Formerly enslaved queer freedom fighter William Dorsey Swann, the Queen.
February 2, 2020 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Born in Maryland around 1858, Swann endured slavery, the Civil War, racism, police surveillance, torture behind bars, and many other injustices. But beginning in the 1880s, he not only became the first American activist to lead a queer resistance group; he also became, in the same decade, the first known person to dub himself a “queen of drag”—or, more familiarly, a drag queen. The Nation: The First Drag Queen Was a Former Slave. Pink News: Researcher says first self-described drag queen was a former slave who ‘reigned over a secret world of drag balls’ in the 1800s.
posted by bile and syntax (10 comments total) 73 users marked this as a favorite
So exciting to see these stories of queer history being re-discovered and shared. Looking forward to reading the book when it comes out!
posted by merriment at 9:38 AM on February 2 [3 favorites]

Fucking amazing
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:47 AM on February 2

"Strikingly, descriptions of balls from the 1930s are sprinkled with phrases like “strike a pose,” “sashay across the floor,” and “vogue.”"

That's some amazing continuity of culture among a small underground class. You go, girls!
posted by irisclara at 12:59 PM on February 2 [6 favorites]

Flagged as fantastic. Wow. There aren't enough adjectives in the world.
posted by mittens at 8:24 AM on February 3 [3 favorites]

Incredible. Completely incredible. The rise and spread of RPDR gave me Complicated FeelingsTM about contemporary drag culture, which has sadly kept me distanced for the past few years from what was formerly my favorite art medium. This is precisely the type of narrative I need to remind myself of what once felt so wildly daring and courageously joyful and glitteringly absurd and audaciously iconoclastic and also just actually fucking genuine about drag. Serious gratitude for bringing this book onto my radar: only disappointment is that I can't find a way to pre-order!
posted by youarenothere at 4:41 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]

I was hoping, for a moment, that, when they were “surprised at dinner,” it was by a delightful amuse-bouche, but, no, it was the police.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:05 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]

I am always so excited whenever queer history is brought to light but THIS IS INCREDIBLE
posted by captain afab at 5:59 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]

One thing that is wonderful about this age is how history gets added to, enlarged upon, revised, and shaped to include so many more voices and lives. When I was little, history was as rigid as the old books in came in; I started being thrilled by history when I'd hear stories that were not in the books at school-- stories about women who didn't get married, and men who wore bright colors and makeup, and so many other obvious different ways of being. I love the sense of history being an enormous tapestry with new sections being revealed and connected, and changing the parts we've seen because of those new connections. Thank you for posting!
posted by winesong at 9:20 AM on February 4 [7 favorites]

Thanks for this! I can not wait to read it. But what a tease! I can't even pre-order yet!
posted by Hopeful and Cynical at 9:13 AM on February 5

While you wait for this book to come out, might I suggest taking a look at Chauncey's Gay New York? It's been quite a while since I read it, but I do recall discussions of drag parties along with a lot of other really fascinating topics.
posted by nickmark at 12:56 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]

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