Wednesday 11 January 2012

US Drag History Month

This month the American media entertainment network Logo is celebrating National Drag History Month. This is their 3rd celebration of drag in all its glittering, camp forms. Although it isn’t “official” in the same way that LGBT History Month or Black History month is, I think it’s a great idea and should be celebrated internationally.

It fits in very well with events in the UK at this time of year because we’re well into panto season with Dames and Principal Boys strutting across hundreds of stages all over the country. What better way to celebrate.

But drag and cross-dressing developed out of something totally different to the stage – religion. Male priests and shamans in ancient times would dress as women to act as “wives” to the deity they worshipped. In a way theatre derives from this religious “acting”, and directly as a result of this women were banned from the stage until well into the 2nd millennium. The Ancient Greek even had a cross-dressing god, Dionysius (a god I mentioned in November in relation to the constellation Sagittarius) as the patron of theatre and transvestites.

The development from these ancient cross-dressing priests into the modern drag kings and queens is very long and complicated, so I won’t go into it now. But there’s a danger that some confusion could arise, because not all cross-dressing activity can be called drag. To many people drag conjures up images of camp, often outrageous, personalities like Lily Savage.

This type of drag is the main focus for celebration by the Logo channel and hopefully it will help dispel some of the prejudices and misconceptions about drag performers, as well as highlight its many different forms – from pantomime (Widow Twankey, etc.) to cabaret (RuPaul, Danny La Rue), from traditional musical performance (Hinge and Bracket, Douglas Byng) to public drag persona (Divine), the drag community is as varied as any other and there’s a lot to celebrate.

I’ll be posting a couple more entries on drag history over the next couple of weeks, including some of my own connections to drag.

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