“Don’t be a drag, just be a queen”: drag in pop culture

A drag queen is a man who dresses up and acts like a caricature women for the purpose of entertaining or performing. They often exaggerate body parts, use dramatic makeup and put on flashy costumes to create comic or satirical effects.

RuPaul's drag race

The female equivalent of a drag queen is a drag king, a woman who performs in a male role. Interesting, there are also faux queens and kings, women and men who dress in exaggerated manners to imitate drag queens and kings.

An example for faux queens is the 2004 movie “Connie and Carla,” starring Nia Vardalos (“My big fat Greek wedding”) and Toni Collette. The titular characters are to friends who are both obsessed with musical theater but struggle in making a career out of it. After accidentally witnessing a mafia crime, they have to change their identities and choose to pose as drag queens, ironically fulfilling their dreams of performing on stage.

It is important to distinguish drag from transvestism or cross-dressing. Drag queens employ over-the-top cross-dressing in order to perform or entertain while transvestites dress up as the opposite sex for social purposes or as part of their gender identity.

Transvestism is not unpopular in contemporary movie plots, where characters masquerade themselves in order to accomplish their agendas.

The Disney’s animation “Mulan” (1998) tells a story about Chinese legend Hua Mulan who disguised as a boy to take her elderly father’s place in the army. In “She’s the Man” (2006), based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Amanda Bynes’ character impersonates her twin brother to get a spot in the soccer team.

Marlon & Shawn Wayne as "white chicks"

White Chicks (2004) takes cross-dressing a step further when two African American FBI agents mask not only their gender but also racial identity by dressing up as white female twins.

You most likely will spot a drag queen lip syncing, dancing or even just mingling in bars, clubs or parades. Even though many drag queens are gay or transgender, people of all genders and sexual orientations do drag.

Tim Curry as Dr Frank-N-Furter

Probably the most well-known transvestite is Tim Curry’s “Dr. Frank-N-Furter” in the 1975 Rocky Horror Picture Show. Frank comes close to your typical drag queen with a theatrically painted face and leather corset ensemble.

In current pop culture, Logo TV has been running a show called “RuPaul’s Drag Race” since 2009. Hosted by RuPaul, an actor/drag performer who gained fame in the 1990s, the show is the drag queen equivalent of “America’s Next Top Model.” Contestants from all over the country gather to showcase their creativity, talent and stage presence and vie for the title of “America’s next drag superstar.”

If you’ve been listening to the radio at all, you probably heard Lady Gaga’s smash hit “Born This Way.” It has been dubbed a gay anthem. The lyrics “don’t be a drag, just be a queen” sends a meaningful message that should be embraced not exclusively by the LBGT community: to love yourself no matter who you are.

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