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  • The RuPaul EffectThe Exploration of the Costuming Rituals of Drag Culture in Social Media and the Theatrical Performativity of the Male Body in the Ambit of the Everyday
  • Jorge Sandoval (bio)

The commodification of drag by TV and social media—in other words, the commodified, queered, costumed male body presented through TV shows like RuPaul's Drag Race and all the social media coverage promoted by RuPaul's alumni and fan base on several online platforms—raises the concern of drag transforming from a traditional strategy for resistance into a trivialized and depoliticized representation of gender. Roger Baker, in his definition of drag, establishes "dissent" as a core characteristic of drag. He writes: "Drag is about many things. It is about clothes and sex. It subverts the dress codes that tell us what men and women should look like in our organized society. It creates tension and releases tension, confronts and appeases. It is about role playing and questions the meaning of both gender and sexual identity. It is about anarchy and defiance."1 Drag has been culturally attached to gestures of resistance when referring to gender politics, as in the case of the Stonewall Riots in 1969,2 and/or traditionally connected to theatrical forms such as drag queen performance or camp expressions in spaces considered theatrical. Theatrical drag, then, has historically served as a platform for the presentation of gender when other possibilities for expression were not socially acceptable. In her book Vested Interests, Marjorie Garber describes this situation: "The phenomenon of cross-dressing within theatrical representation, whether in the Dame and Principal Boy of the English pantomime, or in the popularity of films like Victor Victoria, Tootsie and Some Like It Hot … or indeed in the mode—increasingly chic today—of female impersonation as theatre, may be not [End Page 100] only a commentary on the anxiety of gender roles in modern culture, but also—and perhaps primarily—a back-formation: a return to the problem of representation that underlies theatre itself."3 Therefore, when considering the historically stigmatic position of homosexuality, professional drag done in nightclubs, gay bars, or street performances can also be considered a strategy for dissent. This was a strategy to normalize what otherwise would be considered deviant behavior. Esther Newton, in her book Mother Camp, talks about the professionalization of this subculture and the position that drag had in society: "Thus, insofar as female impersonators are professional drag queens, they are evaluated positively by gay people to the extent that they have perfected a subcultural skill and to the extent that gay people are willing to oppose the heterosexual culture. … On the other hand, they are despised because they symbolize and embody the stigma."4 Drag has been part of our lives in a variety of forms from the ancient times of Greek theatre to the mundane medieval carnivalesque traditions seen and still carried into the present day when men dress as women with exaggerated female features. Not limited to theatre but heavily ingrained as part of the weaving of social interactions, men creating the illusion of femininity through drag has been part of our lives.5 These expressions range from female impersonators, as in Chinese and Japanese theatre, looking for an ideal of femininity that aimed for no ambiguity, to modern Westernized performances of gender where female impersonators mostly looked for a larger-than-life, idealized illusion of femininity. It is also important to mention that, in this variety of forms, the use of the female impersonator as a comic figure, as in the nineteenth century when men dressed as women onstage, overtly showed that the artifice of the action was no longer a carnivalesque element of street celebrations but an important theatrical device.

From the theatrical drag queen entertaining in night clubs or at events, to the campy expressions of gay social and cultural life, all expressions seem to converge in the fact of drag being an integral part of societal activity.6 Baker describes such activity: "[The drag queen] emerges from the mists of time and threads her way through the histories of all cultures and nations. She is present at solemn religious rites and kicks up...


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pp. 100-117
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