’re heading straight for the women’s section. So let’s ponder this: if drag queens are not supposed to be impersonating women, then what could be the issue with a woman performing as a drag queen? If it’s not a performance of our gender, then why can’t we impersonate it too? Either way, it is and it’s totally legitimate for us to embrace it too. As with so many of these arguments, they are hollow and make no sense. What is clear though is that these arguments are mainly about shutting women up and shutting them out.

Finally, one of the other arguments against women being drag queens is that it’s not considered radical or punk enough. Well, in the age of a mainstream TV show that exclusively shows male drag queens, this limited definition of what a drag queen can be doesn’t feel that radical. If you want to see truly punk drag, you have to go to a venue that shows a broad spectrum of drag performers (be they men, women or non-binary). By holding on tight to this restrictive idea that only men can be drag queens raises an awful lot of questions too. Is it only gay men (because there’s a long history of straight men doing drag)? Is it only cis men or can trans men be drag queens (and at what point in their transition does this suddenly become “acceptable”)? Are trans women allowed to perform as drag queens (because a number of contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race have transitioned since the show)? Or at what point do these arguments and restrictions fall apart and we shout WHO BLOODY CARES? Seriously. Why so much effort to shut out everyone who aren’t “men”?

Can women be drag queens @minkaguides Courtney Act

“Ru(Paul) as a cis man having conversations about, and rule over, women’s bodies is alarmingly in line with the current swing of conservative politics. Also the public erasure of trans women from the history of drag and then the irony of Ru, a male, telling women, cis and trans, they can’t do drag because it’s not as big of a fuck you to a male-dominated world. Very controversial…”

Courtney Act

Where to continue your drag education

Just as there are a whole variety of people who can and do perform as drag queens, there’s a broad range of types of drag, from progressive to incredibly bigoted. I’ve walked out of some eye-wateringly sexist and racist drags shows in the past two decades, where drag queens have derided vaginas or performed crude racial stereotypes for cheap laughs. This is not my drag and it shouldn’t be yours. The future of drag is with performers who challenge rather than uphold the system and with venues that embrace a wide variety of drags performers, both kings and queens, of all gender variants. If you’ve only ever watched RuPaul’s Drag Race and never been to a show in your local area, then it’s time to do some field work in your quest for self-education. Research the performers and venues nearby. Are the shows full of predominantly white, male performers or is the line-up mixed? If you want to really understand where drag is at now, you’ll find it on the stages that are shared by women and non-binary performers too.

Finally, I wanted to say that this is not a time for division. We have to unite with inclusivity to fight the powers that still oppress us all, rather than wield any privilege we may have (be is male, white or cis) against each other.

Hopefully, this helps debunk this question for you and I’ll see you at my next show!

Further reading

 

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29 Comments

  1. Michelle
    21 November 2018 / 4:36 pm

    Awesome post! I dmwas definitely having issues with seeing RuPaul say that trans/cis women and non binary people can’t do drag, that its specifically gay men who do drag. And it always felt weird to me, being a queer femme, and having to face the world assigned female, felt like a slap to the face. This helped me see that people are still claiming femme roles and drag no matter their gender identity and fighting patriarchal ways of thinking ❤ so thank you!

    • Minka Guides
      Author
      22 November 2018 / 6:20 am

      Thanks for your support Michelle! So glad this resonated with you ✊🏽

  2. Hanna M
    23 December 2018 / 11:34 am

    I wish everybody read this article! So important!

    • Minka Guides
      Author
      23 December 2018 / 5:23 pm

      Thanks Hanna! This blog post has had nearly 10k views in the last 9 months, so thankfully lots of people are reading it ❤️

  3. Jul
    26 December 2018 / 9:16 pm

    I’m so happy i found this.
    I’m a cis girl and since i got to know drag culture more, I feel like i want it to try really bad. The problem is I’m not sure if it is accepted that girls do drag, caus they already are girls.
    Thank you so much for writing this.

    • Minka Guides
      Author
      27 December 2018 / 2:07 pm

      You’re so welcome Jul! Get out there and give it a try 🙂

  4. Jessica Mercy
    1 January 2019 / 8:10 pm

    I really appreciate this post and your well-crafted points! I did my first local drag show last night and had such a blast working with a variety of queens. I felt very welcome but wanted some more insights, so I landed here. Thanks for writing and Happy New Year!

    • Minka Guides
      Author
      2 January 2019 / 1:15 pm

      Yay Jessica! So glad you’re exploring and enjoying drag for yourself ❤️

  5. Eva
    17 January 2019 / 4:42 am

    thank you s much for this post ! im a cis french girl and i wanted so bad to do drag but i never told my friends ( and nobody ) because i thought that it would be inappropriate ! you totaly changed my mind and it makes me happier than ever ! so thank you from the bottom of my heart ❤

    • Minka Guides
      Author
      17 January 2019 / 7:09 am

      You’re so welcome Eva! ❤❤❤

  6. anon
    2 February 2019 / 5:13 am

    thanks. My curiosity was piqued by a video on facebook showing drag queens as they are out of drag and one of them being appearing female. This article has done more than settled that question, but aroused further curiosity and things to ponder.

  7. Ryq G.
    8 April 2019 / 5:29 am

    This is the most saddening yet wonderful thing I have ever read. I had my own drag show in the early 2000’s and I LOVED having women do drag it’s about being true to yourself and who you are inside. Society would have you cover it all up but I say let it fly! Anyone can be a drag queen. As they say, we’re born naked…from then on everything else is drag. Anyone who tells you different is trying to raise themselves up by standing on you. F@$k them right in the ear.

