The Inspiration of Drag

Through the viewing of the documentary Paris is Burning, I began to understand the context and foundation of what we see drag as today. My only experience with drag had been through RuPaul’s Drag Race around my middle school years. It was not until I had seen the Drag Show that Haven hosts each semester, that I experienced Drag in person. I never understood how much drag related to Muñoz’s ideas of the stage as an escape. After seeing how the people featured in Paris Is Burning would treat the Balls as an escape allowed me to understand drag in a different perspective. Pepper LaBeija said, “When I first started going to balls it was all about drag queens who were interested in looking like Las Vegas showgirls, back pieces, tail pieces, feathers, beads and all that… it started coming down to just wanting to look like a gorgeous movie star like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor. And now they’re went from that to trying to look like models; like Iman and Christie Brinkley and Maud Adams and all those children.” This statement relates to the idea that partaking in the Balls helped make the disadvantaged participants feel like they were part of to social elite. A specific thing said in the movie that I remember was that the young people of color would feel like white executives by wearing fancy looking, upper-class clothing. I never had thought of drag outside of the context of pure performance. I didn’t see it as an encouraging place where anyone could be what they wanted to be. Drag used to be something that confused me, but after seeing a Drag Show for myself and watching Paris is Burning I understand that Drag holds an important place for those who feel like they cannot represent who they really want to be outside of a Ball, or the stage itself.

Acceptance Xtravaganza

In the film Paris is Burning we are introduced to Venus Xtravaganza, a transsexual individual who had worked as a prostitute in her past. She talks about her struggles within her line of work, because she presented as a woman, but when she was doing work with her Johns, sometimes they would freak out at the fact that she had a penis and would sometimes even try to inflict harm upon her. In 1988, her life was taken from her, and the murder remains unsolved to this day. At the time of filming, Venus was the mother of one of the most well known houses in the New York Ball scene, but before that, she had struggled with acceptance from others, especially outside her community. On a brighter note, since the release of the movie, society has become much more accepting of transgender individuals. For example, Laverne Cox has become a remarkable trans person of color. The success of Laverne’s career indicates a shift in the mindset of the public. Comparing these two individuals’ careers is a good way of observing how society has changed. However, while Laverne has had a very successful career, not all trans individuals today are going to have the same opportunities that Cox has had, because they often face persecution for their identity, but that their ability to succeed is less inhibited than it was during or shortly after the AIDS epidemic.