The Glittery History of Drag in New York City

“Reading is what?” RuPaul, the enduring drag queen and host of RuPaul’s Drag Race, usually quips. “Fundamental!” These phrases ring very true in regard to Glitter and Concrete: A Cultural History of Drag in New York City (2023), a e-book by New York-based author and photographer Elyssa Maxx Goodman. A lover of all issues drag, Goodman brings the historical past and cultural contributions of the subculture to life towards the backdrop of New York City. LGBTQIA+ tales are sometimes misplaced to time with out somebody to recollect them or the means to share them — as artist and my former mentor Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt as soon as advised me with a wink, “Queer history has always been oral.” This written account is an important antidote to the tragedy of queer erasure, serving as a reminiscence, benchmark, and information to present and future drag lovers.

Cover of Elyssa Maxx Goodman, Glitter and Concrete: A Cultural History of Drag in New York City (2024) (picture courtesy Hanover Square Press)

Glitter and Concrete is organized by decade, beginning as early as 1865 and progressing chronologically to the fashionable day. Punctuated with main supply paperwork and in-person interviews — Bert Savoy and Macy Rodman being some of the highlights — characters previous and new start to really feel like previous pals because of Goodman’s curiosity and vibrant writing. The legacy of gender illusionists, impersonators, and drag queens, kings, artists, performers, and creatures thrive in this e-book, regardless of the discrimination so usually thrust upon them by societal norms throughout time.

Throughout defining moments in New York City historical past — starting from prohibition in the 1920s, the Stonewall riots in 1969, the AIDS disaster starting in the ‘80s, and 9/11 and the COVID-19 pandemic in our century — drag artists have discovered revolutionary methods of self-expression. Florence Hines, for example, “was not just among the first famous Black male impersonators,” Goodman writes. “She was among the first successful Black women onstage at all in the US.” Finding freedom in the artwork kind, queers from Mario Montez to Charlene Incarnate have left their glittery mark on every part from Broadway, opera, dance, wonderful artwork, tv, films, politics, and extra. Against the cultural tendency to dismiss drag as frivolous at greatest or obscene at worst, this e-book calls for we take it significantly as a cultural artwork kind that responds to, critiques, and is a vital half of American historical past. 

Brendan Germain, Jupiter, Xana Whoria, and Elyssa Maxx Goodman at “the Glitter and Concrete Show: A Night of Drag History and Performance” on January 11, 2024 (picture by Zac Thompson/Hyperallergic)

In early January of this 12 months, I used to be thrilled to be taught that Goodman could be hosting a book talk and efficiency on the Center for Brooklyn History. Built round 1880 — the identical timespan because the earliest chapters of her e-book — the hallowed inside of this constructing as setting for studying about drag historical past and watching stay performances was a pleasing reminder of how far the queer artwork kind has come in each its artistry and acceptance. 

Brendan Germain at “the Glitter and Concrete Show: A Night of Drag History and Performance” on January 11, 2024 (picture by Zac Thompson/Hyperallergic)

The e-book speak took the shape of Goodman studying sections of Glitter and Concrete, alternating with drag performances deciphering or regarding the kind of drag mentioned in that specific half. The first performer to grace the stage was Brendan Germain in queer-coded dandy go well with apparel, their hair slicked again and paired with gold earrings. Germain helped illustrate the Pansy Craze of the 1920s, which “beguil[ed] audiences with what was then a taboo effeminacy through wit and song.” Similarly, to the delight of the viewers, Germain lip-synced to the basic Disney track from Hercules (1997), “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love).” Instead of embodying the primary character of Meg, who sings the track in the movie, Germain lip-synced to the background singers’ audio solely, flipping the script on typical such performances. 

Xana Whoria carried out subsequent in response to the Club Kids of the 1990s. At the time, in Goodman’s phrases, “some considered their appearance drag, others did not, but their collective presentation embraced gender ambiguity.” Eventually, Club Kids would acquire wider publicity by way of print publication and tv appearances in the 90s resembling the Geraldo Rivera Show. Indeed, their legacy continues to be obvious in the drag scenes of as we speak, notably in New York. In Club Kid-inspired, immaculately painted clown make-up and Shakespearean garb, full with crown, Xana Whoria took the stage. Their efficiency — in which they lip synced to When The Party’s Over (2018) by Billie Eilish — was a heart-felt have a look at the membership child aesthetic of drag as a method of genderless creative expression.

Jupiter at “the Glitter and Concrete Show: A Night of Drag History and Performance” on January 11, 2024 (picture by Zac Thompson/Hyperallergic)

Closing out the evening was Jupiter, with their homage to the glam rock punk queers of the late 60s and early 70s. “With teased hair, wildly overwrought makeup, and platform boots,” Goodman writes, “the New York Dolls became — if only in appearance — prominently gender-nonconforming members of the punk scene, a look that would later influence all manner of glam rock and hair metal performers.” Jupiter embodied this glam rock aesthetic with painted face, gothy vampire tooth, and chain-adorned plaid outfit as they lip-synced to a medley of pop-punk songs. Running by way of the viewers, Jupiter showcased each the rebellious spirit of drag and a punk angle towards gender conformity whereas effortlessly wanting fabulous. 

Untitled Queen doing her make-up (picture by and courtesy Elyssa Maxx Goodman)

Thanks to Glitter and Concrete, the legacy of NYC drag is accessible to a wider viewers, one thing I want I had as a queer child rising up in the South. Goodman concurrently rescues queer tales from generations previous and contextualizes up to date drag inside this lineage. Glitter and Concrete jogs my memory of why I got here to the large metropolis in the primary place, after I was lured by the creativity of Brooklyn drag I noticed taking form in the 2010s. “For generations,” Goodman writes, “performers have harnessed the power of drag to tell their own stories, stories that should not be lost, stories that, even in a city laden with concrete, continue to glitter.” I discovered my very own queer household and group in the Brooklyn drag scene. To see their glowing gentle captured by way of this e-book is a much-needed glimmer of hope.

Panzi on the pink carpet on the annual Invasion of the Pines on Fire Island (picture by and courtesy Elyssa Maxx Goodman)
A diffusion from Elyssa Maxx Goodman, Glitter and Concrete: A Cultural History of Drag in New York City (2023) (picture by Zac Thompson/Hyperallergic)

Glitter and Concrete: A Cultural History of Drag in New York City (2023) by Elyssa Maxx Goodman is revealed by Hanover Square Press and obtainable on-line and in bookstores.

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