A History of Drag and/as Nationalism

Center for the Study of Sexual Culture Presents…

A history of drag and/as nationalism

Katie Horowitz, Speaker

Daniel Boyarin, Ph.D., Moderator

Horowitz’s paper explores contemporary U.S. drag queens’ gestural and stylistic affinity with fame, royalty, and wealth. She argues that these performers depend on the invisibility of real world social structures (e.g. race, gender, sexuality, and class) to reinforce the illusion of their own celebrity, and she attributes this tendency to the deep imbrication of gay male kinship rituals with colonialist discourse, a rhetorical paradigm popularized over the last half-century by the gay service organization, the International Court System. Founded by the legendary San Francisco drag queen José Sarria in 1965, the ICS has continually straddled the lines between camp irony, imperial fantasy, and conventional politics. While its activities have made the mainstream sociopolitical economy more habitable for queer people, they have also given rise to some troubling consequences for the history of American drag and for the polemic timbre of “queer” discourse more broadly. Drawing on Mary Gray’s and Scott Herring’s recent work on gay urbanism, Lisa Duggan’s critique of homonormativity, and Jasbir Puar’s articulation of the exclusionary politics of homonationalism, Horowitz problematizes the ICS’s mobilization of imperialism as a rhetoric of community-building.

ABOUT: Katie Horowitz is a PhD candidate in the Department of Rhetoric and the Designated Emphasis in Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Berkeley, as well as a lecturer at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. Her dissertation, "The Trouble with ‘Queerness’: Drag and the Making of Two Cultures," uses a comparative ethnography of drag king and queen performance cultures to address the perennial complaint that queer studies is gay male studies by any other name; an excerpt will appear in a forthcoming issue of Signs.