The Queer Art of Drag
Drag is an art form with a rich history of challenging dominant norms and systems of oppression; building queer community; and cultivating experiences of queer joy in a hostile world; but drag has also been deployed in service of violent ideologies and can sometimes participate in harmful normative logics. Critical drag explores drag performance as an outlet for social critique, pedagogy, and queer world making.
The Department of Women & Gender Studies, in collaboration with community partners at the Gender Resource Office, The End, Spectrum, Westside Unitarian Church, local drag performers, and LGBTQ organizations in Fort Worth, has produced a series of opportunities to develop campus vocabulary and understanding of drag history and practice.
This page contains scholarship, performances, and articles about 1.) the history of drag 2.) drag at TCU and 3.) resources for those who want to develop their own critical drag personas.
Drag at TCU
TCU offers many opportunities to learn more about drag, including courses, articles, performances, and lectures. Here's a look at some of the drag initiatives at TCU:
- WGST Course: The Queer Art of Drag
- TCU Diverse History Timeline: Drag at TCU
- TCU's Annual Night of Drag Show 2019-2021
- TCU's Annual Night of Drag 2022
- Maria von Clapp & LaShawnah Tovah Read AIDS Poetry 2021
- Critical Drag Symposium 2019
Special Topic: The Queer Art of Drag (WGST 30903)
Course design and instruction: Dr. Nino Testa
Dance Coach: Mariana Gonzalez-Berrocal
Read Full Syllabus Here
In the early 20th century, students sometimes performed elaborate same-sex wedding rituals in drag. A 1918 Skiff article describes a womanless wedding sponsored by the Domestic Science Department, which “proved to be one of the funniest and most ludicrous things that has ever happened in the University…there were a number of handsome men, and also some of the boys who were dressed as girls made exceptionally beautiful girls.” The bride, Miss Henerey Fussell, and groom, Judge Raley, had a full wedding party and exchanged vows. There are records of these festivities through the 1940s.
Straight Students at Gay Bars
In two features on gay life at TCU, a former student shares his experience feeling like the only gay man on TCU’s campus for a year and a half, only to be followed by a story detailing a group of straight TCU women who regularly go to gay clubs in Dallas for fun, but dread the Friday night drag show. The article describes the drag queens as oddities and focuses on the straight student experience of escaping from TCU to the exoticized gay bars. Click here to read the full piece.
Local Drag as Oddity for TCU Students
The TCU publication etCetera profiles a drag show at the Fort Worth gay bar The Other Place, starring Bette Sheba, the drag persona of Ricky Knerr. The article refers to Knerr as a “manwoman,” but Knerr is queerly defiant: “You can call me a queer in a dress, man in panty hose, whatever, I don’t care.” He explains the tricks of the trade and insists that he loves being a man who loves men but loves putting on show that is “more flashy Las Vegas showgirl types.” That year Ricky Knerr won entertainer of the year in Texas. The author remarks, “Coming to a gay bar, the straight person will find normal appearing people…there is nothing about their outward appearance that tells the viewer if the patron is heterosexual or homosexual.” Click here for more.
Drag as Homecoming Activity
In the fall of ’83, a Daily Skiff showcases different parties happening throughout the week of Homecoming. One event, titled “Mr. Drag Queen Contests” is for “males only” and offers $150 in prizes for the best performers. Click here for more.
Drag at Stonewall: Correcting the Record
At an event organized by Betty Benison for her human sexuality class, Michael Smerick Jr., the president of Tarrant County Gay Alliance, discusses the history of gay liberation citing the 1969 Stonewall riots and the role that drag queens, not gay men, played in the rebellion against police violence. Street queens, like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, identified as drag queens but were not stage performers; instead, we now refer to them as trans women.
Click here to see more.1989
A Night in Wonderland
The 7th Annual Drag Show, “A Night in Wonderland,” sponsored by the TCU Gay-Straight Alliance hosted more than 130 people at the BLUU and featured local performers Zimora Davenport and Eliott Puckett (known as Eliott with two Ts on the 13th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race), raising money for Youth First Texas, an LGBTQ youth organization. Click here to read the full article.
