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Why are we dragging drag shows? 

Written By: Vaishnavi Peyyety, Current Events Staff Writer  

(All Photos Courtesy Regan Carlson).

APR. 11, 2023 – Washington & Jefferson College’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance (GSA) held their annual Drag Bingo Night on Friday, Mar. 31 from 8 p.m. to midnight in the Rossin Ballroom. This extravaganza featured two talented drag queens named Nebula Nova and Tillie Gags.
Nebula Nova performs across New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York City and Tillie Gags is an artist based in Morgantown, W.Va. This event featured free food, prizes, live performances and a Q&A session with the talented artists.
Vice-President of GSA, T. Kinkley ’24, is one of many who is in support of drag art and is striving to raise awareness for the discrimination drag artists face.
“Drag Bingo is one of our biggest events of the year,” said Kinkley ’24. “We plan it out for months in advance. We want to bring more acceptance to the campus, and drag queens are an amazing source of entertainment and a gorgeous work of art.”
At Drag Bingo, the drag queens spoke about the recent wave of drag show bans and stricter laws relating to transgender rights that are spreading across the U.S. The drag community is no stranger to backlash. From far-right wing individuals storming into a show in California yelling homophobic comments, to an individual bringing rifles into a show in Nevada, to people protesting outside of a drag show in Maryland, drag shows continue to be targeted.
“To me, Drag Bingo at W&J is an extremely important event given the current political climate involving bans on drag shows,” says Ainsley Huang, a sophomore W&J student.
Many drag happy hour shows are being cancelled due to violence from right-wing extremists. Legislators in Florida, Texas and Arizona are threatening to push for banning minors from attending drag events.
Kinkley ‘24 shared that the only law that is currently being processed in Pennsylvania regarding [not a necessary edit, but if you wanted more varied vocab, this is my suggestion!] transgender rights is about allowing trans individuals into sports, but Kinkley also states that “it's likely not to get passed as we are a blue state.”
Most people agree that drag originated from Ancient Greece in the antic theatre during a time when women were not allowed to act. As a result, males began disguising themselves as female characters, giving rise to the original drag queen. In the late 19th century, William Dorsey Swann, a Black, gay man who was born into slavery in Maryland, was the first to label himself a “queen of drag.”
Swann and many individuals of marginalized communities kept the art form alive. Drag quickly gained popularity, but was mainly performed underground to avoid the public eye. Interestingly, even after the Stonewall riots in 1969, the art of drag was stigmatized within the gay community because it presented gender as malleable.
Since then, drag has gone mainstream due to the internet, allowing the art to reach a greater audience. Additionally, reality shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race have increased the popularity of drag, with drag queens competing to be crowned as “America’s next drag superstar.” Catapulting careers and delving into the true talent that drag queens must have, this show was pivotal in raising awareness. As a result, parents, children, LGBTQ community members and some public officials have begun supporting the art.
Drag promotes fluidity of gender and has led to great progress in the LGBTQ community. However, drag is not a gender identity and not all drag queens are transgender and vice versa. In fact, the profession began with cisgender (cis), gay men and until recently, several transgender performers faced stigma.
Kinkley acknowledges and appreciates the intersectional nature of drag.
“In my opinion, I think it's ridiculous to ban an art form. People look at drag queens and assume only cis men can be drag queens, but it is a form of art that anyone can create - men, women and gender non-conforming people.”
“People look at drag queens and assume only cis men can be drag queens, but it is a form of art that anyone can create - men, women and gender non-conforming people.” - T Kinkley ’24
By promoting drag performances on campus, W&J’s GSA is combating the increasing national stigma surrounding drag and is attempting to increase awareness and acceptance of the art.
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