100 Years of Drag Queen Fashion in 4 Minutes: An Aesthetic Journey Moving from the 1920s Through Today

Drag superstar RuPaul’s Drag Race program can be credited with bringing his subculture to a much wider audience.

For ten seasons, viewers outside the major metropolitan areas and select holiday destinations where drag has flourished have tuned in to root for their favorite competitors.

As a result, mainstream America has developed a much more nuanced appreciation for the labor and artistry behind successful drag performance and personae.




Vanity Fair’s "100 Years of Drag Queen Fashion," above, is not so much an evolutionary history of the form as a salute to some of its pioneers, practitioners, and patron saints.

Each decade opens with a Drag Race alum facing the makeup mirror in a relatively naked state.  Shangela Laquifa Wadley, Raja, and Detox all appear sans fard. Kim Chi’s heavily made up eyes are eyelash-free.

The 70’s spin on the late, great Divine is more reminiscent of cis-gender disco queen Donna Summer than the outrageous plus-sized muse director John Waters referred to as “the most beautiful woman in the world, almost.”

As portrayed in the video below, there’s a strong echo of 1930’s Pansy Performer Jean Malin in RuPaul’s glamorous presentation.

In reality, the resemblance is not quite so strong. Although Malin got dolled up in Mae West drag in 1933’s Arizona to Broadway, above, left to his own devices his stage presence was that of an openly effeminate gay man, or “pansy.” As Professor George Chauncey, director of Columbia University’s Research Initiative on the Global History of Sexualities observes in his book, Gay New York:

 His very presence on the club floor elicited the catcalls of many men in the club, but he responded to their abuse by ripping them to shreds with the drag queen's best weapon: his wit. 'He had a lisp, and an attitude, but he also had a sharp tongue,' according to one columnist. 'The wise cracks and inquiries of the men who hooted at his act found ready answer.' And if hostile spectators tried to use brute force to take him on after he had defeated them with his wit, he was prepared to humble them on those terms as well. 'He was a huge youth,' one paper reported, 'weighing 200, and a six footer. Not a few professional pugilists sighed because Jean seemed to prefer dinner rings to boxing rings.' Although Malin's act remained tame enough to safeguard its wide appeal, it nonetheless embodied the complicated relationship between pansies and 'normal' men. His behavior was consistent with their demeaning stereotype of how a pansy should behave, but he demanded their respect; he fascinated and entertained them, but he also threatened and infuriated them.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Other legendary figures honored by Vanity Fair include Francis Renault (1893-1955), Lavern Cummings (1925-1991), and Danny LaRue (1927-2009).

Also some gender bending lad by the name David Bowie, though if Vanity Fair’s skinny Divine causes a slight sense of unease, the hideous vinyl raincoat sported by its snarling, whip-wielding Bowie facsimile may send fans scuttling for torches and pitchforks.

As to the future, Joan Jetson collars and pink wedding cake wigs appear to be part of drag’s fashion forecast.

Cis-male skeletal structures may not always lend themselves to period-appropriate female silhouettes, but the towering heels on display are faithful to the art of the drag queen, above all else.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Truth Behind Jane Austen’s Fight Club: Female Prize Fights Were a Thing During the 18th Century

The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. 

The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club! 

- Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Could it be a case of authorial oversight that all subsequent rules are exclusively concerned with such practical matters as dress and fight duration?

Given the macho reputation of both the book and the film adaptation, it seems like the third rule of Fight Club should be: you DO NOT talk about the fact that a fair number of Edwardian ladies were badass bare knuckle fighters.

Because doing so might diminish Fight Club’s street cred just a bitsy…




Filmmaker (and popular audiobook narrator) Emily Janice Card has a good deal of fun in Jane Austen's Fight Club, above, marrying Palahniuk’s tropes to the social mores of England’s Regency period.

“No corsets, no hat pins and no crying,” Tyler Durden stand-in Lizzie instructs the eager young ladies in her circle. Soon, they’re proudly sporting bruises beneath their bonnets and stray blood spots on their tea dresses.

While young women of the fictional Bennet sisters’ social class refrained from brutal fisticuffs, there’s ample evidence of female combatants from the proletarian ranks. They fought for money, and occasionally to settle a disagreement, training hard for weeks in advance.

Their bouts drew spectators to the amphitheater owned by boxing promoter James Figg, and the marvelously named Hockley in the Hole, a seedy establishment whose other attractions included bearbaiting, bullbaiting, and fighting with broadswords and cudgels.

