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Journal of Contemporary Ethnography

She Works Hard for

39(2) 159186
The Author(s) 2010
Reprints and permission: http://www.
the Money: Drag
DOI: 10.1177/0891241609342193

Queens and the

Management of Their
Contradictory Status of
Celebrity and Marginality

Dana Berkowitz1 and Linda Liska Belgrave2

This article reports an ethnographic study of drag queens who perform
in Miami Beach. Drag queens are marginalized, both economically and
socially. However, drag enables some gay men to emphasize and manipulate
aspects of femininity for the means of earning attention and income and
garnering situational power. Grounding their empirical findings in symbolic
interaction, identity, and performance theories, the authors argue that drag
queens employ nuanced strategies to negotiate their contradictory status
of admired yet alienated performers. The authors use observational and
in-depth interview data to explore how participants experience, cope with, and
challenge their social marginality. The authors then detail the rewards of drag,
focusing on the allure of the transformation, situational power, and income.
A subjective understanding of drag reveals that although marginalization is
a serious issue, the rewards of drag can be empowering. The authors argue
that identity work emerges as a link between marginalization and rewards.

Louisiana State University, New Orleans, LA
University of Miami, FL

Corresponding Author:
Dana Berkowitz, Louisiana State University, Department of Sociology and Program in Womans
and Gender Studies, 133 Stubbs Hall, Baton Rouge, LA 70803.
160 Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 39(2)

drag queens, performativity, identity

It is a Monday night at an amateur drag show at a small smoky bar on

a fairly empty side street in South Beach, Florida. The bar is sparsely
populated with patrons. Victoria, a slim towering drag queen enters the
stage in a leopard halter-top with red hot pants. Her 5 inch red patent
leather heels are decorated with glitter and her blonde wig stays
motionless from the pounds of hairspray she uses to groom her hair-
piece. The music begins and she starts lip-syncing to Donna Summers
She Works Hard for the Money.
She works hard for the money, so hard for it honey, she works hard
for the money, so you better treat her right
Those closer to the stage begin getting into the groove of the per-
formance, dancing and singing along with the music, fingering dollar
bills and placing them in Victorias breasts and in her money pail.
The vast majority of the crowd waits at the bar, facing the bartenders
in their endless attempt to secure a cocktail.
The song ends and I notice that Victoria has managed to score a
paltry amount of cash in her money pail and what appears to be a few
more dollars scattered throughout various crevices of her clothing.

This is a regular Monday night for Victoria, a twenty-eight-year-old trans-

plant from the Midwest trying to make ends meet in South Beach. She,1 like
many of the drag queens living in South Beach, has multiple jobs because,
quite frankly and as Victoria asserts, drag just dont pay the bills. Yet the
lure of doing drag and the power and attention it yields are simply too much
to relinquish. Drag is a very powerful performative act, and a successful drag
queen can hold a unique form of power over her audience. On the other side
of this coin, however, are the less glamorous lives of drag queens: threats of
verbal and physical cruelty; a world of drug and alcohol abuse; lonely roman-
tic lives; and for most, little financial gain in the long run.
This article examines the experiences of drag queens, gay men who dress
and perform as women but do not want to become women or have a womans
body (Rupp and Taylor 2003; Taylor and Rupp 2004). Drag queens publicly
perform being women in front of an audience that knows they are men,
regardless of how compellingly female they might otherwise appear
(Schacht and Underwood 2004, 4). This article grew out of a larger study
investigating the subjective experiences of drag queens in Miami Beach,
Berkowitz, Belgrave 161

Florida. It focuses on two themes that emerged from the larger study, specifi-
cally, how drag queens experience, cope with, and contest their marginalized
social worlds; and how they balance this marginalization with the rewards of
drag performance, including the allure of the transformation, situational
power, and income. Identity work emerges as a bridge between marginaliza-
tion and rewards.

