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Not Another Drag Competition From amateur to professional drag performance

Parslow, Joe (2021) Not Another Drag Competition From amateur to professional drag performance. Performance Research, 25 (1). pp. 18-24.

Abstract

This article examines Not Another Drag Competition (NADC), a small London-based drag competition that took place from 2016 to 2018, in order to argue that localized drag competitions have the potential to both reify and subvert their ‘professional’ mainstream counterparts such as RuPaul’s Drag Race (RPDR). Whereas RPDR privileges drag queens – and within that a rather narrow form a drag queening – and tends to espouse neoliberal, assimilationist politics, NADC includes a variety of gender positionalities and performance practices and aims to model a more generous, intergenerational and collective politics. In doing so, it also contests the RPDR – and more broadly the neoliberal – narrative of moving from amateur to professional.

NADC playfully engaged with the proliferation of drag competitions in the wake of RPDR, while taking seriously the opportunities for development and professional growth for younger or newer drag performers on the scene. Actively rejecting binaries or hierarchies of form (e.g. between kings and queens) or identity (e.g. female-identified drag queens, or trans and/or non-binary people in drag), the competition launched the career of a number of performers on the London scene. This article takes examples of the ways in which NADC might exert a drag upon (and resist) dominant and problematic forms such as RPDR and as such how drag as a queer performance form could drag neoliberal structures of competition, professionalization and progress more broadly. Ultimately, it argues that while drag is inculcated complexly in systems that oppress queer people, when looking at drag (and certain drag competitions) it is also possible to find ways to resist and subvert these systems and in so doing find possibilities for hope and survival.

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