The female fist fighters challenged each other with paid notices in local papers, like this one from “championess and ass-driver” Ann Field of Stoke Newington:

Whereas I, Ann Field, of Stoke Newington, ass-driver, well known for my abilities, in boxing in my own defense wherever it happened in my way, having been affronted by Mrs. Stokes, styled the European Championess, do fairly invite her to a trial of her best skill in Boxing for 10 pounds, fair rise and fall; and question not but to give her such proofs of my judgment that shall oblige her to acknowledge me Championess of the Stage, to the satisfaction of all my friends.

Mrs. Stokes promptly announced her readiness to come out of retirement:

I, Elizabeth Stokes, of the City of London, have not  fought in this way since I fought the famous boxing- woman of Billingsgate 29 minutes, and gained a complete victory (which is six years ago); but as the famous Stoke Newington ass-woman dares me to fight her for the 10 pounds, I do assure her I will not fail meeting her for the said sum, and doubt not that the blows which I shall present her with will be more difficult for her to digest than any she ever gave her asses.

Rather than keeping mum on Fight Club, these female pugilists shared Muhammad Ali's flare for drumming up interest with irresistibly cocky wordplay.

References to adversaries fighting in “close jacket, short petticoats, and holland drawers … with white stockings and pumps" suggest that the adversaries played to the spectators’ prurience, though not always. Unlike the 20th-century stunt of bikini clad jello wrestling, sex appeal was not obligatory.

In a chapter devoted to public entertainments, sports and amusements, Alexander Andrews, author of The Eighteenth Century or Illustrations of the Manners and Customs of Our Grandfathers, documents how the Merry Wives of Windsor, a crew comprised of “six old women belonging to Windsor town” took out an ad seeking “any six old women in the universe to outscold them.”

On June 22nd, 1768, a woman called Bruising Peg "beat her antagonist in a terrible manner" to win a new chemise, valued at half a guinea.

In 1722, Hannah Hyfield of Newgate Market, resolved to give her challenger, Elizabeth Wilkinson, “more blows than words,” promising to deliver “a good thumping.” Both parties agreed to hold a half-crown in their fists for the duration of the fight. William B. Boulton, author of 1901’s Amusements of Old London, speculates that this was a practical measure to minimize scratching and hair-pulling.

Time travel to an 18th-century female bare knuckles fight via Female Single Combat Club’s exhaustive coverageSarah Murden’s excellent analysis of John Collet’s painting, The Female Bruisers, above, or Jeremy Freeston’s short documentary available on YouTube.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Theorist Judith Butler Explains How Behavior Creates Gender: A Short Introduction to “Gender Performativity”

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” wrote Simone de Beauvoir in one of the most famous articulations of the difference between sex and gender. By this, de Beauvoir does not mean us to believe that no one is born with reproductive organs, but that the social role of “woman” (or for that matter “man”) comes from a collection of behaviors into which we are socialized. The distinction is crucial for understanding most feminist and queer theory and the variety of human identity more generally, yet it’s one that too often gets lost in popular usage of the words sex and gender. Biology does not determine gender differences, culture does.

Gender becomes naturalized, woven so tightly into the social fabric that it seems like a necessary part of reality rather than a contingent production of history. Just how this happens is complicated—we don’t invent these roles, they are invented for us, as Judith Butler argues in her essay “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution.”




Gender identity “is a performative accomplishment,” she writes, “compelled by social sanction and taboo…. Gender is… an identity instituted through a repetition of acts.” For a somewhat more straightforward summary of her theory of “performativity,” see Butler in the Big Think video above, in which she describes gender as a “phenomenon that’s being produced all the time and reproduced all the time."

Still unclear? Well, it’s complicated, but so is every other facet of human identity many people take for granted, especially people whose gender expression doesn’t threaten strict societal norms. For a more thorough overview of these concepts, see the Philosophy Tube video above, which explains Butler’s theory and a number of other terms central to the discourse, such as “gender essentialism” and “social constructivism.” One thing to note about Butler's theory, as both she and our philosopher above explain, is that “performativity,” though it uses a theatrical metaphor, is not the same as “performance.” Gender is not a costume one puts on and takes off, like a Shakespearean actor playing male characters one night and female characters the next.

Rather, the technical term “performative” means for Butler an act that not only communicates but also creates an identity. Some examples offered above of performative speech include saying “guilty” at a trial, which turns one into an inmate, or saying “I do” at a wedding, which turns one into a spouse. Performative acts of gender do a similar kind of work, not only communicating to others some aspect of identity, but constructing that very identity, only they do that work through repetition. As de Beauvoir argued, we are not born a self, we become, or create, a self, through social pressure to conform and through “reiterating and repeating the norms through which one is constituted,” Butler writes.

