What is drag all about with the LGBT+ movement anyway?

I was interviewed by the lovely (and handsome) Joe, who is Head of Arts, Entertainment and Education for Norwich Pride. This article is in response to members of the LGBT+ throwing a tad of shade on those whom perform ‘in drag’. I don’t really like that word darlings, but I do have some interest in its history.

A shorter version can be found in the Pride Guide for 2019. You can view that here.

Hello Titania. Lovely to see you again, I know it’s a busy summer for you.

Darling Joe – busy isn’t the word. I feel ALIVE. Alive with all the wonderful events going on this summer and from all the lovely people I meet during Pride season. I’m appearing at nearly every Pride in our region of East Anglia plus a few more across the country. Prides are fitting into my colourful diary of stage shows and other projects – I’ll find attention wherever and however I can. You know that.

You are quite a character. Have you got royal status? How should I address you?

Darling, I’ll answer to any affectionate name you call me. What’s this about royal status?

I mean, are you a queen, as in a drag queen?
I will never shun a curtsey or the assumption of royalty but, personally, I’m rarely described as drag. Drag is constantly changing in today’s world and I also steer away from labels or being boxed into anything too specific. I am a performer; a songstress, an actress and a diva.

What do you think about drag?

I consider drag to be theatre. I think it’s about putting on a costume, hair and make-up that is not seen as conventional to that specific person… then performing, and then taking it all off afterwards. Drag is an artform – it’s not just about people donning silly clothing and having a laugh. It’s an artform, it takes skill, time and talent!

Why is drag associated with the LGBT+ community?
It was around the 1930s – after the big depression and during the prohibition era in the USA when drag became associated with the LGBT community. I think the link happened because we had LGBT people who felt they didn’t fit into mainstream society, they wanted to blend the boundaries of gender – they felt like misfits. Drag could blur all these things together in a fun way – and we all need a bit of amusement now and again. Camp and drag was also used from the mid 80s onwards after the AIDS epidemic. It brought larger than life characters to the forefront of awareness, characters that could not be ignored. Silence = death, which began mid 80s was a huge movement that encouraged the gay community to speak up, be heard and seen in order to stir up awareness of AIDS and the gay community. If people were silent, no one would know about what it was or what they could do to help.

Thanks for the history lesson. Have times moved on?

The LGBT+ community do still need to speak up. I’ve been asked if we still need Pride and I’m a resounding YES! Pride is about remembering our past and our achievements so far but it is also about building a better future of acceptance and awareness for everyone. We’re not done yet and we still have a long way to go. Colourful characters like me can help create awareness- and address the sometimes more serious issues in an engaging and accessible way.

“The LGBT+ community do still need to speak up… We’re not done yet and we still have a long way to go.”

How has drag changed over the years?

Drag has always been around in different forms of performance. The most familiar part in history would be the players of Shakespeare’s days when women weren’t allowed to act on stage, so men took all the parts. Some people say the word ‘drag’ was coined in these times, because the oversized dresses would drag along the stage floor! Drag became famous again as an artform in the days of music hall and vaudeville and forms of it appeared on stage in pantomime (such as the principal boy) but let’s not get it confused with a dame. That’s for another time. We’ve also seen it popular on stage and screen with Hairspray, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Matilda and of course Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994 cult film)
The gorgeous Layton Williams in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (2019)
Danny La Rue
The wonderful Danny La Rue

It is still performance; but it is always changing. I must mention the global influence of RuPaul for these modern times, but I would also consider the gender-bending aesthetic of David Bowie and even glam rock and The Rocky Horror Show all have a part to play in shaping our attitude of forms of drag. Personally, I swoon over the nostalgic days of Danny La Rue – a harmless bit of entertainment done with class and sophistication.

“Drag is an artform that is created and practiced by the people of the community it speaks the loudest to. It is for everybody.”

What’s the difference with the types of drag?

Drag has no rules darling. That’s the point of it. Some are known as artistes or female or male impersonators. We also have drag kings, bio queens and many more titles but and recently we’ve seen a surge in non-binary terms for it all too. You must also remember that it is also different to transgender or transvestitism, but it’s even more important to remember that everybody can do drag, it doesn’t matter who you are.

“Drag is an artform that is created and practiced by the people of the community it speaks the loudest to. It is for everybody.”

Sometimes drag can portray bitter characters or ones who’s humour can be offensive or when they are derogatory in their approach or what they say. Now that isn’t my cup of tea – but just like the wide range of entertainment we see around us it has a place within the umbrella.

What do people say when you tell them what you do?

Frankly I am shocked if they don’t know who I am – but when I do shed a little light upon my illustrious career it either raises eyebrows (even higher than mine) or provides a very good conversation at a dinner party. Like I said earlier; it is an artform and it is crafted. If not amazement and praise, there is the burden of judgement and disapproval or even disgusted gruntles.

There is also the judgement from within the LGBT+ community. I wholeheartedly agree about concerns of bounding around outdated stereotypes and whimsical fashions – but this glamour has a concrete grounding in our history and in the heart of building a sense of community. With most colourful characters like me, our intention is to bring people together and open discussion and amusement about who we all are and how we can all share a universal love together.

Let’s consider this year, 2019, as we remember the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots. If it wasn’t for members of the trans and drag community who were there at the heart of it, we wouldn’t have the Pride movement or liberation we can celebrate today.

“If it wasn’t for members of the trans and drag community … we wouldn’t have the Pride movement or the liberation we can celebrate today.”

Titania Trust is based in Norwich and is fondly known as the Diva of Norfolk. She travels extensively and has performed at many festivals, theatres and cabaret, other venues and on film and television. Her successful tour of Storytime with Auntie Titania is designed for young children and their families and explores the themes of friendship, identity and acceptance in community spaces and libraries. Titania is hosting our main stage on the big day itself and welcomes the chance to meet everybody and share some selfies!

Remember to follow me online with Facebook and Instagram.

You can read more about Norwich Pride on their marvellous website which details all the events of this year! Read more