Queering Drag

Queering Drag

Redefining the Discourse of Gender-Bending
Meredith Heller
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 01/21/2020
Format: Paperback 10 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-04566-9
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Theatrical gender-bending, also called drag, is a popular form of entertainment and a subject of scholarly study. However, most drag studies do not question the standard words and ideas used to convey this performance genre. Drawing on a rich body of archival and ethnographic research, Meredith Heller illuminates diverse examples of theatrical gender-bending: male impersonation in variety and vaudeville (1860–1920); the "sexless" gender-bending of El Teatro Campesino (1960–1980); queer butch acts performed by black nightclub singers, such as Stormé DeLarverie, instigator of the Stonewall riots (1910–1970); and the range of acts that compose contemporary drag king shows. Heller highlights how, in each case, standard drag discourses do not sufficiently capture the complexity of performers' intents and methods, nor do they provide a strong enough foundation for holistically evaluating the impact of this work. Queering Drag offers redefinition of the genre centralized in the performer's construction and presentation of a "queer" version of hegemonic identity, and it models a new set of tools for analyzing drag as a process of intents and methods enacted to effect specific goals. This new drag discourse not only allows for more complete and accurate descriptions of drag acts, but it also facilitates more ethical discussions about the bodies, identities, and products of drag performers.

Author Bio

Meredith Heller is Lecturer of Queer Studies in Women's and Gender Studies at Northern Arizona University.


""Among the many contributions this [book makes] to various fields is its delineation and mapping of the ways in which different forms of gender-bending have helped to create new gender categories of identity, and alternative forms of gender articulations and expressions, which have implications for both how gender is made and enacted, and how gender is lived in the everyday." —Marlon M. Bailey, author of Butch Queens Up in Pumps: Gender, Performance, and Ballroom Culture in Detroit"


""Through an historic analysis of the discourse and phenomenon of a wide variety of drag performances, Heller asks about the politics of the act and its changing meaning as the assumptions about sex, gender, sex/gender, performance and queerness change." —John M. Sloop, author of Disciplining Gender: Rhetorics of Sex Identity in Contemporary U.S. Culture"


"What do turn-of-the-19th century male impersonators, Chicana activist performers, Black butches, and contemporary drag kings have to do with each other? In Heller's "mistressful" hands, they lead to a more capacious understanding of gender-bending on stage, with the potential to open our eyes to all sorts of ways creative gender is queering the world around us."

 (Leila Rupp, Feminist Studies University of California, Santa Barbara)

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Table of Contents



1. What's in a Name? Redefining the Discourse of Gender-Bending

2. "Masculine Women, Feminine Men": Variety and Vaudevillian Male Impersonators

3. Mythical, "Sexless" Characters: Identity Borders in El Teatro Campesino

4. The "First Punch" at Stonewall: Counteridentification Butch Acts

5. Bent Means "Not Quite Straight": Kinging as Disidentification

Conclusion: Bending Rhetoric