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RPDR’s Basic Bitch Guide to Drag in Performance Art

Relieved I decided to take the early premiere option that Ru has been offering for the first episode of the last 2 seasons because I was having some SERIOUS feelings. But I gave her two episodes in case she turned things around. Enh.

Serena ChaCha came in and as soon as I heard “art school" and "performance art" coming out of her mouth, I knew I’d want to smack her behind and not in the playful Bettie Page-inspired sex tape kind of way. Though performance art is really thriving in the visual art world right now (i.e. trendy), I know that it’s still not a commonly understood term and thus gets dragged around like a bag of children in a river only to be pulled out and put on display for the mother to get on the after school news. Having the nerve to put that outfit up there as genderfuck or art or whatever you like, the point was it was decidedly NOT cute and not art because you say so. But there is a scene for that she’s attempting to reference and I’ll give you the update.

She’s right about the art form of drag as performing gender and playing with fashion. But how she thinks she’s doing that better than the girls, I’ll never know. To intellectualize what you’re doing vs. the action of actually doing are not the same thing, the number one rule of drag if there were any would be to put on a motherfuckin’ show and that is the bottom line. I’m not gonna go all etymology of queer and Paris Is Burning on the readers, but I won’t completely Stonewall those who aren’t of this decade. I’ll keep it quick and sloppy, just the way you guys like it, with bitchcaps in between.

First off, “soft sculpture" is Claes Oldenburg and Eva Hesse, not a melted draggy mess.

Second, of course drag isn’t just relegated to the gay male community, drag kings like Murray Hill, Shelly Mars, Dred and lots of WOW Café Theater members that have been doing it for themselves for years. As well as transgendered individuals who we’ve seen in Carmen Carrera and Sonique. Straight women occasionally can be involved in drag, as Heather Haneman has written a book about it, but we just watch them from afar like Beyoncé and Tyra Banks in the thunderdome.

I’m also not including straight male drag in the discussion because it’s an incredibly layered topic to which the majority of it is done simply to derive humor, especially out of seeing men perform the gender role of women as inferior and silly. I’m not saying they aren’t allowed to, as RPDR has done it twice, but generally speaking it’s uncommon outside of an Eddie Murphy or Robin Williams situation.

Vaginal Creme Davis, (who will actually be at Art Institute of Chicago in April, as my ass will be in the third row center) is intersex and uses male & female duality in her work while bringing the low-fi attitude of San Francisco’s DIY zine culture. She’s educated but also manages to imbue relatable characters who aren’t reciting textbook lines of gallery privilege. She’s in a Le Tigre song which should say enough about her.

The updated youtube version of this language would be Ryan Trecartin's I-BE AREA tween drag queens who works in a complicated language all his own that captures the ineffable essence of youth internet culture and the translation of self reference. Gender is transcended by form and emotion in these curated environments.

If you want to check out some of the more performance art angle of drag, try the monthly “Clump” party by Chez Deep in NYC:

Colin Self, who I disclose was in the graduating class before me, brings that raw edge young drag that I presume Serena Cha Cha speaks of. Him and his band of thieves (I use that term to mean gang, not to imply actual stealing) are bringing back the obscurity of life-and-art club kids spirit and elevating it to blur the line of drag as well as the audiences who enjoy it. They had an installation at Art Basel Miami which I believe was had choreography from RPDR favorite, Ryan Heffington.

The most recent permeation into popular culture would have to be Ssion (who is associated with a ton of groups, including Chez Deep) who make popular music as well as being an art collective. They stock a number of people in the LBGTQIA supermarket of humans led by Cody Critcheloe.

I could name drop tons of people: Kalup Linzy, Verka Serduchka, Switch N’ Play, House of Ladosha, etc. There’s a ton of people who fit the criteria of drag and trying to do more than gender impersonation, know their history and subvert image, but it requires more than declaring your knowledge as an assumed identity of being “different”.

If my tone is pointed, it’s because Serena Cha Cha is spitting out terms that are personally important to me and was lording them over everyone rudely and improperly. As soon as she heard the reaction to her bougie declaration of everyone being “ghetto”, Ms. Cha Cha knew she had to face up to the accusations in the room. Girl, there’s a difference between “ghetto" and "hood”, which was a “lexic” use as opposed to “lexicon”. I’m glad she was realizing the defense mechanisms she was deploying in order to deflect from the not-so-stellar performance. Unfortunately, then she ruined it in the ending. It’s an edited reality in a pressure cooker situation, but some meat had to be contributed to that stew.

Just gonna put a Rucap on this recap and be done with this. Coming from someone “educated” in a top tier fine arts school and majored in performance art, I understand miss thang, “pick up a book,” but it ain’t an excuse for what you’re doing, boo.

I’m sure you’re one talented queen in your own life, I wish you the best of luck, you’re young and you’ll figure it out eventually.


To do some more homework, I suggest to “pick up a book” with:

Bike Boys, Drag Queens, and Superstars: Avant-Garde, Mass Culture, and Gay Identities in the 1960s Underground Cinema by Juan A. Suárez

DRAG: A History of Female Impersonation in the Performing Arts by Roger Baker

or for you lazy bitches who want to hear more than his herstory, online sources:

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