Recent years have marked what scholars call the drag boom: the exponential growth of drag’s mainstream popularity following the widespread visibility of drag performers on social media and the commercial success of the United States reality TV competition RuPaul’s Drag Race. As the show expands to countries including the Netherlands, Thailand, Brazil, Germany, Spain, France, and more, the dominating role of RuPaul’s Drag Race has created the impression that drag has a universal standard. Post-RuPaul, mainstream audiences have come to expect normative feminine glamour; polished lip-syncing routines; and an ultimate, perhaps reassuring, ‘reveal’.
Yet such an impression fails to reflect drag’s historic and present diversity, beyond the reality TV cameras and, often, beyond the stage. From leading protests, to renouncing stigma associated with non-normative performances of gender and sexuality, to cultivating joy and defiance in the cultural spaces of ‘everynight life’, drag performers have long played vital roles in queer and trans communities. Across the globe, these cultural workers continue to navigate the persecution and praise attendant on queer aesthetics’ simultaneous criminalization and consumption. Moreover, in their full contextual complexity, practices of drag within queer and trans spaces often suggest that drag’s subversive politics may lie less in its function of troubling gender’s rigidity and more in its capacity to challenge the oppressive systems of power and attendant social inequalities that intersect with the gender binary.
In the wake of the drag boom, questions of what drag performance is and does are increasingly relevant. Such questions might lead to diverse understandings of drag, including as a queer and/or trans way of doing things, a method of critique, a form of activism, and an art form with a rich legacy of deconstructing and challenging dominant norms and systems of oppression. Focusing on multi-layered contexts of queer crossings, this symposium aims to develop critical approaches to drag that incorporate its range of uses by various marginalized groups in diverse contexts globally.
B Camminga, Tunay Altay, Özgün Eylül İşcen, and Ruth Ramsden-Karelse
Call for Papers
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Image credit: Queen of Virginity in Planet Lubunya directed by İrem Aydın, Photographer: Mayra Wallraff, 2023