“RUPAUL’S Drag Race” has restored the art of “drag” – artistic performances revolving around men who dress as women – in a TV show to the forefront of popular culture and has helped to launch careers for modern drag superstars in the American drag scene. While the act of drag is not new (men have been dressing as women since the beginning of culture and societies), the show has helped to educate the world about what drag truly is and what it consists of. Notably, one of the most enlightening facets to come out of experiencing the phenomenon that is “Drag Race” is that the challenges, acts, and performers in every episode of the show really drive home the fact that drag is much more than simply about gay men who dress in women’s clothing. Drag is an art form – one that is simultaneously current and old, with an ancient history and one that imparts many lessons that artists who operate in other spheres, such as writing, theatre, and visual arts, can benefit from including in their own work.
RuPaul – the notorious host of “Drag Race” and arguably the most famous drag personality in the world – along with other drag queens have spoken about how drag bends the rules within society. If there’s anything that artists should be aware of as they create their art is the notion of rebelling against establishments and rules. There are always dictatorships to be overthrown, the norms of patriarchy need to be addressed, and society always needs to be reprimanded for foisting some aspect of human life that has become an expectation for everyone.
Rebellion is a part of the writer’s life and it is a theme that is recurring throughout drag performances. On one level, the act of a man wearing a woman’s clothes is, as pointed out by many others, a rebellious act that revolts against heteronormative ideals that haunt our contemporary society.
Further, apart from that basic tenet of wearing female clothes that can be found in drag culture, there are actually many different streams of drag (ranging from goth to fantasy to ultra-feminine and even looks that embrace the masculine, etc.), each catering to a different strand of the many different types of personalities that can be found in the community, which brings us to a second way in which observing drag culture can benefit artists, particularly those that work in the make-up or fashion industries, such as make-up artists, fashion designers, and cosplayers.
Various elements of drag – whether make-up or fashion choices or wigs – have found their way into mainstream culture in a number of ways. There are a number of resources online that can help women to achieve drag looks, which is a testament to the fact that drag is indeed now in vogue and, more importantly, inspiring creativity and extending the boundaries of creativity in the arts.
Of course, it is always important to acknowledge drag as the source of one’s inspiration, since drag has only managed to establish itself after many years of ridicule and hostility and the community deserves for its contributions to be celebrated.
Thirdly, any observation of drag culture would be a lesson in the art of performance. Actors and theatre practitioners, in particular, have a lot to learn by observing drag performances which rely on a range of skills, including but not limited to: comedy, improvisation, dance, lip-syncs, live-singing, and acting.
Drag itself is a performance and, therefore, it should be unsurprising that it lends so much of itself to the theatrical. Entertainment is part of a drag queen’s life. This is how he/she earns money for a living and years of training, practice and the development of concepts for their performances. Not only does a drag performance inspire in terms of creating artistic content, drag performances also always showcase that one element that can make or break all kinds of performance: confidence.
With homophobia still a major problem in this part of the world, drag queens can teach us all a bit more about owning and being yourself unconditionally. Drag’s world is one that asks the viewer to accept the queen as him/herself while forcing you – the artist/audience – to be your true self in your work and in your daily life. You are forced to contemplate the scenario of a man dressing as a beautiful woman, entertaining audiences on a nightly basis, establish a following, set trends, and overall be successful in a world that can oftentimes be harsh to originality and those who depart from the norm. After being exposed to drag, even if it is online or through a TV show, it becomes impossible to not at least consider the idea of being who you really are, showing yourself to the world, and living from that point of your true self. With regards, to artists, it needs to be mentioned that no artist will ever reach his/her true potential unless they are able to work as who they really are on the inside, in much the same way that drag queens do.