Drag has a long and storied history and is now exploding out into the mainstream world because of people like RuPaul and shows like RuPaul's Drag Race. But not everyone is familiar with drag and how subversive drag culture can be.
While no one is quite sure where the word "drag" comes from when it comes to dressing in women's clothing, one theory is that it comes from stage directions in Shakespeare's plays. At the time, it was illegal for women to appear on stage, so young men were cast in the roles of females, and the stage direction said "dressed as girl," or dr.a.g. There are other theories that the word comes from stage and theater of the last 1800s or a word from the secret language called Polari. In England, until the middle of the 20th century, it was illegal to be gay, so gays developed a language that only they would understand to help keep themselves safer. It borrowed a lot of terms from the theater, which could make it harder for others to understand what was being said.
Drag queens had to spend years on the down low and hidden in most places. There were drag queen performances in gay clubs, but gay clubs were also hidden because of persecution and the risk of arrest, so not many people outside of queer culture knew about them. There had been drag queens in San Francisco who were more public but who were harassed and arrested.
In 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in NYC, things came to a head. Stonewall was a popular place for the people on the fringe of queer culture to get together, like drag queens. They were often harassed by the police, and people would be arrested if they were wearing clothes that weren't for their gender. After pretty constant harassment, the patrons of Stonewall had enough and started fighting back. One of the first to fight back was a street drag performer, Marsha P. Johnson. Marsha went on to become a very vocal and prominent activist for LGBT+ rights. Marsha wasn't the only drag queen in the frontlines; she's just one of the most well-known. Because of the Stonewall Riots, pride festivals started a year later in June of 1970 and continue today with drag queens as popular performers at various pride parades and celebrations.
RuPaul's Drag Race
Over the years, drag and queer culture has become more mainstream, but nothing has helped it as much as the competition show, RuPaul's Drag Race. RuPaul, who has a long drag career of her own, now helps to launch the careers of other queens and shows the world what drag can be. This show is often spotlighted in drag race show news.
Drag and drag queens have always been a part of queer culture. They have always been subversive and are a leading force in fighting for LGBT+ rights.