“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