Vintage Photos Of Drag Queens Taken When It Was Probably Still Illegal

“Queens,” or men who defy gender norms and dress as women, have always been present in the LGBTQ community and pop culture; Straight men like Flip Wilson and Milton Berle used them as punch lines in their humor. Divine created a media sensation when she burst onto the scene, and RuPaul began to break down barriers with her mainstream pop hit “Supermodel (Of the World)” and a cheeky VH1 talk show.

RuPaul’s popular reality competition show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, helped bring drag queens further into the mainstream consciousness.

Starbucks recently released its first LGBT-driven commercial featuring drag queens. The Tony-winning musical, Kinky Boots, about a factory that manufactures shoes for drag queens, is a popular Broadway show. Even Ru herself calls drag “mainstream” now.

We acknowledge that not every person in the photos below is a “drag queen,” and that there’s a big difference between a transgender person, a transvestite and a drag queen. A transgender person is someone who does not identify with their assigned sex and would most likely not want to be referred to as a “drag queen.” A transvestite is a cisgender male who enjoys wearing women’s clothing. A drag queen tends to be someone who dresses in women’s clothing more for performance or entertainment.

We can’t tell you how many of the subjects in the following photos identify, but we can say with certainty that these people took a major risk by dressing this way during less tolerant times. The images start in the 1800s and continue through the 1950s. via

1920s-Vaudeville-Performer-Barbette-Vander-Clyde-freelancersfashion.blogspot.com_ 1937-Billy-Richards-queer-music 1900s--600x487 1900s-Edwardian-Retronaut-600x470 1940s-Arica-Wild-queermusic-600x331 1940-gay-deceiver-photo 1930s-Drag-Ball-in-Chicago-windycitymediagroup.com_ 1915-Julian-Eltinge-queermusicheritage 1900s-Retronaut-Ballet-600x398 1947-Queer-Music-Heritage-2-600x854 1951-Kitt-Russell-queermusic-600x427 1951-Kitt-Russell-queermusicheritage-600x781 1920s-Harry-S.-Franklyn-freelancersfashion.blogspot.com_ 1800s-Men-In-Drag-mattsko.wordpress.com_ 1800s-mattsko.wordpress.com_ 1910-Drag-King-fyeahqueervintage.tumblr.com_ 1900s-Retronaut-600x384 1946-arrested-for-dressing-in-drag-fyeahqueervintage.tumblr.com_ 1952-Chicago-Ball-qualiafolk.com_ 1900s-Florina-Freelancers-FashionBlogspot 1900snew 1870-Fanny-and-Stella-sundaytimes.co_.uk_ 1950s-Casa-Susanna-time-magazine 1956-Mario-Costello-as-Marilyn-mattsko.wordpress.com_ 1920s-Drag-Ball-Webster-Hall-qualifolk.com_-600x404 1947-Flamingo-Queer-Music-Heritage-600x848 1900s-Retronaut-dont-know-600x393 1936-Frances-and-Lonas-queermusicheritage-600x801 1950s-Madame-Arthurs-600x677 1950s-madame-arthur-mattsko-600x614 1910-F.-Scott-Fitzgerald-Retronaut 1800s-drag-pinterest-and-imgur Rae-Bourbon-Pansy-Crazy 1941-Freddie-Renault-queermusic-600x714 1800s-Brigham-Young-Jr-Connell-Donovan.com_ 1957-Robbie-Ross2-queermusic 1940s-Drag-Ball 1883-3-yale-students-mattsko.wordpress.com_ 1955-Minette-queermusic-heritage-600x777 1920s-New 1947-Jerry-Vaughn-queermusicheritage-600x764 1949-Francis-Lee-General-Photograoph-Collection-MS-362-San-Anotnio-Francis-lee-aka-Minnie-Meyers