It has become seen as witty, insightful and chic to say that some women look like drag queens.
In other words, some women are stylized in a way that is reminiscent of female impersonators who often create stylized versions of women’s expression by taking cues from women who started with stylized expressions.
Yeah, it gets crazy. Are Maria Callas, Dolly Parton and Cher like drag queens, or are drag queens like these stylized women? Sure, it is often gay men who style the abstracted expressions, but are they turning the women they dress into drag queens, or are the women they dress such powerful female icons that they feel called to emulate them?
In my mind, the only women who should be identified as drag queens are the ones who identify themselves that way, like Raven Snook. The idea that somehow women can turn themselves into men impersonating women seems to me just the idea that someone women present themselves in a way so stylized and powerful that they scare men, and in that fear, men diminish them as being men — “drag queens” — and not women.
Maybe some think this is a good thing. After all, drag queens are now just an accepted mode of expression, and so they offer a shared understanding, a shorthand for a kind of over the top stylized presentation, clowns for adults.
My sense of drag, though, wasn’t some kind public fun. My sense of drag is rebellious expression, cracking at what was denied, cracking at those who didn’t have to consider their choices. Take expression over the top and twist it a bit to show the backside, and then it’s ours, not theirs. Drag queens were the edge of queer, letting everyone follow up behind. Someone has to be the drag queen, and I guess it’s me, as Charles Pierce often said.
But the edge of queer has lost its edge as gay culture has gone mainstream. A broader class of people think they know drag now, drag not as spokespeople and hostesses for the queer side, but drag as clowns for adults. And when they see a woman who looks clownish because they are stylized — even just a contestant on a reality show — they call her a drag queen.
Personally, I am sad that the meaning of “drag queen” has come to be just a reference any stylized femininity. I think that meaning insults women, who should get to own the power of femininity, including diva stylized femininity, and it insults the transwomen (and men) for whom drag was not just expression but was also service to a marginalized community.
I still have drag performers I love, especially the ones who use pure transformation to express what cannot be simply said.
But hell, now anyone with too skinny eyebrows is a “drag queen.”
And all it shows to me is how scared people are of the power of intense, overwhelming and stylized femininity.