In this century we can see that there was more artistic expression, social change, and a dramatic growth in LGBTQIA+ rights movements. We will explore drag during World War Two and the post war period where there was an increase in drag revues. This article will take you through how drag became a vital part in LGBTQIA+ activism. Whilst also showing the hardships that drag performers had to experience especially towards the end of the century, such as the government’s response to the AIDs crisis and Section 28.
World War Two is probably the last thing you think of when remembering 20th century drag, as this period of time was a time related to sadness, grief, and hardships. Drag also suffered during this period, as many public and paid drag events had to be paused due to war efforts. There are minimal sources and histography covering British drag queens during World War Two, this is for two reasons. First reason is that people weren’t interested in commenting on drag queens during this period due to the war and the second reason being that many of the men who were drag queens were conscripted to fight during the war. However, even being conscripted didn’t stop drag shows. Drag shows were quite popular with American and British troops. We can see its popularity with a series of photos taken by photographer John Topham in 1940 of soldiers in full women attire, in drag, ready for a Christmas charity event. However, as they were preparing for this event making sure their dresses were done up and their skirts laid flat an alert went off forcing them to run to their stations. These photographs were hidden from the public by the government for many years. The photographs represented a lot, on one hand they showed Britain’s determination to fight the Nazis in whatever circumstances. But the government viewed this as Britain’s weakness, they thought it portrayed the army as less manly and that Germany would have a ball if they got hold of these photos. But supporters of drag artists know that drag doesn’t make you less of a he, she, or they. Drag is simply artistic expression and if someone who identifies as male chooses to partake in drag it does not compromise their masculinity.
As for drag kings during World War Two, they were impacted a lot less. This is because, obviously, women stayed in the country and weren’t allowed to fight in the war but were doing a considerable amount at home. Women were an integral part of Britain winning World War Two as they joined to help the war effort by working in factories or working as nurses, but this led to many women giving up their career prospects to help with the war. But there were still drag kings and male impersonators that still continued their career. Drag artist Hetty King is one example of this. Her drag career spanned both World War One and Two and was a huge success. However, by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 male impersonation was not looked on as favourably, which led Kings performances to be more of a nostalgia vibe rather than modern and new. King would often perform as a soldier or a sailor and was credited for her amazing mannerisms leading her to tour in many places including France and Belgium.