We Are All Royalty
Journal of Leisure Research
There is a rich history of drag performers in the U.S., and a fair amount of media and scholarly attention has been given to the queens and kings who lip sync, dance, and advocate from the stages of bars, nightclubs, grandstands, streets, and more. Drag performers do more than entertain-they are also active in social justice movements affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people (LGBTQ), and they have been since the Stonewall Riots in the late-1960s. Dozens of academic
... of academic articles, stacks of popular press books, a few films, and a barrage of websites offer a variety of perspectives on drag. Yet, much of the spotlight these performers have received has understood them through heteronormative lenses and failed to appreciate the complex and complicated ways in which queens and kings relate to, live in, and shape the worlds around them. The project I discuss in this essay both speaks to and begins to mitigate the absence of truly reflective illustrations of the everyday lived experiences of drag performers. I begin by offering a brief history of this project and then describe the research methods used to carry out the inquiry. First, a bit of history. Five years ago it would have been impossible for me to guess that I would go on to study drag queens and kings. In fact, five years ago I could not have told you what drag was. Yet, during the Fall 2009 semester while taking a Feminist Research Methods course I embarked on a small-scale study of how small-town drag queens engaged with the spaces they performed in-none of which were signified gay or lesbian spaces. After presenting a couple of themes from this study at the Women's Studies Student Research Symposium the following spring, a series of conversations with Professor Corey Johnson (Recreation and Leisure Studies Program) resulted in our collaboration on the present study, a narrative inquiry of the lives of serious and enduring drag performers around the U.S., which was funded through a Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) Summer Research Fellowship. We are gay men, queer rights activists, and fierce fans of drag-our collaboration came naturally. With help from a University librarian introduced in one of Dr. Johnson's courses, I performed an extensive review of the literature on drag. I turned to a variety of databases to conduct this research, including GenderWatch, LGBT Life, Communication and Mass Media Complete, and Sociological Abstracts, to name a few. Keywords like "drag queen," "drag king," "female/male impersonator," and "transgender" were helpful in locating appropriate essays. Books were obtained through GIL, GIL Universal, and through online sources like Google Books. Academic articles and books, popular books and articles, films, and websites were all included in this literature review. Particularly helpful to our inquiry were a number of theoretical essays published in The Journal of Homosexuality in 2002 and 2004 that sought to better explain drag and how it functions within and against queer communities in and out of the U.S. A variety of other articles, from a broad range of sociological, rhetorical, and leisure studies journals, plus numerous books about transgender, genderqueer, and gender more broadly, provided the foundation for our theoretical and conceptual understandings of drag as a cultural phenomenon. In sum, my transdisciplinary approach to researching drag led me to dozens of articles and books from as many different theoretical perspectives. Once this initial search was conducted, I cross-referenced sources from the existing collection, which yielded an additional set of secondary sources for the project. Our literature review continues to be shaped as new essays and books are published.