Drag queens and kings have had a long, important, and hilarious history in New York City. On this week’s Please Explain we’ll look at drag performance as an art form, political statement, and popular entertainment with legendary performers Lady Bunny and Murray Hill, and with Joe Jeffreys, drag historian and the organizer of Drag Show Video Verite.
Lady Bunny explained that we’re all in some form of drag: “We all create who we are, using accoutrements or haircuts or tattoos…”
Drag in New York goes back to the Dutch settlers, says historian Joe Jeffreys. “The first governor of New York, Cornbury, was politically smeared for being a supposed cross-dresser.”
Murray Hill (Clay Patrick McBride)
Drag can be interpreted in many, many different ways. “There’s no right way to do drag,” Murray Hill explains. “The great thing about drag and the queer community is that we’ve always been on the fringe. We make up our own rules.”
Within New York, there’s the more polished, West Village look and the East Village look which has migrated to Brooklyn, which Murray Hill summed up as: “They look like hot messes, but on purpose.”
Murray Hill discussed why there aren’t as many drag kings as queens: “There’s just as not as many drag kings as part of history…There isn’t the same economic support as drag queens. There’s not the same visibility and culture.”
As for the acts themselves, Lady Bunny explains: “A lot of us are bawdy because we work in clubs and when your audience is drunk and it’s 1 am, they don’t want to see a Laura Ashley bonnet, yodeling for Jesus.”