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When the Lights are Shining on Them: Drag Performance and Queer Communities in London

Parslow, Joseph (2019) When the Lights are Shining on Them: Drag Performance and Queer Communities in London. Doctoral thesis, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

Abstract

Drag performance is and continues to be intimately linked to queer communities. This thesis explores drag performances and queer communities in contemporary London. It argues that
these performances offer fertile sites for the emergence and sustenance of queer communities, focusing on the work of twelve performers in contemporary London. Starting
from the understanding that homophobic and transphobic violence is increasingly prevalent in the context of this study, it describes and theorises drag performance and its relation to
the practice of queer communities both in response to and regardless of this violence. Overall, this thesis proposes that drag and the spaces in which these performances happen facilitate queer communities and as such are connected to queer modes of survival. There has been a resurgence in drag performance in the UK both as a result of and a resistance
to the rise in popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race (World of Wonder, 2009). As a result of this show, drag performers and performances are being seen and understood on an international scale. This inquiry, however, argues for the importance of drag as live performance in bars, pubs and clubs, despite and because of the increase of these kinds of queer venues closing in major cities in the UK. As a way of theorising these performances, this thesis proposes a ‘queer-side eye’ as an overarching methodological framework and tactic that recognises the complex and contingent ways in which the researcher is imbricated in the research. A queer side-eye is also a physical position in the world and describes not only a way of looking or watching – and being looked at – but also a playful attitude and position characterised by the acerbic wit of
drag performers. The tactic is constructed through field notes made from extensive observations. It is also connected to ideas of queering knowledge explored by Halberstam (2012) and Muñoz (2009), queer autoethnography proposed and practiced by Adams and Holman Jones (2008 & 2014) and Holman Jones and Harris (2019), and other modes of producing alternative knowledge in academic practice. Alongside the significant new insights that a structure of a queer side-eye offers for the study
of queer performance forms, this thesis argues for the
importance of queer venues and drag performance in the context of homophobia and transphobia in contemporary London and beyond, arguing that drag performance offers queer forms of survival.

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