Previous Research on Drag Queens

In contemporary Western societies, cross-dressing and homosexuality are
constructed as deviant or marginal, in that they fall outside the range of soci-
etys gendered and heterosexist norms. As such, much of the early research
conceptualized drag queens as part of a subgroup that consists of the outcasts
of two stigmatized groups, gay men and heterosexual cross-dressers, arguing
that drag queens endure the effects of multiple marginalized identities
(Newton 1979; Tewksbury 1994). Furthermore, some researchers even
conceptualized drag queens as failed men and as emblematic of the stigma
associated with all gay men (Newton 1979; Tewksbury 1994). Many early
scholars investigating the world of drag queens approached the field with
a priori assumptions that pathologized queens.
However, much of the more recent research paints a more complex
portrait. Hopkinss (2004) research underscores the importance of attend-
ing to the rewards that drag queens garner from their status as queens and
points to the empowerment of doing drag. His research demonstrates that
despite the costs of doing drag, such as possible discrimination, rejection
from friends and family, and violence, the actual contextual experience
of doing female impersonation is often quite positive, powerful, and nor-
mal (p. 137). Berkowitz, Belgrave, and Halbersteins (2007) analysis of
the public performances and private lives of drag queens draws attention
to the widespread discrimination against drag queens by gay men. The
authors emphasize that drag queens perceptions of alienation are depen-
dent on their perceived social status. However, even the most revered and
celebrated drag queens had difficulty finding men who would take them
seriously as a lover and partner, a pattern that underscores the marginality
of drag queens in the larger gay community.
Rupp and Taylor (2003) explore drag as political and social protest
that coincides with many of the other goals of gay and lesbian social move-
ments, in that drag challenges conventional notions of gender and sexuality
(see also Taylor, Rupp, and Gamson 2004). Through their performances, drag
queens demonstrate that there are multiple ways to practice and experience
162 Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 39(2)

gender. While performing, queens break the illusion of appearing as women

to accentuate performative nature of gender and sexuality (Taylor and Rupp
2004). Femininity, masculinity, and queerness are all allowed to circulate
freely in drag performance settings. Taylor and Rupp (2004) argue that drag
is a transgressive practice that destabilizes gender and sexuality by turning
the spotlight on the social constructions of masculinity, femininity, homo-
sexuality, and heterosexuality. Similarly, Butler (1990) argues that drag is
subversive because it reveals how all gender is constructed, and Munoz
(1999) maintains that drag has transgressive political potential through its
performance of parody. However, not all view drag as transgressive; some
scholars assert that drag reproduces gender norms by reinscribing traditional
hierarchies and dichotomies of gender and sexuality (Dolan 1985). Almost a
decade after asserting that drag is subversive of gender norms, Butler (2004,
214) tempers this stance with recognition that this subversion takes place in
a world with received notions of reality, implicit accounts of ontology,
which determine what kinds of bodies and sexualities will be considered real
and true, and which kind will not.
Schacht and Underwood (2004) illustrate how the situational power drag
queens experience during their performances allows them to embody tenets
closely associated with hegemonic masculinity (Connell 2000). The authors
argue that veiled beneath multiple layers of the feminine, female imperson-
ators are frequently able to exercise considerable masculine power in the
context in which they reside (Schact and Underwood 2004, p. 8). Many drag
queens are actually more masculine than their emphasized feminine
appearance implies, as stereotypical images of feminine are merely the real
estate upon which many drag queens do status and power (p. 9). Further-
more, the authors posit that when men enter into feminized bodies, as in the
particular case of drag, they still receive a patriarchal dividend (see also
Connell 2000), a phenomena not unlike that which occurs when men enter
into traditionally feminized occupations (Williams 1995).
This article follows the lead of recent research and attempts to offer a
more nuanced analysis of the everyday realities of drag queens. We maintain
that drag queens everyday realities are infused with the seemingly contradic-
tory experience of marginalization and celebrity.