As we might expect of any cultural construct, gender norms vary widely both inter- and intra-culturally and throughout historical periods. And given their constructed nature, they can change in any number of ways. Therefore, according to Butler, “there’s not really any grounds,” as our philosophy explainer puts it, “for saying that somebody’s ‘doing their gender wrong.’”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Pop Art Posters Celebrate Pioneering Women Scientists: Download Free Posters of Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace & More

We all know the name Marie Curie—or at least I hope we do. But for far too many people, that’s where their knowledge of women in science ends. Which means that thousands of young boys and girls who read about Isaac Newton and Louis Pasteur never also learn the story of Caroline Herschel (1750–1848), the first woman to discover a comet, publish with the Royal Society, and receive a salary for scientific work—as the assistant to the king’s astronomer, her brother, in 19th century England. Herschel discovered and catalogued new nebulae and star clusters; received a gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society; and she and her brother William “increased the number of known star clusters,” writes the Smithsonian, “from 100 to 2,500.” And yet, she remains almost totally obscure.

Open a math or physics textbook and you may not come across the name Emmy Noether (1882-1935), either, despite the fact that she “proved two theorems,” the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) notes, “that were basic for both general relativity and elementary particle physics. One is still known as ‘Noether’s Theorem.’”




Noether fought hard for recognition in life. She received her Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Göttingen in 1907, and she eventually surpassed her scientist father and brothers. But at first, she could only secure work at the Mathematical Institute of Erlangen in a position without title or pay. And despite her brilliance, she was only allowed to teach at Göttingen University as the assistant to David Hilbert, also without a salary.

Noether suffered discrimination in Germany “owing not only to prejudices against women, but also because she was a Jew, a Social Democrat, and a pacifist.” Other prominent women in scientific history have encountered similarly intersecting forms of discrimination, and continue to do so. Much has changed since the times of Herschel and of Noether, but “there is much work to be done,” writes Eamon O’Flynn of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. “Part of making positive change includes celebrating the contributions women have made to science, especially those women overlooked in their time.” For this reason, the Perimeter Institute has created a poster series, called "Forces of Nature," for “classrooms, dorm rooms, living rooms, offices, and physics departments.”

The posters feature Curie, Noether, computing pioneer Ada Lovelace, stellar astronomer Annie Jump Cannon, and “first lady of physics” Chien-Shiung Wu. Should you want one or all of these as high-resolution images printable up to 24”x36”, visit the Perimeter Institute’s site and follow the links to fill out a short form. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, or mentor—these striking pop art posters seem like an excellent way to get a conversation about women in science started. Follow up with the Smithsonian’s “Ten Historic Female Scientists You Should Know,” SDSC's Women in Science project, Rachel Ignotofsky’s Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World, and—for a contemporary view of women working in every possible STEM field—the Association for Women in Science.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Maria Anna Mozart Was a Musical Prodigy Like Her Brother Wolfgang, So Why Did She Get Erased from History?

When people ask why we have specifically black histories, or queer histories, or women’s histories, it can be hard for many who do historical research to take the question seriously. But in fairness, such questions point to the very reason that alternative or “revisionist” histories exist. We cannot know what we are not told about history—at least not without doing the kind of digging professional scholars can do. Virginia Woolf’s tragic, but fictional, history of Shakespeare’s sister notwithstanding, the claims made by cultural critics about marginalization and oppression aren’t based on speculation, but on case after case of individuals who were ignored by, or shut out of, the wider culture, and subsequently disappeared from historical memory.

One such extraordinary case involves the real sister of another towering European figure whose life we know much more about than Shakespeare’s. Before Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart began writing his first compositions, his older sister Maria Anna Mozart, nicknamed Nannerl, had already proven herself a prodigy.




The two toured Europe together as children—she was with her brother during his 18-month stay in London. “There are contemporaneous reviews praising Nannerl,” writes Sylvia Milo, “and she was even billed first.” A 1763 review, for example, sounds indistinguishable from those written about young Wolfgang.

Imagine an eleven-year-old girl, performing the most difficult sonatas and concertos of the greatest composers, on the harpsichord or fortepiano, with precision, with incredible lightness, with impeccable taste. It was a source of wonder to many.

