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The Language of Georgia McBride

A linguistic guide to the wonderful world of drag

Illustration by Saniya Husain

Drag has come into the cultural spotlight in recent years with the popularity of shows like the reality competition RuPaul’s Drag Raceand Broadway’s Kinky Boots. While these media representations have introduced many viewers to the glamorous sashaying and fierce style of drag for the first time, the roots of drag performance go back many decades. The Legend of Georgia McBride, on stage April 4 through May 14 at the Geffen Playhouse, tells the story of one man’s discovery of, and subsequent journey into, the wild and wonderful world of drag — a world complete with its own rich history, broad vocabulary, tall wigs and even taller heels. Sashay away down our list of drag terminology to learn more!

ACT UP: ACT UP, the acronym for the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, is an international direct action advocacy group working to impact the lives of people with AIDS and to bring about legislation, medical research and treatment and policies to bring an end to the disease, mitigate loss of health and loss of life.

Rexy: “Tell me everything you know about Stonewall. Mattachine. ACT UP.”

Basic: An adjective used to describe any person, place or activity involving obscenely obvious behavior, dress or action. Unsophisticated or having transparent motives. Women being fond of mainstream products and trends while fearing diversity.

Beat: To apply drag makeup.

Brooklyn drag: A new form of drag centered in Brooklyn that features proudly weird, confrontational and frequently hairy drag queens who forsake the glam looks of their foremothers.

Rexy: “But that’s a nice look, I dig it. Very Brooklyn drag.”

Christopher Street: A street in Manhattan’s West Village that became the center of the gay rights movement in the 1970s following the Stonewall riots at the Stonewall Inn, which was on Christopher Street.

Rexy: “Can you even find Christopher Street on a New York City map?”

Drag: The act of dressing in gendered clothing and adopting gendered behaviors as part of a performance — most often clothing and behaviors typically not associated with one’s gender identity. Drag queens perform femininity theatrically. Drag kings perform masculinity theatrically. Drag may be performed as a political comment on gender, as parody, or simply as entertainment. Drag performance does not indicate sexuality, gender identity or sex identity.

Drag name: The name an individual goes by while in drag, usually extravagant or funny, and potentially related to their persona. Drag names can be satirical and play on words or they can be extravagant and glamourous. Other drag names have an in-depth backstory, cultural or geographical significance or are the feminine form of a male name. A drag queen may either pick their name or be given a drag name by a friend or “drag mother.”

Drag show: An entertainment consisting of a variety of songs, monologues or skits featuring either a single performer or groups of performers in drag.

Fish: A drag queen who looks extremely feminine, or resembles a biological woman.

Gender nonconforming: A person who doesn’t conform to society’s binary expectations of gender expression (i.e. masculinity and femininity), and/or society’s expectations of binary gender identity.

Jason: “I went out with a gender nonconformist once.”

Lip syncing: Many drag shows feature performers lip-synching to famous songs while performing a pre-planned pantomime or dance. Performers often imitate the dress and personalities of famous female singers and celebrities while lip-synching.

Mattachine: The Mattachine Society, founded in Los Angeles in 1950 by Harry Hay, was one of the earliest gay rights organizations in the United States.

Persona: The character that a drag queen or king creates through wig, costume, makeup, personality and performance onstage (singing, dancing, lip synching, etc.). Drag personas are often exaggerated alter-egos that liberate performers from the rules and limitations of everyday life.

Tracy: “Okay, there are a million things you need to know about drag but the only thing you need to know right now is that drag is about persona. Who are you? What’s your story?”

Gender pronouns: When in drag, drag queens are referred to by “she, her, hers” pronouns and drag kings by “he, him, his” pronouns to respect the characters they are performing. Using people’s preferred pronouns is an important part of respecting and accepting gender identity. Eddie: “I said I’d let him…er, um, I’d let her and her friend do their act at Cleo’s.”

Queen: A slang term used to refer to a flamboyant or effeminate gay man, which can be pejorative or celebrated as a type of self-identification. Also a shortening of “drag queen,” used as a term of endearment in the drag community.

Shade: The casting of aspersions. A form of insult. Bluntly pointing out a person’s flaws.

Slay: To be on point, to be outstanding or the best.

Stonewall: The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent protests by members of the LGBT community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. They are widely considered to be the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.

Tape: Drag queens often use duct tape to hold their genitalia in a tucked position, which creates the illusion of female genitalia.

For Further Reading:

UC Berkeley Gender Equity Resource Center Terms List: http://ejce.berkeley.edu/geneq/resources/lgbtq-resources/definition-terms

Beginner’s Guide to Drag Speak: https://www.buzzfeed.com/saeedjones/a-beginners-guide-to-drag-speak?utm_term=.snpxPX2nn#.alnOqQMKK

Brooklyn Drag Gallery: https://www.timeout.com/newyork/lgbt/the-biggest-stars-on-the-brooklyn-drag-scene?package_page=76459

“Drag and Pronouns” from the Diary of a Drag Queen’s Husband: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-bartolomei/drag-and-pronouns_b_3384512.html

How to Be a Successful Drag Queen: http://students.purchase.edu/joshua.oates/portfolio/WebDesign/Midterm/appearance/appearance.html

By Margaret Starbuck

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