On 7 February, the much anticipated and notorious dRAG Walk returns to St Andrews; an event which combines fashion, pageantry, performance, comedy, and drag culture. dRAG Walk is my baby, and it first emerged after I suggested to the LGBT committee that they put on a drag show. Last February saw the debut of the show, which against all the odds (and my fears) became a huge success, selling out in minutes, and attracting attention throughout the student body.
Drag culture is experiencing an incredible renaissance at present, which can mostly be attributed to the monumental success of RuPaul’s Drag Race (if this is unknown to you, get on Netflix immediately).Furthermore, drag has evolved into the 21st century, from the shadows of oppression, as the fight for LGBT equality bolts forward, and thus queer culture infiltrates the mainstream.
The old fashioned style of drag: an old man, with an ill-fitting sequin dress, and tacky makeup lip-syncing to Liza Minelli, is now completely out of vogue. The queens of 2015 are young, vibrant, high fashion, culturally aware, conceptual, artistic and pop. Indeed, some of the world’s most incredible modern drag artists are from the UK: Grace Oni Smith, Anna Phylactic, Cheddar Gawjus, Meth, Bourgeoisie, and of course, St Andrews’ own Jazzle Sisters.
Since coming to St Andrews, drag has accidentally become a huge part of my life, and dRAG Walk was simply my attempt to bring it to a larger platform, both exposing the town to the art of drag, as well as raising awareness of LGBT. However, I never quite expected the impact this event would have on the student body, and further afield. Recently, an alumnus of the university messaged me to congratulate that I had created “such a fantastically inclusive event”. This made me consider for the first time the implications of dRAG Walk, and that perhaps its importance can be found not in the show itself, but for what it stands for.
dRAG Walk does more than just increase the overall fierceness of this little Fife town; it promotes a message of tolerance and respect, whilst challenging the oppressive norms of gender. The key term here is “inclusive”, a word which does not, in any way, describe the rest of St Andrews’ fashion shows. Events such as FS, which are charitable, are still highly exclusive, and inadvertently discriminate the attendees (and non-attendees) by wealth, gender and social standing.
Let’s face it, St Andrews is a rather ‘cosy’ place; it’s old fashioned, conservative and favours events which involve standing around in traditional fine attire. However, I admit I am generalising here. Nonetheless, drag has always been a community which, by principle, is wholly inclusive: everyone is welcome. The concept of ‘drag pageantry’ (which would later inspire RuPaul’s Drag Race, and thus, dRAG Walk) began in the ball scene and ‘drag houses’ of New York in the early 1990s, as documented in such films as Paris is Burning (again, watch on Netflix).
For these drag ‘competitions’, anyone could enter: rich or poor, young or old, black or white, and anyone on the complex spectrum of gender. Many of the legendary queens of the ball scene were runaways to New York, discriminated because of race, gender or sexuality, and many of them were very poor. Through drag, they ‘felt the fantasy’, and transformed into any persona they desired.
Drag is many things: it is mockery, high art, beauty, freedom, camp; but above all, drag is defiance. It truly defies much of the norms of St Andrews. It is far from tame, traditional or boring; it is a vibrant transgressive art form, and it could be the remedy to St Andrews’ social problems. Just walk down Market Street and count the number of Barbour jackets and Hunter wellies you see; ask yourself: “Did these people choose to wear them of their own volition? Or was it through some bizarre cultural pressure, and a need to change oneself to fit in”?
Drag encourages us to love ourselves for who we are, and express our personality through our unique appearance. Drag also tells us to dismiss class, wealth, sexuality and gender identity. In the words of the legendary Panti Bliss, drag is “gender discombobulation”, and teaches us to eliminate the confines of gender, which we are all imprisoned by.
It’s about time to eliminate the stigma attached to male assigned people expressing femininity, and vice versa. I am overjoyed that dRAG Walk is attracting attention, and hope that the sophomore edition of the show is a huge success. Next year, I will graduate, but. thankfully, have loyal drag daughters who vow to continue the tradition of dRAG Walk into the far, glittery future.