Ten candidates, mini-challenges and performances combining comedy, song and dance: Drag Race France, the French franchise of RuPaul’s famous show landed on television this weekend for a first episode. A cult program adapted for the French public, but which retains its codes and above all… its vocabulary. If you found yourself a little lost after this first episode, here is a little glossary of words to know when talking about drag.
This is the term that comes up the most, and yet is the most difficult to define. Some sources indicate that it would be the initials of “DRess like A Girl” (dressed like a girl, in French), in reference to the actors of the XIXth century wearing female clothes in Shakespearean plays, women not having the right to play in the theater at that time. However, the origin of the word remains uncertain.
Drag characterizes an artistic practice consisting in embodying a character using costumes, make-up… With this character, drags perform, through singing, dancing, stand-up.
We are talking about drag queens when the embodied character takes on feminine characteristics: this is the best known type of art, and very represented in Drag Race France. The drag-queens thus play on the codes of femininity, using corsets, high heels or flamboyant make-up.
The drag kings, they play on masculine codes, with for example mustaches, beards and masculine clothes. The type of drag says nothing about the performer’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
These definitions are not exhaustive: in recent years, we also find performers who claim to be “Drag Fuck” or “Drag Genderfluid”. Thus, their art no longer serves to present male or female characteristics, but to create their own character, in creature form.
It’s a bit like Drag’s distant cousin. Transformists are artists who also use make-up, costumes and wigs to transform themselves… But transformism is based on imitation: artists seek to resemble as much as possible a well-known person, such as Cher or Céline Dion for example. .
In Paris, you can find transformist cabaret at Michou, a top performance venue in Montmartre. But unlike the transformists, the Drags do not seek to look like a known celebrity… But create their own character.
It is undoubtedly the most famous Drag-queen in the world: RuPaul Andre Charles multiplies the caps, from song to cinema. RuPaul made a name for himself in the early 1990s within the New York club scene, before producing his own records and having his own reality show in 2009, now world famous, RuPaul’s Drag Race. Due to his media presence, many consider RuPaul to have revolutionized the portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community on screen.
The show RuPaul’s Drag Racewhich is now in its 14th season, with several variations by country and broadcast on netflixhas given international visibility to the art of drag, not without creating some conflicts: many criticisms have come from the LGBTQ + community accusing the show of making drag “mainstream” and depoliticizing it.
The “ball culture” is an LGBTQ + subculture born in the United States from the end of the 19th century, with increasing popularity during the 20th century, in particular the 1990s. These events, created by black and Latino drags, aimed to challenge the racism experienced in traditional drag scenes. Over time, these events have been a place of celebration and struggle for non-white trans women, victims of discrimination. The balls are places where participants can dance (in particular by doing vogue), show their drag, and participate in competitions according to given themes. Drag and ball culture are intimately linked.
term from the “ culture ball », the houses represent « houses », namely communities of performers. These chosen families serve as havens for LGBTQ+ youth entering the scene ball and/or drag. When entering a house, each artist is assigned a “ Mother (mother) who will serve as her guide and mentor. In the different editions of RuPaul’s Drag Race, we have seen many drag queens belonging to different houses major American cities.
From English lip (the lips) and sync (synchronization), the lipsync refers to the fact of interpreting a song without singing it, in playback. The lipsync are quite characteristic performances in drag shows, where the drags play at interpreting the song by miming it and moving their lips, and often exaggerating, as in the theater. These performances may include dancing or even acrobatics. On RuPaul’s show, the host asks contestants to ” Lipsync for your life “, namely to perform a lipsync to avoid being eliminated from the competition.
For some drag queens, when they blend into the character, it is a question of corresponding as much as possible to the stereotypes of femininity: wide hips, imposing chest, thin face… In fact, drag queens can use subterfuge to inflate their hips and their buttocks, with what is called padding, a sort of filler that is wedged under clothing. Similarly, drags can use makeup to make outline, and thus sculpt their face with finer or more marked features. Finally, for drags with a penis who don’t want it to show under their clothes, the tucking is a technique to hide it.
It’s an onomatopoeia not limited to the drag circle, but used a lot in some shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race (and in Beyoncé’s discography). The term ” slay simply means that something rips or rips. During the competition, the drag queens can tell each other that a competitor has ” slay », or encourage her with this term, and thus boost her self-confidence.