18th century classical audiences first came to know Wolfgang as part of a brother-sister duo of “wunderkinder.” But the sister half has been airbrushed out of the picture. She does not appear in the definitive Hollywood treatment, Milos Forman’s Amadeus. And, moreover, she only recently began to emerge in the academic and classical worlds. “I grew up studying to be a violinist,” writes Sylvia Milo. “Neither my music history nor my repertoire included any female composers.”

With my braided hair I was called “little Mozart” by my violin teacher, but he meant Wolfi. I never heard that Amadeus had a sister. I never heard of Nannerl Mozart until I saw that family portrait.

In the portrait (top), Nannerl and Wolfgang sit together at the harpsichord while their father Leopold stands nearby. Nannerl, in the foreground, has an enormous pompadour crowning her small oval face. Of the hairdo, she wrote to her brother, in their typically playful rapport, “I am writing to you with an erection on my head and I am very much afraid of burning my hair.”

After discovering Nanerl, Milo poured through the historical archives, reading contemporary accounts and personal letters. The research gave birth to a one-woman play, The Other Mozart, which has toured for the last four years to critical acclaim. (See a trailer video above). In her Guardian essay, Milo describes Nannerl’s fate: “left behind in Salzberg” when she turned 18. “A little girl could perform and tour, but a woman doing so risked her reputation…. Her father only took Wolfgang on their next journeys around the courts of Europe. Nannerl never toured again.” We do know that she wrote music. Wolfgang praised one composition as “beautiful” in a letter to her. But none of her music has survived. “Maybe we will find it one day,” Milo writes. Indeed, an Australian researcher claims to have found Nannerl’s “musical handwriting” in the compositions Wolfgang used for practice.

Other scholars have speculated that Mozart’s sister, five years his senior, certainly would have had some influence on his playing. “No musicians develop their art in a vacuum,” says musical sociologist Stevan Jackson. “Musicians learn by watching other musicians, by being an apprentice, formally or informally.” The question may remain an academic one, but the life of Nannerl has recently become a matter of popular interest as well, not only in Milo’s play but in several novels, many titled Mozart’s Sister, and a 2011 film, also titled Mozart’s Sister, written and directed by René Féret and starring his daughter in the titular role. The trailer above promises a richly emotional period drama, which—as all entertainments must do—takes some liberties with the facts as we know, or don't know, them, but which also, like Milo's play, gives flesh to a significant, and significantly frustrated, historical figure who had, for a couple hundred years, at least, been rendered invisible.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Cult Director John Waters Hosts a Summer Camp for Naughty Adult Campers: Enrollment for the 2018 Edition Opens Today

I hated sports at camp, so at this camp I think we should reward every team that loses. This would be the camp where the fat people get picked first in dodge ball. 

- Filmmaker-cum-Camp Director John Waters

I can think of many children who would scramble toward the refuge of the compassionate statement above, but Camp John Waters is a decidedly adult activity.

The Pope of Trash shares actor Bill Murray’s relish for oddball settings in which he can meet the public as something close to a peer. But whereas Murray specializes in surprise drop-in appearances—reciting poetry to construction workers, crashing parties—Waters favors more immersive experiences, such as hitchhiking coast to coast.

His latest stunt brought him and 300 fellow travelers to a rustic Connecticut facility (from Sept 22-24) that normally hosts corporate team building events, family camps, and weekend getaways for playful 20-to-30-somethings keen to make new friends while zip lining, playing pingpong, and partying in the main lodge.

ARTnews pegged the inaugural session thusly:

 The Waters camp combines two of the more absurd developments in contemporary leisure: the celebrity-based getaway (see also: the Gronk Cruise) and a certain recreational aesthetic that seems to advocate for a sort of developmental purgatory.

Here,  there were no reluctant, homesick campers, weeping into their Sloppy Joes. This was a self-selecting bunch, eager to break out their wigs and leopard print, weave enemy bracelets at the arts and crafts station, and bypass anything smacking of official outdoor recreation, save the lake, where inflatable pink flamingos were available for aquatic lollygagging.

“Who really wants to go wall climbing?” the founder himself snorted in his welcoming speech, adding that he would if Joe Dallesandro, the Warhol superstar who according to Waters "forever changed male sexuality in cinema," waited up top.

Naughty references to water sports aside, certain aspects of the camp were downright wholesome. Pine trees and s’mores. Canoes and cabins. Presumably there was a camp nurse. (In Waters' ideal world, this position would be filled by Cry Baby's Traci Lords.)

Waters’ recollections of his own stint at Maryland’s Camp Happy Hollow seem primarily fond. It makes sense. Anyone who truly loathed summer camp would be unlikely to recreate the experience for themselves and their fellow adults.

