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Drag: from Rebellion to Pop Culture

As Drag increases its popularity and firmly establishes itself in the pop culture realm, it’s easy to forget where Drag came from. RuPaul’s Drag Race, first aired in 2006, has stormed its way into people’s watchlists, with the show winning 24 Emmys since 2016 and having multiple spin-offs around the world. And it’s not just RuPaul anymore; increasingly other Drag related shows and films are being produced and enjoyed by many, with Everybody’s Talking About Jamie having a West End spot and a new film on Amazon Prime.

But viewing Drag within pop culture is short-sighted, and it’s important that when we engage with this content, we remember the ancestry of the art of Drag and the community it represents.

Although originating much earlier, Drag is rooted in the Stonewall riots of 1969, when police raided Stonewall Inn (a gay bar in New York) and the LGBTQ+ community responded by rioting. This event is known to have transformed the gay liberation movement and the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Not only was Drag wrapped up in the Stonewall riots, but it was also embraced during the AIDs crisis in the 80s. Drag was a way to rebel against the system, which discriminated against them (and still does), to represent their community and encourage breaking down gender narratives. Drag aimed to encourage everyone to explore their own balance of masculine and feminine energies and embrace both, whilst also standing up for and representing the LGBTQ+ community as they experienced hardships and lack of support from the government and the rest of society.

Drag artists continue to use their art form for social activism and to stand up for their communities. Symone, a Drag Queen who appeared on Season 13 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, used the stage to speak up about racism and raise awareness of violence against Black people. Symone wore a white dress with the words ‘Say Their Names’ written in red and bullet wounds on the back. In 2019, 50 years after the Stonewall Riots, 8 Drag Queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race went to Stonewall Inn to honour and remember those who paved the way for them. Kylie Sonique Love, a Drag Queen who appeared on Season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, continually represented and spoke up for transgender people throughout the show and wore a transgender flag down the runway. These are just a few examples of how Drag is continually used for social activism.

Whilst Drag becomes more popular, it may be easy to think it’s all about shade, glamour, and humour, but it’s important to remember the history of Drag and the hardships faced by the LGBTQ+ community. Despite society becoming more receptive to Drag and the LGBTQ+ community having more rights, discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals sadly still exists and Drag continues to speak up against what is wrong and fight for equal rights and opportunities.

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