In fact, the first official “faux queen” pageant was held in San Francisco back in 1995.
“Back in the early ’90s there were always women in nightlife who referred to themselves as female drag queens,” says drag legend Miss Understood, who’s of the more traditional man-in-a-frock variety. “It was such a fluid time, where drag queens, performance artists, club kids, and transgender people overlapped so much.”
With the advent of social media, female drag has exploded. But increased visibility has brought increased scrutiny—and controversy. In fact, a widely shared essay on The Odysseycriticized female drag as cultural appropriation.
“When cis women perform as drag queens, they are dipping their feet into the performance of it, this being the positive experience,” claimed writer Nicole Olivieri Pagan, “without receiving any of the backlash of stepping out of their gender norms and being discriminated against for it.”
Full disclosure: I’ve performed as a female drag queen myself and I bristle at the assumption I’m hijacking someone else’s art form. And I’m not alone.
“I’m fascinated by the mental gymnastics required for a man who dresses like a woman, either as a hobby or job, to tell women and AFAB [assigned female at birth] people that they are not entitled to reclaim femininity on their own terms,” says Pierretta Viktori, a fixture on the New York scene for the past four years.
Viktori (above) dismisses the idea that a woman appearing as an over-the-top femme on stage is some kind of thief: “No specific group of people should own the idea of performing femininity.”
Baltimore performer Bambi Galore says those critics are looking at drag through “a very outdated and small pinhole.”
“Drag has changed and developed with the culture of the LGBT community, it’s a form of performance art that is the expression of hyper-gender,” says Galore (below). “It doesn’t matter what is going on between my legs.”