The Visual Aesthetics of Glam Drag Queens and Gay Drag Kings

Lady Gaga in Drag

Lady Gaga in Drag

The act of drag implicitly reveals the imitative nature of gender itself as well as its contingency. The drag appearance relies heavily on imitation and re-enactment and by over accentuating hegemonic “norms” the act of drag proves that such “norms” are in themselves unnatural. By taking on and over accentuating all things feminine or masculine whilst also revealing traits of biological sex, the drag appearance is highly intriguing and attests to the fluidity of gender. In relation to my project I want to blur the gender boundaries. I want to reveal that both feminine and masculine traits and items can be expressed or taken on by just one person. The act of drag does all of this and more. As a result, I hope to photograph actual drag artists and want to understand the styles and items incorporated when constructing such exciting and gender bending images of identity. Sparkles and make-up, moustaches and leather, I decided to focus on three extreme images of drag artist: Glam drag queens, gay drag kings and drag kings.

Glam drag queens typically go to great lengths to produce a highly feminine image. In addition to wigs, make-up and tucking, drag queens often use duct tape to push their pectoral muscles closer together to give the impression of cleavage. Glam queens almost always wear high-heeled shoes and shave their arms, legs, chest and if necessary back. The dresses and styles taken on by glam drag queens are highly extravagant and flamboyant. Sequins, glitter and sparkle are the norm. Many dresses do not have sleeves or have high slits to make it clear that the wearer is not trying to hide masculine features under clothing. Jewellery is almost always worn, especially large earrings and bracelets. The overall goal of the glam drag queen is to produce an image of hyper femininity that is also believable. The ideal of glam drag is to be “flawless” or to have no visual hints of masculinity. However, some like to play up to this to make their appearance somewhat more intriguing.

The image gay drag kings aspire to present typically falls somewhere between the men of the Village people, Garth Brooks and the male emcee for a Las Vegas show. These men typically sporting good thick moustaches and bedecked in expensive looking tuxedos, tight-fitting leather pants, or jeans, cowboy hats and boots, in appearance present themselves as the masculine, often hyper-antithesis to the feminine. They also carry themselves in a stereotypical masculine manner: sitting with their legs spread apart or drinking a beer. Both in appearance and mannerisms the gay drag king is without question masculine and mannish. A good reference/source for the image of drag kings is “The Drag King Book”. Coiffed hair, white t shirts, flexing muscles, moustaches and leather jackets; these drag kings channel every inch the style and persona of the much sort after and imitated American anti-hero. Forget Phoenix and Brando, these women prove that regardless of sex and gender, anyone can channel a bad boy style and boy do I want to join in!

These images and styles I will play around with when creating and discussing the visual aesthetics with my subjects. I’m in two minds as to whether such outlandish styles will be too aggressive but time will tell.

Please refer to previous posts where I spoke in further details about drag artists, RuPaul and The Drag King Book.


Butler, J (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London: Routledge.

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