A new generation of drag queens are taking over the spotlight which has left the older, more traditional queens struggling to make a living. Hollie Hargood investigates this new era of drag which has left an uncertain future for many.
Thousands of men across the UK perform in drag. From those with a very traditional appearance, to those with a more modern style. Men such as Ben, Aaron and Chris, transform into Lucinda, Nova and Peach for both entertainment and work purposes.
Traditional drag queen Lucinda Lashes, known to family and friends as Ben, has been performing professionally around the UK for nearly two decades and has experienced the decline first hand. “In the last ten years we’ve had some pretty historical venues shut down that were probably three of the oldest gay venues in the UK. I’m self employed and with that you don’t know what’s going to happen from day to day.”
However, the decline faced by traditional drags isn’t a concern for those performing online. Richard, otherwise known as Olympia, makes up one half of the famous YouTube drag duo Novympia. “Drag is exploding as a result of the Internet and RuPaul’s Drag Race (Logo TV’s drag competition) and it’s exciting to see where it’s going.”
“Drag is a solid part of LGBT history so I don’t think there is any danger of it dying out.”
Novympia opitimises the new and emerging drag forms of today- both Olympia and Nova have developed their own innovative style, breaking the boundaries of traditional drag. “Stereotypical drag artists are the style of an older era. The point is that now that the internet age has come along, the definition of what drag is has been expanded,” says Olympia.
As drag is made more accessible via the internet and is more widespread, it has become crucial to use social media to engage this new, younger generation. “Times change. You have to move with the times or stay left behind,” says Nova, “But because somebody does something different to the way you do it, it doesn’t discredit their talent or yours.”
Today, with only 9% of drag queens aged between 50-59, the more traditional performers are hard to come by. Alf, 50, more commonly known to his London audience of four decades as Julie Paid, has always worked within the traditional drag boundaries: “It’s really sad that we’ve lost a lot of old drag. It’s the attention to detail that we give. Anyone downstairs in the bar doesn’t know I spend an hour getting ready, like you see with these drag queens online, they just see Julie on stage and that’s how it should be.”
But with a variety of drag forms emerging, men have the creativity to develop a more individual style. Christopher discovered androgyny less than a year ago, and since then has been experimenting with his character Peach. “Androgyny is more about the make up and trying to be creative and arty. You paint your face and you may wear a pair of heels, but you keep a masculine side and wear men’s clothes.” Androgyny is an example of how drag has adapted overtime. It breaks the boundaries of traditional drag and offers something new.
RuPaul’s Drag Race, an American television series in which world famous drag queen RuPaul searches for America’s next drag superstar, has inspired a lot of young men.
The show was brought to the UK last year, in search of a UK Drag ambassador and representative of RuPaul’s brand. Liverpool queen The Vivienne was crowned champion and is now the voice of all UK drag queens. With her new title, she is aiming to change people’s perception of the industry. “I’ve always been an unofficial ambassador for RuPaul’s Drag Race anyway, so this has given me the platform to really get the message out there. I want people to know it’s an actual art form and we can do anything – sing, dance, lip-sync, stand-up-comedy, and paint ourselves into beautiful women, club kids and freaks.”
“Stereotypical drag artists are the style of an older era. The point is that now that the internet age has come along, the definition of what drag is has been expanded.”
The Vivienne is just one of many drag professionals hoping to make a change in the industry. Mark Edward, senior lecturer at Edge Hill University in Lancashire, has devised a module titled ‘The Drag Kings and Queens of Performance’ which is being introduced to the performing arts course this month.
The University is the first higher education institution in the UK to offer a module studying drag as a performance art. “Drag as a performance art form has seen a relative decline in the past decade, yet there are new and exciting emerging forms coming through which makes this module all the more relevant to performance contexts,” explains Mark.
Although it takes years of practice, make up tutorials and criticism to become a successful drag queen, many hope that the introduction of the University course, will broaden people’s minds to the different forms of drag out there. “I think it will make people more comfortable with the topic and begin to appreciate it and understand it,” says Chris, “It will be good for people to know what it is all about and see how many different sides there are to drag.”
Others believe that, even though there has been a huge change in the dynamics of drag, the industry will continue to thrive. “Drag is a solid part of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) history so I don’t think there’s any danger of it dying out,” says Olympia, “Gender is such a fixed part of who we are as humans that we’re always going to want to explore it.”
An industry which continues to evolve everyday, now finds itself transitioning from traditional to modern day drag. Although the art form is not dying out, traditional drag is becoming less current. Today, drag queens over the age of 50 are few and far between, losing business due to their inability to cater for a younger audience. Without adapting, these drag artists will continue to lose out to the younger and more versatile queens. But as the boundaries of traditional drag are being broken there is now an opportunity to be more creative.
Click here to watch Drag Life in Soho. A visual documentary that looks into the extravagant lifestyle of drag in Soho.
Click here to listen to The Real Name Policy. A news package which explores the problems drag queens have faced on social media sites.
Click here to learn about the transformation of a drag queen, from the point of view of Lucinda Lashes.