Theorizing Drag Queens and Drag Performance

Themes from the theoretical frameworks of symbolic interactionism (SI),
identity theory, and performance theory inform and guide our research. SI
assumes that human beings possess the ability to imbue their world with
Berkowitz, Belgrave 163

meaning. Individuals are viewed not as units simply motivated by external

forces beyond their control but as reflexive and interacting human agents
(Mead 1934). In our study, SI illuminates how the everyday worlds of doing
drag and the meanings drag queens give to their worlds are not inherent or
essential; rather, they emerge out of a social and interpretive process.
The concept of identity is of tremendous importance to symbolic interac-
tionists. According to Stryker (1980), identity refers to who or what one is, to
the various traits or meanings attached to one by the self and others. In a
sense, identities are the most public aspect of the self. Simmel (1955)
describes how the modern self is capable of multilayered identities that are
acted out in various social roles. Pieces of our identities are switched on or
off depending on the social setting and our audience. Doing drag clearly
involves the manipulation of identity. The space of the stage, the guise of the
costume, and the dynamics of the audience all contribute to the enactment of
the drag identity. For example, the pseudonym, which is universal in drag, is
a critical stage prop that drag queens adopt to act their role and maintain a
barrier between the character exposed to the audience and what the men con-
sider to be their other, nondrag personality. Goffmans (1963) concept of the
performance of the self, where individuals take on a part, play a role, and
convince an audience, can be used to theorize how drag queens move in and
out of their work character.
However, the complexity of a drag identity and the performance that
accompanies it cannot fully be captured by a Goffmanian perspective. The
situation of the professional performera person who reflexively masters
the techniques of performanceis very different from Goffmans (1963) per-
former, who is likely to be unaware of her or his performance. This is pre-
cisely because performance behavior is known and practiced; it is put on
(Schechner 1988). The professional performer, in this case, the drag queen,
plays a character, and he is transformed, in that he is able to do things in
performance he cannot do ordinarily. The carnivalesque backdrop of the
drag show enables these persons to manufacture alternative facets of
Drag can be conceptualized as both transportive and transformative
(Schechner 1988). When the performance is over, drag queens can return to
their everyday nondrag identities; they are transported. Each separate per-
formance is a transportation, ending about where it began, while a series of
transportation performances can achieve a transformation (Schechner 1988,
126). This perspective allows us to see better how performance is a constitu-
tive experience and how the self is made through performance. Shapiro
(2007) demonstrates this in her ethnography of drag kings, wherein the
164 Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 39(2)

ideological context of the gendered performance of drag transformed the

gender identity and politics of the drag performer. We thus integrate the per-
spectives of SI, identity, and performance theory to better understand how
their marginalized and celebrated status shapes how drag queens construct
their performances and identities.

Research Methodology
The naturalistic approach to sociology presumes that reality exists in the natu-
ral environment of the social world (Gubrium and Holstein 1997). According
to Gubrium and Holstein (1997), the meaningful features of everyday life con-
sist of individuals orientation to and actions within this world, as they care-
fully manage their realities. We adopted a naturalistic approach with
constructivist underpinnings (discussed in more depth below) to our under-
standing of how drag queens imagine and experience their social worlds.
Gender, sexuality, race, and class can both obstruct and deepen under-
standing and rapport. As white middle-class heterosexual (and non-cross-
dressing) women who collected and interpreted the data, we are both outsiders
to the world of drag.3 Much of the classic and contemporary work on drag
queens is written by lesbians (Newton 1972; Taylor and Rupp 2004), many
of whom explicitly reflect on how their lesbian identities actually eased their
entre into their participants worlds (Taylor and Rupp 2005). As the primary
data collector, the first author came to develop close relationships with some
of her participants, fostering rapport, trust, and candid conversations. Her
identity as a heterosexual woman may have eased entre as much as if she
were lesbian, while stimulating a different conversation, in that crude wise-
cracks about lesbians were recurrent in many interviews. Furthermore, dur-
ing the bulk of data collection, the first author was twenty-four years old and
exuded a youthful demeanor that does not resemble the images one usually
conjures up of a researcher, a demeanor that allowed for girl talk, which
bridged social worlds and facilitated rapport building. Finally, the first
authors appreciation for drag and sincere desire to understand the lives of
practitioners was most likely perceived by participants, especially in the
interview setting. However, this does not diminish her relative power as an
educated and privileged researcher.
Fontana and Frey (2000, 663) argue that researchers cannot lift the results
of interviews out of the contexts in which they were gathered and claim them
as objective data with no strings attached. Taking this into consideration, we
as interviewers are conscious that our participants are not always completely
truthful and often fashion responses with an awareness that their audience is
Berkowitz, Belgrave 165

