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Reese’s Pieces » Blog Archive » What’s a ‘drag?’–the reason why men-dressing-up-like-women-&-lip-syncing is important:
"Did you know that the word “travesty” is gay? I’m outing the word “travesty.” Dear “travesty,” you can’t hide in your closet anymore. Come out, come out wherever you are.
Travesty comes from a French word “travesti,” which in turn comes from Latin roots: “trans,” to ‘cross over,’ and “vestire” which means ‘to dress.’ It means, approximately, to disguise oneself, but specifically, to disguise oneself as the opposite of what one would expect: to disguise oneself as the opposite gender. “Cross-Dressing” shows, were popular in big cities in Europe for centuries, especially in ‘male-focused’ brothels called “Molly Houses.” It is in these red-light districts and Molly Houses drag was born, like the most famous Molly House, Mother Clap’s in the Holborn area of London.
Long before gay men had iPhones (NSFW!) with Grindr, they had to find another safe place to find guys like themselves. These taverns in big cities allowed “mollies,” (effeminate men, cross dressers and their adorers) to hang out and just be themselves. Not only where they hook-up spots, they were also community hubs. There was food and drink, games and rooms to crash and wash-up, and lots of entertainment.
The most common form of entertainment at these Molly Houses, were the cross-dressing shows, where professional cross-dressers would nightly doll themselves up aping the most garish of feminine stereotypes and perform ‘campy’ music to entertain the guests.
The patrons of Molly Houses–especially the regulars, and not the secretive, usually married men looking to step out and go “cottaging”–spoke in a sort of slang called “Polari.” It is this dialect from which we get the word drag. Polari was made up of lots of Yiddish words that had been mixed with Italian, Romany, French and English in a big hodgepodge of fun. In Yiddish, “tragen,” means “to wear” which was eventually shorted to “trag,” when speaking about changing; especially for the cross-dressing queens.
Someone at some point noted that the ill-fitting women’s clothing (”trag”) worn by men would “drag” on the floor, and viola! “Drag” was born!
Lady Bunny poses for the Imperial Court System
“Drag Queens,” or men who dress like women and put on entertaining, over the top, frivolous shows, have been at the center of the LGBT community for centuries, and they’ve played no small part in queer history. Drag has always been a staple of LGBT-focused establishments, and its a convention that is unique to the LGBT community and has yet to be co-opted by the straight community (unlike disco, electronic music, campiness, every fashion trend ever, Subarus and sexual liberation)..."
Want to read more, and learn about this Thursday's drag show benefiting the Illini Union Board and the LGBT Resource Center? Please go read AND COMMENT at the page, What’s a ‘drag?’–the reason why men-dressing-up-like-women-&-lip-syncing is important