Drag: The Complete Story is not just for fabulous queens and drag enthusiasts, but also for anyone interested in gender fluidity and the culture surrounding it…
By Christopher Turner
You don’t have to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race to realize just how much drag culture has infiltrated the mainstream. But with his new book, Drag: The Complete Story, legendary writer and fashion commentator Simon Doonan looks beyond the glamour: by taking on the monumental task of documenting the history of the art form and its impact, he helps shine a little light on where drag is headed.
“I had just done a book about soccer players [2018’s Soccer Style: The Magic and Madness], and the publisher [Laurence King Publishing] said to me, there isn’t a book on the history of drag going all the way back to ancient Rome all the way up to now,” Doonan says. “This one was a delight because it involved an immense amount of research, but it was all fun research. Who doesn’t like watching YouTube videos of drag queens jumping about?”
Doonan spent three years researching drag and its origins to ancient Egypt, Rome and Shakespearean times, to name a few. Filled with (obviously) dazzling images and Doonan’s trademark witty text, Drag: The Complete Story highlights the interest in gender fluidity that led to the rise of drag culture, defining its impact on the world of fashion, the LGBTQ community and far beyond.
Doonan divides the past and present landscape of drag into nine categories: glamour, art, butch, Black, historical, comedy, poster, movie and radical. Each thematic chapter in the 256-page hardcover illustrates how drag queens and kings in those spaces or time periods have helped shape drag in some meaningful way – or, in the case of Black drag queens, how they’ve shaped the LGBTQ community at large in a meaningful way.
And, crucially, Drag: The Complete Story takes a poignant look at Black icons like trans activist Marsha P. Johnson and, of course, RuPaul, whose work made a significant impact.
“Our culture owes everything to the Black drag queen. Everything,” Doonan says.
Of course, he understands that drag is rapidly evolving. The coffee-table-worthy tome also examines the misconceptions of drag, and the once-prevalent idea that only cisgender gay men could dress up in women’s clothes and makeup.
“There are straight women identifying as drag queens, there are little children identifying as drag queens. In the past two years, there’s been this flowering of identity, and as I’m writing this book, I’m thinking, sheesh, this makes it so much easier. People are redefining themselves in ever more nuanced ways. That makes it an easier topic.”
Whether you’re already a massive fan of Drag Race or drag culture, or simply interested in learning more about the movement’s origins over the centuries – from tabloid scandal in the Victorian era to Emmy-award-winning phenomenon in the 21st century – you’ll find something to love in Doonan’s extensive tome.
Now get your reading glasses out, darling…. Simon Doonan’s Drag: The Complete Story is available in bookstores across the country now.
CHRISTOPHER TURNER acted as guest editor for this issue of IN Magazine. He is a Toronto-based writer, editor and lifelong fashionisto with a passion for pop culture and sneakers. Follow him on social media at @Turnstylin.
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