    • Minka Guides
      Author
      8 April 2019 / 8:39 am

      Yessss Ryq! 🙌

  8. Marissa R.
    10 April 2019 / 8:22 pm

    My gosh I love this post! I’m currently trying to figure out how I identify right now, but technically I’m a girl. I didn’t actually know much about things like LGBT and stuff like that until recently, so I’ve been reading up on things like that. Doing so led me to drag and I was REALLY interested in it. I really wanted to try to do it when I got older, but I thought that only men were able to do it and I was really disappointed, so I was sooo happy to read this. Thanks so much for writing about this!

    • Minka Guides
      Author
      11 April 2019 / 8:10 am

      You’re very welcome Marissa 🙂

  9. Amanda
    3 May 2019 / 3:02 pm

    This helped me, thank you.

    • Minka Guides
      Author
      3 May 2019 / 4:28 pm

      You’re welcome Amanda 🙂

  10. Anna
    4 May 2019 / 2:58 pm

    This is powerful!

    • Minka Guides
      Author
      7 May 2019 / 9:04 am

      ✊🏽

  11. Evan
    21 May 2019 / 9:23 pm

    I did come here to self-educate, as I am a cis straight white male trying to make room for everyone else. I appreciate you taking the time to spell this out, as it helps some of us dummies from asking the questions. Thank you for this wonderful piece.

    • Minka Guides
      Author
      23 May 2019 / 1:26 pm

      You’re welcome Evan 🙂

  12. Paula Cristina
    29 May 2019 / 2:28 am

    I’ve always had a fascination with drag queens. I’m a dancer and performer since birth, so the concept of a drag queen is like an aspiration for me. I’ve had male friends who do drag, I’ve had fun dance offs with male drags at gay bars and I’ve read and seen documentaries about drags but, oddly enough, it had always been on male drag queens. I took courses and did investigations in college on Transgender and Transexuals and also on topics about the LGBTQ+ community but I had always seemed to picture drag queens to be male (I’m sure it is partly because of the general notion but mostly out of ignorance). Anyways, I’ve had this fascination for a long time, but It was just recently that I started to question this male dominance in the drag world, and how female drag queens are so rarely seen that I had come to question their existence (and I confess I’m a little embarrassed and ashamed I didn’t educate myself on this topic a long time ago being a woman myself and loving drag). I’m so glad I found such a well written article. I will forsure use it for future reference. To me it is so important to educate people on these topics so we can all achieve a more inclusive environment everywhere! On another note, I personally have always thought of RuPaul as overrated. Who would’ve known that a person who claims and portrays himself to be an LGBTQ+ icon could be so close minded. That goes to show how important educating ourselves is.
    Thank you again Minka, for such a good and useful article.
    From one woman to another, Im proud!
    OXOX

    • Minka Guides
      Author
      29 May 2019 / 8:55 am

      Awww Paula ❤️ Thank you. I’m glad you found this article useful. We’re all learning and evolving all the time – no need to be embarrassed or ashamed. New perspectives and ideas will find you every day and it’s about how open you are to them that makes the difference. Keep exploring and being amazing 😘

  13. Kylie Aaron
    24 June 2019 / 5:17 am

    Hi! Just wanted to share a note and thank you for sharing with me. I am a person that doesn’t currently have any drag friends and was curious to know more so I don’t offend people when I do make their acquaintance. I really appreciate you explaining things. This is a lovely article and I have a lot of respect for the LGBTQ+ community. I had no idea what drag was even about. I just have know a few people to go to shows and who love it. I’m hoping to go in the future. Thank you for sharing your work and world with an average person like me! Your article was super helpful! Xoxo

    • Minka Guides
      Author
      24 June 2019 / 9:33 am

      You’re welcome Kylie! Hope you have a fab time at your first drag show 🙂

  14. JDZane
    27 June 2019 / 8:14 pm

    Thanks so much, this article really helped explain things for me! I’m a cis woman, but I’ve always found myself jealous of drag queens – their makeup is so perfect, their confidence makes me want to cry, and I’ve always wished I was born a man just so I could be a drag queen. But now, as I’m slowing figuring out, that doesn’t have to be the case! I certainly have every reason to rebel against what people thing a woman should be, since I’m overweight and have to shave my face daily (sometimes twice if it’s a long day). Do you have any advice on where or how to learn more about the drag community, and where to maybe start?

    • Minka Guides
      Author
      1 July 2019 / 8:34 am

      So glad you found this article useful 🙂 It’s not always easy to get your start in drag – no matter what your gender – so I recommend seeking out the venues in your area that support femme-bodied performers. Go along, be supportive, make some friends and when the opportunity comes up, like a competition, be brave and take the plunge! Make sure you keep on trying as no one is amazing to begin with – it takes time and practice 😉

  15. Becca
    30 June 2019 / 4:23 am

    This is getting printed and hung on my wall. This is just beautiful. I am a woman who has often wanted to participate in Drag. But I often questioned, is that ok? I was raised in a family where the eldest, a boy, was often most revered. It took away a lot of my femininity. I thought I had to be more of a boy to fit in. When I see Queens I see femininity, empowerment, love, acceptance, & forgive me but I want that too! It is nice to know that somewhere out there are beautiful Queens that will accept my beautiful Queen adventure! Being a Queen to me is not being male or female. It’s about adopting a beautiful feminine empowering lifestyle that I can give back to & have loads of fun in. You’ll never see a Queen belittling another person and that is absolutely a community I want to be a part of! That positivity! I would be so lucky to have girlfriends who raise me up & allow me to do the same for them. SO MUCH LOVE! <3

    • Minka Guides
      Author
      1 July 2019 / 8:36 am

      Ah Becca – this makes me so happy! Thanks for commenting. Sending you lots of love too 💖

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