“A Natural History of the Drag Queen Phenomenon” Notes (Ella)

Moncrieff, Michael, and Pierre Lienard. “A Natural History of the Drag Queen Phenomenon.” Evolutionary Psychology, Apr. 2017, doi:10.1177/1474704917707591. Electronic.

  • “However, the depiction of outlandish and hyperbolic womanhood and taunting and formidable behavior at the core of drag queens’ public persona has still to be fully accounted for. We argue that these aspects of the drag queen’s public appearance could best be understood in a signaling framework. Publicly donning extravagant woman’s costumes attracts harassment and brings financial, mating, and opportunity costs, generating the conditions for the transmission of honest signals. By successfully withstanding those odds, drag queen impersonators signal strategic qualities to members of the gay community.” (Moncrieff & Lienard 1)
  • “Despite this stigmatization, participation in the drag subculture appeared to have afforded jobless, young, and poor gays some opportunity to distinguish themselves from lower status individuals such as hustlers or “freaks,” and, for the most successful drag queens, a chance to develop celebrity-like status and social might in the gay community (Newton, 1972, p. 6).” (Moncrieff & Lienard 1)
  • “Despite the costs involved in publicly endorsing a drag queen persona, marginalized individuals might find it attractive, given the benefits they stand to gain such as an enhanced reputation and increased social capital (e.g., Newton, 1972; Hopkins, 2004). The drag queen phenomenon provides an interesting case study where particular behavioral signals enhance individuals’ reputation and welfare, while being entirely decoupled from any reproductive payoff.” (Moncrieff & Lienard 1)
  • “Drag queens, or female impersonators, differ from transsexuals and individuals with transvestic fetishisms1 in that they are gay individuals who don female clothing with the explicit goal of performing in front of audiences (Schacht, 2000).” (Moncrieff & Lienard 2)
  • “The main reasons mentioned in the literature for becoming a drag queen include the desire of raising one’s social standing, getting more involved in the gay community, and starting a career in entertainment (Hopkins, 2004; Taylor & Rupp, 2004; Tewksbury, 1993, 1994).” (Moncrieff & Lienard 2)
  • “Individuals wishing to become recognized female impersonators face many burdens. The financial expenses are significant. Costumes and makeup worth hundreds of dollars require sustained investments, seldom offset by the earnings from competitions or audience members’ tips (Hopkins, 2004). Opportunity costs are also high: successful performance depends on extensive rehearsal and sustained investments in self promotion (Berkowitz & Belgrave, 2010; Hopkins, 2004; Schacht, 2002).” (Moncrieff & Lienard 2)
  • “Among the people who attempt to join the drag queen community, few become great successes. Amateurs have limited status recognition and are exposed to stinging criticism, mockery, and gossip of their gay audiences (Berkowitz & Belgrave, 2010; Schacht, 2002). Beginners face wholesale ridicule for their unrefined appearance and behavior (Hopkins, 2004). Scrutiny from other drag queens is intense and competition for recognition between impersonators is great (Berkowitz & Belgrave, 2010; Friedman & Jones, 2011; Hopkins, 2004).” (Moncrieff & Lienard 2)
  • “Contrasted with the intense pressure placed on amateurs, successful impersonators end up commanding some authority in the gay community (Berkowitz & Belgrave, 2010; Berkowitz et al., 2007; Hopkins, 2004). Since many drag queens begin with a low social endowment and status, gains in social capital in the gay community can be significant. They can eventually earn greater respect, becoming role models for up and-coming queens, and might be sought after to animate social events and parties (Berkowitz et al., 2007; Hopkins, 2004). Such successful drag queens can make enough money from club bookings to support a full-time career (Berkowitz & Belgrave, 2010). These social and economic incentives make becoming a drag queen an attractive venture for at-firstmarginalized low-status individuals in the gay community, who may not have easier alternate opportunities to gain social acceptance and recognition.” (Moncrieff & Lienard 3)
  • “A great deal of the drag queen research has concentrated on drag queens and their perceptions of the gay community (e.g., Taylor & Rupp, 2004) or on the interaction between gays and drag queens (e.g., Berkowitz et al., 2007). One exception to this is a recent study on hypermasculinity and drag queen stereotypes (Bishop, Kiss, Morrison, Rushe, & Specht, 2014). We expanded on the objectives of this research in investigating to a greater extent gays’ perception of drag queens. It should be noted that we are not interested in the personal experience of drag queens; rather, we focus on the communicative aspect of their behavior.” (Moncrieff & Lienard 5)
  • “Drag queens are also perceived to be socially formidable and invested individuals with influence in the gay community. Being a recognized and successful drag queen means being willing to engage in aggressive behavior and endorse the role of provocateur. Among our gay participants 73% agree that it is not wise to upset a drag queen (only 5% disagreed). This statement is also the most discriminant item between our gay and straight participants. The involvement of drag queens in many early confrontations between the gay community and police forces, as well as contemporary accounts of female impersonators’ attitude at gay pride events, provides evidence of the role expectation of provocation that comes with acting the part of a drag queen (Arriola, 1995; Hillman, 2011; Nichols, 2013; Paul, 2014).” (Moncrieff & Lienard 10)
  • “The competition between drag queens signaling their formidability facilitates the emergence of a hierarchy. Drag families are the outcome of this self-organization of groups of competitors. Drag mothers, or successful drag queens, at the top of the hierarchy, benefit from their elevated social status. Social influence, authority, status, and increased social capital are gained the higher one climbs the ladder of success. The most notable drag queens may also eventually gain greater access to sexual partners, however, we currently lack the data to ascertain that possibility.” (Moncrieff & Lienard 10)

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