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Drag has really taken off recently. It seems like every queen who’s watched an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race thinks they’re an expert on the art of drag – but there are as many kinds of drag as there are drag queens. While we can’t hop to introduce you to all of them, here’s a non-comprehensive, probably sweepingly broad guide to (some of) the different drag queens you might find on your queer travels.
The classic distinctions are High Camp and Low Camp. High Camp is the kind of drag that wants to impress – those queens who are so flawless and beautiful that they make you gag. While High Camp is the apotheosis of the drag illusion, Low Camp is when the illusion draws attention to its own artificial nature. Low Camp includes pastiches of celebrities, drag that blurs gender roles, and drag that moves beyond mere impersonation of the opposite gender to something else entirely.
So while you may get hung up on contouring and realness, remember that drag isn’t always about trying to look like a woman – and it’s definitely about more than looking ‘perfect’. (There are always some party poopers who’ll always claim theirs is the only legitimate type of drag.)
But onto business. These distinctions are mine only, and most other drag queens will probably disagree with at least one (if not all) of them. We encourage you to sound off (or read) in the comments.
You know the type: doorwhores, performers, promoters. They run the best nights on the scene and are mainly just paid to hang around being fabulous. Their drag is often inspired by music – from Boy George to the Club Kids – and their looks are typically outlandish, riffing off a club’s theme.
Pageant queens love to compete. You’ll catch them at every competition – and they always mean business. Expect flawless lipsyncs, fierce looks and a walk-in wardrobe that’d make Carrie Bradshaw gag. Pageant queens typically have big looks and even bigger hair.
Bio queens (or faux queens) are women who do drag. They subvert gender roles by subverting drag itself – if drag is ‘female impersonation’ what is a woman who impersonates a female? In a gay world often dominated by white cis men, the bio queen faces a different kind of challenge – curiously one that mirrors some trans* experiences – i.e., the pressure to prove herself as ‘authentic’.
As faux queen Hoku Mama Swamp said, ‘I was born to love faggots, queens, and trannies, and have slowly been morphing into them since childhood.’
The film Connie and Carla features two women who become undercover faux queens in order to get a job in a drag bar.
Tranimals are less interested in looking ‘fishy’ and more interested in fucking with your minds. Their look is intentionally bust-up, DIY and trashy. These queens often wear tights and fabric over their faces – which allows them to keep a beard through the week and play ‘trans terrorist’ at the weekend.
And for the record, this is how you become a tranimal:
The queen mamas (or house mothers) run their own squadrons of drags. They have a style and their children run with it. They lead the girls in the vogue balls, help them with their make-up and fix their hair. They always have an old pair of shoes they’re willing to donate to the younger girls. These mamas are fierce and don’t need to do anything any more – they just appear, their presences big enough to awe, and preside over the night. Many queen mamas used to be pageant queens.
The baby drags keep close to their drag mama. They’re still learning contouring and their outfits are handed down from the queens who came before them, but they’re full of sass and still look at the scene with that kind of wide-eyed optimism that you can’t help but find endearing. They often display flashes of brilliance and insight, and offer a fresher perspective on a scene that sometimes veers towards being passe.
The trans drags are queens who also identify as trans women – sometimes they began as drag queens, and other times they came to drag later. They present as women in their daily lives – and at night, like the bio queens, doll themselves up to create something even more fabulous. Like bio queens, they layer their female selves with a second helping of womanhood, giving you two fish for the price of one. Many trans drags joined the drag community as a safe space to explore their gender identity and consider themselves firm allies of drag queens.
The activessle’s are drag collectives who typically dress alike and serve a particular purpose in their community. For instance, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who have chapters across the world and who typically appear dressed as nuns to raise money for good causes.
The drag king is a woman who dresses as a man. She may also fall into a number of the other categories listed above. Many drag queens also participate in pageants and perform alongside drag queens – although some prefer to keep all-woman company. Drag kings often explore ideas of dominance, power and aggression – by providing some masculine realness.
‘Bernard Manning in a Dress’
Do these queens still really exist? Really?