It is more than a phenomenon. “Drag”, which is the result of a long history, is revealed to the general public as a multifaceted art. In search of recognition, he deceives more and more audiences. A new local scene has emerged in Besançon in recent months. Report.
When I meet them at 16.00 in the evening, they are wearing casual sweaters. They are natural hair without makeup. After four hours, the make-up will be pronounced, the wigs will be combed and straightened, the dresses will be extravagant. They and they are called Julien, Charline or Léo. They are drag queens and drag kings. On stage, they break gender codes, express a piece that society does not always accept. They are having fun. And they convey messages behind the rhinestones and sequins.
They show us that drag is a multifaceted performance art, intentionally exuberant, sometimes political, and almost inseparable from every one of their stories. For several months there has been a “drag” scene in Besançon. The shows follow one another in the heart of the Comtois capital, allowing more and more audiences to discover this art close to home, still in its infancy, but attesting to the desire of young people to express and discover their passions. .
In a few hours, the drag queens will perform at this association venue in Besançon for the first time since August. But before going on stage, Peez (aka Leo) faces hours of make-up. This 23-year-old student of the Institut Supérieur des Beaux-Arts took up drag about two years ago. For tonight’s show, she chooses a yellow and purple dress, highlighted white makeup. “A Creature Form” transcends genres.
When we talk about drag queens, we talk a lot about sex. By the way, what exactly is drag? “I would say it’s a form of artistic expression that plays with genre (…) and brings together make-up, costume, performance, hairstyle, sometimes singing, burlesque.”
Because drag is still unknown. There are those who know them closely. LGBT people, or young people from this “queer” culture, are increasingly embracing a diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities. Youngsters often fed on Ru Paul’s Drag Race, the televised and iconic drag queen competition started by the most famous of American drag queens, Ru Paul. With a career spanning more than 40 years, he is arguably the most commercially successful. His hit show is now 13 seasons old and will remain famous for bringing drag to the main stage. He is also remembered for his strong personality “lip sync” (choreographies are performed) and its emotional moments.
The show, which first aired in the United States in 2009 – has since landed on Netflix and thus opened up to a wider audience – brought the drag queens to the height of their fame. Undoubtedly, a phenomenon that will enable the professionalization and democratization of the discipline.
Then drive, there are those who know from afar. Drag queens often refer to several figures “staggered” a transformist figure of pop culture (Priscilla fou du dessert, Paris is burning, Conchita Wurst at Eurovision) or Paris or Berlin cabarets. The difference is that the drag queen does not try to resemble a known or absent female figure. She is limited to clothing, as the transformist does.
In fact, there are several possible origins. The figure could find its origin in the English theater. When women were banned from the stage, men played women’s roles. The term of friction may then be short for “Dressed as a Girl”. The term “drag” can also refer to transvestites pulling their skirts behind their backs. It is difficult to decide on the exact origin. One thing’s for sure: cabaret and the LGBT community in the 20th century contributed to the rise of drag before the phenomenon of television. “Ru Paul’s Drag Race”its French version arrived last summer on France Télévisions.
Previously limited to certain circles and night events in big cities, drag is now open to as many people as possible. By breaking gender codes and caricaturing stereotypes, drag becomes art. And like all art, it conveys a message. A kind of glamorous snub to enforced standards.
That evening in Besancon ” House of detritus (a drag collective) chose trash bag decorations made from plastic bag tarps. “That’s the message”we are poor and we don’t have much money”. So we will drag”Peez explains. “We are wasteful because society gives us the idea that we are wasteful, so we can announce it, show it on stage and sublimate it”he argues.
Peez hopes the Besançon scene will continue to grow. He wants to continue his profession and make a living from it. Something that won’t be easy. It’s hard to break through. Drags often live in dangerous conditions and often travel to the capital to find places to perform. “I wish we could do what we want where we want”, Peez testifies that he does not want to go to Paris. The student from Colmar is now bound for Besançon. “I would like to have a stage that allows us to live everywhere.”
One thing is clear from meeting drag queens. A drag queen is also a character without being a character. It would be an extension of itself. Either way, it allows Julien, nicknamed Frezia, to express and embrace a part of herself. This Haut-Saônois seller in Besançon started a few weeks ago. “Since childhood, I love to reveal my femininity”. He started doing it at carnivals and bullied her in college. But he does not want to dwell on the subject. “It made me stronger. I feel freer and more confident than when I was drifting.”he testifies.
For Charline, nicknamed Joli Roger, drag is also therapeutic. This 28-year-old jeweler from Besançon is a drag king, the counterpart of drag queens. On stage, she adopts masculine codes. A liberating pleasure. “This allows me to return all the reproaches: you are like that, you are too, you are too manly”he explains. “Dear Roger, this is an over-exaggeration of my personality and especially the parts I don’t like”he deciphers. “If you don’t love yourself, how can you love others?”, turns on Ru Paul at the end of each show. Drag is also a way for these young people to reconcile.
Tonight, Joly Roger will perform on stage for the first time. Stress is felt. His parents visited. His father tells us he was a little hesitant. Their daughter has been seen watching the TV competition for years. “It’s a different environment”he says with a smile. “But I’m here to support my daughter”.
And they weren’t alone. A hundred people in all—young men of all sexes—to rush into the basement of this self-contained building where a thrift store has turned into a pit. The performances keep on coming. Through shows that are sometimes pop, sometimes theatrical, sometimes humorous, drag queens also externalize and confirm their identity. On the contrary, the public plays games, cheers and encourages them. Love goes both ways. And that’s drag: doing good on and off the stage.