The Evolution of Drag Into an Artform


As I was listening to the SWVA LGBTQ Oral History Project interview with Carolyn Sue Wilson, I began to think about the differences between today’s society and the society in the 1970s, and how they are still similar in many ways. Carolyn Sue Wilson was born in the 1950s as biologically male. At around age five, she began to identify herself as more feminine and adopted the name Carolyn Sue Wilson. In the 1970s, she moved to Roanoke. She eventually found her way to the YMCA, where there were many queer-identifying people. At the YMCA she made many friends and was introduced to the gay community. It was during those years that she found drag and began to take part in drag events. I think that drag should be accepted as part of society.

While listening to her interview, I started wondering when drag shifted from being crossdressing and theater into an art form and culture. What happened to make it evolve? As I began to research for that question I had found that the very original crossdressers were used in “rituals and also in some religions to portray their beliefs.” Another source I found while looking for an answer to this question showed that more specifically it was often used in theater: “Men have been performing on stage as women since the Ancient Greek tragedies, Shakespeare famously cast men as women, and Baroque operas featured early examples of drag.” Another site spoke to some more recent changes in drag mainly through a reality TV drag show hosted by Ru Paul. In the past few years, a stereotype has arisen from the amount of publicity and the people that watch the show. A quote from a drag queen that was on the show said Drag Race fans are now obsessed with the quality of your lace fronts…There is practically a uniform now, where your nose has to have the hieroglyphics painted on it to make it look absolutely as small as possible, there has to be highlighter here…you have to be padded a certain way. I’m sick of the rules. If drag is self-expression, we need to kill these rules.” One of the things that drag does is go against society’s flow by embodying a feminine persona which fights against the gender norms.

Something that I was reminded of recently, was how much gender roles are embedded into everyday life. A good example of this is in old rhymes, such as this English Rhyme I found:

“What are little boys made of? 

What are little boys made of? 

Frogs and snails, 

And puppy-dogs’ tails; 

That’s what little boys are made of. 

What are little girls made of? 

What are little girls made of? 

Sugar and spice, 

And all that’s nice; 

That’s what little girls are made of.”

In this Rhyme it says that boys are made of Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails, and it says girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice Which gives the immediate Impression that boy’s are meant to be outside getting dirty, and girls are meant to be inside cooking. This also can relate to the nuclear family in that gender roles are passed down from father to son and mother to daughter, which makes it difficult to break out of the gender roles. I think that for the gender roles to be disestablished, children will have to be brought up in an accepting environment that helps them find their true identity.