FOF #2557 – The Rise of the Modern Drag Queen

Dec 11, 2017 · 812 views

Her full name is Jeremiah Lady J Martinez O’Neal Davenport, or Dr. Lady J if you’re nasty. Photos: Lady J Martinez O’Neal.

Even though folks have been crossdressing for entertainment since the dawn of time, the rise of the modern drag queen can be traced back to a some relatively recent events and a few key artists.

While American society in the 1960s was opening up to the many possibilities offered by the sexual revolution, a lot of drag artists took the art of female impersonation very seriously, and didn’t stray too far from a feminine ideal. It was folks on the fringe like Divine, Sylvester, the Cockettes, Holly Woodlawn and David Bowie who shaped drag into a multi-faceted art form we see today.

Today, queer educator, doctor of drag Lady J Martinez O’Neal Davenport joins us to take a look at the rise of the modern drag queen, from Holly Woodlawn and the Warhol Superstars to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona to RuPaul who made her-story by being the first drag queen to get signed by a major record label.

Listen as we talk about: Charlie Chaplin as the silver screen’s first drag superstar.

Charles Ludlam and the Theater of the Ridiculous plays where two actors did all the roles.

Why the drag documentary Paris is Burning became such a hit when the film came out.

Madonna’s influence on RuPaul.

How close RuPaul came to becoming just a footnote in history as just another club kid with a big dream.

Download: From the Love Ball to RuPaul-The Mainstreaming of Drag in the 1990s


  1. A really great podcast about the history of drag with your guest Lady J Martinez O’Neal Davenport (Jeremiah Davenport). I had started listening to the podcast in December, just finished it now, and think I need to listen to it again! I have a somewhat different take on Jennie Livingston’s documentary Paris Is Burning (1990), in part informed by Lucas Hilderbrand’s extremely insightful book Paris Is Burning (Queer Film Classics series, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2013), which I highly recommend. Livingston’s project started out as a radio journalism series; she was encouraged to make a film, and had to apply to numerous grants, as no one wanted to fund it. The film took over four years to make and continues to be of great interest to many people.

    • Paris is Burning (much like Pumping Iron) is one of those great documentary films that not only defined a genre, it was also groundbreaking for it’s time when nobody wanted to touch the subject matter.

      Nowdays everyone’s gaga for drag and bodybuilding, but back then it was all seen as underground fetishes. RuPaul, like Arnold Schwarzenegger will forever be tied to their original careers no matter what they do.

      That’s the power of documentary films!

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