Camp Waters harkens back to the 1950s transgressions its director merrily fesses up to having participated in: unfiltered cigarettes and short sheeted beds, circle jerks and panty raids. From here on out the subversion will be taking place in the sunlight.

Another special camp memory for Waters is regaling his cabin mates with an original, serialized horror story. He retells it on Celebrity Ghost Stories, above:

At the end there was this hideous gory thing and then all the kids had nightmares and their parents called the camp and complained — and I’m still doing that! It was the beginning of my career…. It was a wonderful lesson for me as a 10-year-old kid that I think helped me become whatever I am today. It gave me the confidence to go ahead, to believe in things, to believe in behavior I couldn’t understand, to be drawn to subject matter I couldn’t understand.

Registration for Camp John Waters 2018 opens today at noon, so grab the bug spray and get ready to sing along:

There is a camp in a place called Kent

It’s name is Camp John Waters

For here we come to spend the night

For we all love to fuck and fight

Camp John Waters - rah rah rah!

Camp John Waters - sisboombah!

Camp John Waters - rah rah rah!

Three cheers for Camp John Waters!

Could Waters’ own contribution to such camp classics as Meatballs, Little Darlings and Wet Hot American Summer be far behind?

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She attended Gnawbone Camp in Gnawbone, Indiana, recapturing that happy experience three decades later as the Mail Lady of Beam Camp.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Strange Story of Dr. James Barry, the Pioneering 19th Century British Doctor Who Was a Woman in Disguise

The work of many recent historians has brought more balance to the field, but even within heavily masculinist, Eurocentric histories, we find nonwhite people who slipped past racial gatekeepers to leave their mark, and women who made it past the gender police—sometimes under the guise of male pen names, and sometimes in disguise, as in the case of Dr. James Barry, who, upon his death in 1865, turned out to be “a perfect female,” as the surprised woman who washed the body discovered.

What makes Dr. Barry—born in Ireland as Margaret Bulkley, niece of the painter James Barry—such a noteworthy person besides passing for male in the company of people who did not tolerate gender fluidity? As the Irish Times writes in a review of a new biography, “her life as James Barry was a succession of audacious firsts—the first woman to become a doctor; the first to perform a successful caesarean delivery; a pioneer in hospital reform and hygiene; and the first woman to rise to the rank of general in the British Army (Barry’s commission, signed by Queen Victoria, still exists).”




When Barry's sex was discovered, it caused a sensation, inspiring everyone from muckraking anonymous journalists to Charles Dickens to weigh in on the case. The tale “was explored in novels,” notes The Guardian, “and even a play,” but the “true story is both more prosaic and infinitely more strange.” The video at the top of the post walks us through Barry’s career serving the Empire in South Africa, where she treated soldiers, lepers, and ailing mothers. Margaret's story as Dr. Barry begins in Cork when, longing for adventure at 18, she first decided to take on the persona of “a hot-tempered ladies’ man,” Atlas Obscura writes, “donning three-inch heeled shoes, a plumed hat, and sword.” When her wealthy uncle passed away and left the family his fortune, she also took his name.

Three years later in 1809, with the encouragement of her mentor and guardian, Venezuelan general Francisco Miranda, “she decided to embody a smooth-faced young man in order to attend the men’s-only University of Edinburgh and practice medicine—a guise that would last for 56 years.” Margaret’s early years were marked by hardship and tragedy. In her teens she had been raped by a family member and had born a child. When she became James Barry, a physician attending to pregnant women, she “had a secret advantage,” her biographers Michael du Preez and Jeremy Dronfield write. “There was not another practicing physician in the world who knew from personal experience what it was like to bear a child.”

But of course, she did not need to experience leprosy or gunshot wounds to treat the many hundreds of patients in her care. Her sex was incidental to her skill as a physician. Margaret Bulkley's transformation may be “one of the longest deceptions of gender identity ever recorded,” writes du Preez. Barry "is remembered for this sensational fact rather than for the real contributions that she made to improve the health and the lot of the British soldier as well as civilians.” The doctor’s wild personal story weaves through the lives of commoners and aristocrats, soldiers and revolutionaries, duels and illicit love affairs, and is surely worthy of an HBO miniseries. Her medical accomplishments are worthy of public memorialization, Joanna Smith argues at CBC News, along with a host of other accomplished women who changed the world, even as their legacies were elbowed aside to make even more room for famous men.

via The Guardian

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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