Spectrum Rebrands Drag Show
Spectrum, QUOTA (then TCU’s graduate LGBTQIA+ group), and Triota (TCU’s Women and Gender Studies Honor Society) host the first rebranded Spectrum Drag Show. The event featured local drag queen Kiana Lee as MC and included performances by Sapphire Davenport, Chanel St. John, Andre Versace, Addison L. Foster, and Mulan Alexander. In addition to the drag performances, the event also included an hour of feminist karaoke.
Read more here!February 2017
TCU’s current LGBTQIA+ organization Spectrum put on “A Night of Drag” which was an event that set the bar high for future drag shows or events at TCU. With a crowd of 350, it successfully raised money for LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S., an organization that offers assistance to youth and families in Fort Worth. Read the full article here.
Critical Drag at TCU
TCU Women and Gender Studies department held a three-day “Critical Drag Residency” with LaWhore Vagistan aka Dr. Kareem Khubchandani and Lola Von Miramar aka Dr. Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes as well as other experts on drag. One event, “Crafting Your Drag” helped students conceptualize performances for the 2020 Spectrum Drag Show, which was eventually canceled due to Covid-19. Read more here.
Queer Art of Drag
Dr. Nino Testa taught the first academic course at TCU focused on the art of drag. Students developed their own drag personas and recorded their own drag performances to be screened during Spectrum’s annual “Night of Drag. Due to Covid-19, a small number of students attended a live show, with student performance screened between the professional performances, and the entire show was livestreamed to the community.
To view more Diverse History Timelines, click here!
In 2019, WGST student Sophie King made a short documentary about the creation of Spectrum’s Night of Drag featuring TCU performers reflecting on their drag personas and what it means to them to do drag on campus.
In 2021, The End, Spectrum, GRO, and WGST produced a hybrid drag show featuring student videos from The Queer Art of Drag and live local performers.
Maria von Clapp & LaShawnah Tovah Read AIDS Poetry
In commemoration of World AIDS Day 2021 and the 40th anniversary of the first reported cases of HIV, TCU’s Maria von Clapp and LaShawnah Tovah created a virtual poetry reading series featuring the AIDS poetry of Michelle Cliff, Melvin Dixon, Zoe Leonard, and more. Learn more about the history of HIV/AIDS and queer activist responses to the epidemic:
2019 TCU Gender Resource Office Symposium
Co-Sponsored by GRO and WGST, the Critical Drag Residency featured performer/scholars LaWhore Vagistan/Kareem Khubchandani and Lola von Miramar/Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, who visited several classes, led a drag workshop, and delivered the keynote address below, which focused on drag as a critical performance practice:
- The Queer Art of Drag: A New Course Taught Students How to Create Their Own Drag Personas, by Katherine Lester (2021)
- “What is Critical Drag?” by Fred Trevino (2021)
- “Reading is Fundamental” by Fred Trevino (2021)
- “When Drag is Activism” by Fred Trevino (2021)
Drag 101: Research and Resources
Interested in learning more about the queer art of drag? We've compiled a list of resources, worksheets, tutorials, and scholarship to help you get started, based on the syllabus for WGST 30903: The Queer Art of Drag.
- K. Bradford, “Grease Cowboy Fever, or, the Making of Johnny T.”
- Alexis Brown, “Being and Performance in RuPaul’s Drag Race“
- Jack Halberstam, “Mack Daddy, Superfly, Rapper: Gender, Race, and Masculinity in the Drag King Scene”
- Kareem Khubchandani, Lessons in Drag: An Interview with LaWhore Vagistan
- Kareem Khubchandani, Ishtyle: Accenting Gay Indian Nightlife
- Alana Kumbier, “One Body, Some Genders: Drag Performances and Technologies”
- Dr. Lady J, “From the Love Ball to RuPaul: The Mainstreaming of Drag in the 1990s”
- José Muñoz, “The White to Be Angry: Vaginal Davis’s Terrorist Drag”
- Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, Trans Locas: The Politics of Puerto Rican Drag and Trans Performance
- The Complicated Truth About Female Drag Queens
- Maxx Pleasure, 3 Tips for Creating Your Drag Persona
- LaWhore Vagistan, How to Be An Auntie
- 10 Tips for New Drag Performers
- Lola von Miramar, Cooking with Drag Queens
- 100 Years of Drag Kings
- How I Became a Drag King
- Asian-American Drag Queens & Kings Celebrate Queer Identity
- A Storme Life
- Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
- Matt Baume, How Drag is Different from Blackface?
Thinking about crafting a drag persona or performance? Do some brainstorming first: