Happy Pride month! To celebrate, we are going to explore a very different kind of royalty…drag queens and kings! It is firstly important to understand why the festivals, street parties and rainbow splattered vodka bottles exist. Pride celebrates queer culture, history and activism in commemorating the Stonewall Riots, which took place on 28th June 1969. Police raids on bars that welcomed queer folk had become routine during the 1960s. In response to a raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York, members of the city’s LGBTQIA+ community spontaneously demonstrated, and retaliated against violent police officers.
This event led to the galvanisation of LGBTQIA+ community members of Greenwich Village and beyond in formulating organisations who demanded for equal rights. The following year in 1970, Christopher Street Liberation day commemorated the riots. Pride marches also happened in Chicago and Los Angeles, before spreading globally in 1971. Without trans women such as Marsha P. Johnson, drag queens, butch lesbians and every single person who fought the system, queer people would not have the rights, nor celebration of Pride, that we do today.
Today, in 2021, #TeamQueens will be commemorating and celebrating by looking at drag queens and kings who have donned historical dress, particularly outfits that have imitated royal queens. But why might a drag king or queen choose to portray those at the top of the social strata? As Emily Aboud, aka king TriniDad & TooGayThough, states ‘what I love about drag is that it is a way to satirise and take power back from what oppresses us and what disenfranchises us. As a cis woman being a drag king who is a hyper-masculine dude, it allows me to harness that masculinity in a way that I’m not allowed to as a woman and almost take ownership of my body. It shows that, genuinely, gender is a performance. It’s empowering to show that people can choose how to present themselves and how to present their gender. As a drag king, the power in the cabaret scene is in satirising what oppresses us: living in a patriarchy but getting to do a satire on what it means to be a man is so empowering and so funny. Drag can make huge political statements. Cabaret venues are usually full of oppressed groups of people, a community. It’s a truly incredible thing to be part of a community of kings, queens and viewers who are all interested in flipping the gaze and switching lenses. It’s one of the most political art forms we have, no doubt.’
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best of drag’s royal guises. Up first is Rosé from season 13 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, who imitated Mary Queen of Scots in an utterly hilarious performance for challenge ‘The Snatch Game.’ Rosé’s Youtube channel, ‘The Rosé,’ honours the performance through a video interview by Austin Nunes, which, as the channel states, aimed to ‘get the tea and discuss her future plans now that she was returned from the dead to play “The Snatch Game” on RuPaul’s Drag Race.’ The look features a merlot-coloured dress, embroidered with a damask pattern and finished with HUGE sleeves and golden ruff. Mary Stuart even receives a makeover at the end of Rosé’s video, relinquishing her signature tight curls for a straighten style with a middle part, in order to appease the Tik Tok generation.
Now we have two interpretations of France’s most infamous queen: Marie Antoinette. Raja Gemini from Drag Race season three’s haute couture look featured an enormous white powdered wig crowned with flowers. Her neck was draped in multiple strings of pearls, which sat atop matching Rococo patterned leggings and corset, complete with printed cherubs and floral designs. Raja’s powder-white face and extravagant blush meant she could be associated with none other than Marie Antoinette. In a look that couldn’t be more different, Detox Icunt from season two of the All Stars series of the show donned an entirely different colour palette of a sickly fluorescent green and electrifying hot pink in a historical challenge. Detox’s look includes a similarly Antoinette-shaped green wig and pink corset and mantle shaped by a hoop that can only hark back to the French court. The look is tied together by a green lace trim, green fan, green bows, and hot pink lips, cheeks and eyes. Although entirely different, both queens truly ‘let them eat cake.’
Finally, let’s celebrate the look of a drag king. The character of Shakespeare in Morgan Lloyd Malcom’s play Emilia is portrayed by a woman in drag. This harks back to Shakespeare’s own plays; the word ‘drag’ is thought to have originated from dresses worn by men portraying women dragging along the stage. Although this example veers away from the monarchy ever so slightly, Shakespeare was a frequenter of the Jacobean court. The play is centred around Emilia, who was a poet and muse to Shakespeare. The play aims to let Emilia Bassano’s ‘voice be heard’ through exposing Shakespeare as taking credit for Emilia’s works. By presenting Shakespeare as a woman in drag, the play satirises Shakespeare’s patriarchal attitude and hyper-masculinity. The costume includes beautiful, chin-length, tousled hair and a preened moustache. Shaksey also wears a burgundy doublet and breaches, complemented by a white, lace-trimmed ruff. As this costume is for the stage, rather than a drag performance, it is more realistic than the other exaggerated looks we have seen today.
By looking at the iconic outfits of these kings and queens we can see how dress can be used to subvert gender binaries and power hierarchies. In the art of drag, clothing is a pivotal tool used for satire. For more historical drag fun, check out Anita Wigl’it’s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II on RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under (which couldn’t be more different from Rosé, Raja, Detox and Shakespeare’s outfits) and London-based drag kings Beau Jangles and Bjorn the Viking. Drag is fun, political and creative, and the perfect way to celebrate Pride.
Brown, Leighton and Riemer, Matthew. We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power, and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation. Berkeley: Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed Press, 2019.
You can hear more from Emily at @trinidadtoogaythough on Instagram
Listen Queen Mary’s gorgeous (and completely accurate) Glaswegian drawl here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ij8E-Z6DMR4
A description of Emilia and a link to buy the playtext can be found here: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/whats-on/emilia-2019/
Make sure to check out RuPaul’s Drag Race, especially the UK series!