HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Topics » Race & Ethnicity » African American (Group) » The First Drag Queen Was ...

Sat Feb 1, 2020, 11:11 PM

The First Drag Queen Was a Former Slave


His name was William Dorsey Swann, but to his friends he was known as “the Queen.” Both of those names had been forgotten for nearly a century before I rediscovered them while researching at Columbia University. 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.

In 1896, after being convicted and sentenced to 10 months in jail on the false charge of “keeping a disorderly house”—a euphemism for running a brothel—Swann demanded (and was denied) a pardon from President Grover Cleveland for holding a drag ball. This, too, was a historic act: It made Swann the earliest recorded American to take specific legal and political steps to defend the queer community’s right to gather without the threat of criminalization, suppression, or police violence.

When I tell people that I’m writing a book about the life of a former slave who reigned over a secret world of drag balls in Washington, DC, in the 1880s, the looks of shock, delight, and even confusion on their faces tell me all I need to know. <....>

4 replies, 1042 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 4 replies Author Time Post
Reply The First Drag Queen Was a Former Slave (Original post)
tishaLA Feb 2020 OP
58Sunliner Feb 2020 #1
tishaLA Feb 2020 #2
58Sunliner Feb 2020 #3
tishaLA Feb 2020 #4

Response to tishaLA (Original post)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 02:39 AM

1. Well they may not have referred to them as drag queens, but he was certainly not the first.

The history begins as early as Rome. A rose by any other name... Many societies had men who dressed as women.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to 58Sunliner (Reply #1)

Sun Feb 2, 2020, 02:58 AM

2. I knew someone would quibble with The Nation's title

Rather than enjoying the underlying history written by a serious scholar.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to tishaLA (Reply #2)

Mon Feb 3, 2020, 11:40 AM

3. I 'm not quibbling. You state something as a fact. It isn't.

For centuries men, and women, have been cross-dressing, dragging, and yet you want to ignore all of that, all those lives that suffered, were probably killed, abused, etc..., with no societal protections. No thanks. A serious scholar would never make such an erroneous blanket statement that is so provably false. LGBTQ rights have been an issue for centuries. I find the history fascinating, so don't lie to me and say I don't appreciate it because I point out something you don't want to hear.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to 58Sunliner (Reply #3)

Mon Feb 3, 2020, 12:51 PM

4. I claim nothing. I poste the title and first few paragraphs

of an essay in The Nation. It is the work of a very serious scholar and, if you want to fight with the editors of the magazine, you should take your quibbles to them.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Reply to this thread