Drag Reading List
The Changing Room: Sex, Drag and Theatre
Senelick’s massive manuscript covers cross-dressed performance from ancient Rome to nearly the present day. This is an excellent reference for anyone looking to find out what’s going on with drag performance at any given time period. But there is one huge drawback which is Senelick’s discussions of trans performers. While trans women who were important drag queens are not totally devalued, the ways that Senelick discusses surgery and how trans women were often treated by the community tend to claim trans performers as problematic or less-than with no basis other than the idea that drag comes down to the grand trick of the illusion, which is obviously not the case to any deep level drag fan. Despite this and other problems, this book is a must-have for those interested in drag history simply because of the massive compiling of information in one source.
Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989-92
Though this book is largely comprised of full page photographs from the time period, the texts contained within are also some of the best sources on Voguing at its height out there. Tim Lawrence’s introduction is one of the best summations of the history of the New York City Ballroom scene and was highly influential on my own work. If you have any interest in voguing or Ballroom history BUY THIS BOOK! You will not regret it.
Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America
One of the earliest and still significant texts documenting drag performance from the viewpoint of an anthropologist. Written during the final years of the 1960s, Esther Newton’s work highlights an important moment of change in the drag performance world with the entrance and success of lipsyncing queens into a world dominated by more established live singing queens.
The Drag Queens of New York: An Illustrated Field Guide
Fleisher examines the New York drag scene in the wake of increasing national attention. Notably, RuPaul is absent from the book because, as Fleisher explains, she has recently written her own book telling her life story. Fleisher gives a basic overview of drag in NYC leading up to the 1990s chronicling the rise and fall of some of the bigger bars of the 1980s and the rise of Wigstock, the enormous (then) yearly festival devoted to drag. The book’s main feature is its short entries and photos of the main figures of New York drag when the book was written. Fleisher categorizes the queens by their “plumage” on a meter at the bottom of their entries, ranking their appearance from clown to glamour. Furthermore, he gives the dates each queen began drag, what type of performance she is known for, and who her drag sisters and drag mother are.
Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman
Adopting a wide lens in his definition of what it means to be transgender, Feinberg explores the history of people who have cross-dressed throughout the ages. In the book he discusses the role of transgender people from antiquity to the present and attempts to account for their role in society. The book’s main problem is that it is somewhat under-researched, however, it does provide insight into the modern community as well as several important historical figures as well.
Just One of the Boys: Female-to-Male Cross-Dressing on the American Variety Stage
The World According to Wonder: 1991-2012
Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture
Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch
Flights of Angels: My Life with the Angels of Light
Hiding My Candy
Lettin’ It All Hang Out: An Autobiography
If you only read one of RuPaul’s books, let this be it. Whereas Ru’s other books tend to focus on highlighting the same guru-like self help tropes again and again that she also espouses in every interview and on her show, this book actually tells the stories of how RuPaul made her way from the Atlanta punk scene to becoming the darling of Downtown New York nightlife and finally conquering the mainstream after getting the Fabulous Pop Tarts to become her management, the same guys who are now World of Wonder: Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey. This is the closest you’ll get to the real story of RuPaul’s rise to fame outside of the sources I’ve put together in my dissertation chapter about her. Also, if you don’t mind putting down the extra cash for a Feast of Fun podcast subscription, they have the definitive interview with RuPaul deeeeeeep in their archives for subscribers and it’s the only interview Ru has ever really let her guard down in: 100% worth checking out.