With the conclusion of RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars 2 happening Thursday, four former Drag Race competitors (Kim Chi, Raja, Shangela, and Detox) helped Vanity Fair create a video showcasing 103 years of drag fashion re-created through nine historic drag performers.
You already know some of the more recent performers — namely Divine, RuPaul, Raven and David Bowie (who is more genderfuck that drag in our opinion, but perhaps that’s just splitting hairs), but you probably haven’t heard of the old-timey performers like pansy performer Jean Malin (“one of the first openly gay performers in Prohibition-era Speakeasy culture”), female impersonator Francis Renault (who was arrested in Dallas for cross-dressing), drag performer Lavern Cummings (a blues singer made famous at Finnochio’s Club in San Francisco), and drag queen Danny La Rue (a female-celebrity impersonator who was reportedly “Britain’s highest-paid performer” during the ‘60s).
It’s also worth pointing out that the video’s 1920s performer, Madame Butterly (from the opera by straight composer Giacomo Puccini), wasn’t actually a man, a drag queen, or a female illusionist; the opera presents her as a cisgender woman who gets impregnated by the deadbeat U.S. Naval Lieutenant Pinkerton — what a jerk.
Gay playwright David Hwang eventually did a modern stage play called M. Butterfly in which the Asian love interest is a man masquerading as a woman, but that play didn’t come out until 1988.