an outsider, specifically a researcher. Although participants might not be

sharing the truth with us about certain aspects of their lives, the heuristic tool
of analytic bracketing allows us to defer our concern for what is being said to
how and why the knowledge concerning this particular topic is narratively
constructed (Holstein and Gubrium 1995). In other words, as is discussed in
greater detail below, simply because we have reason to believe some of our
participants were not entirely truthful with us does not mean that we should
disregard their narratives completely. Rather, we deconstruct why particular
participants chose to misrepresent themselves and unpack the meanings these
representations have for drag performances, identities, and the profession of

Data Collection
Famous for its vibrant and exotic clubs, bars, and clientele, Miami Beach is
unlike any other city in America. Since the late 1980s, Miami Beach has been
a popular gay destination. The mention of Miami Beach invokes images of
endless, sunny days at the beach and nonstop nights of partying. The drag
queen has been a sort of cultural icon on the Miami Beach party scene ever
since the city began its renaissance in the late 1980s. In the 1980s and early
1990s, drag queens were a fixture on Miami Beach, and locals and visitors
alike had a smorgasbord of drag performances to choose from. A lot on the
Billion Dollar Sandbar has changed since those earlier days, with big busi-
nesses replacing much of the charming family-owned venues that once lined
the shore. Despite the changes, Miami Beach has maintained its status as a
premiere gay playground; and while the vibrant presence of drag queens on
the streets has waned, they can still be found in many gay clubs, bars, hotel
pool parties, and themed restaurants. It should be noted that all interviews
and observations were conducted in a locale that is considered to be both a
travel destination and a safe haven for gays and drag queens alike.
To become immersed in the social world of the drag queens, the first
author frequented gay bars and nightclubs in Miami Beach on specific nights
of the week reserved for drag entertainment. The seriousness of these drag
nights varied, from very professional theatrical shows to amateur perfor-
mances. She also frequented gay dance clubs that drag queens attended on a
regular basis, either for work or enjoyment. For a period of approximately
nine months, the first author was a fixture in the gay/drag club and bar scene,
getting to know her participants, familiarizing herself with the drag scene,
and conducting ethnographic observations. Field notes were jotted on nap-
kins, often as she sat at the bar, or, more frequently, were jotted in bathrooms.
166 Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 39(2)

Either that night or the following morning, she would immediately sit down
in front of the computer for a cathartic outpouring of field note writing. Gen-
erally, this process took anywhere from two to three hours, and notes were
chronologically structured.
Our research also entailed intensive, open-ended, semistructured inter-
views with eighteen drag queens. Constructivist interviewing approaches
view interviews as unfolding stories produced by a mutual interaction
between the interviewer and the participant (Holstein and Gubrium 1995;
Charmaz 2002). The constructivist interviewer realizes that data do not pro-
vide a window on reality; rather, the reality that emerges from the interview
is an interactive and mutually constructed product shaped just as much by the
researchers identity and biography as the participants (Charmaz 2000,
The first author used an interview guide to ensure that all topics of interest
were discussed. Questions were developed to fill the gap in the literature
addressing the subjective experience of the drag queen, including social and
cultural aspects of this experience. The guided-conversation approach was
especially desirable, given that the researchers are outsiders to the commu-
nity. In the constructivist approach to interviewing, both the interviewer and
the participant are mutually engaged in a process of reflexivity, and partici-
pants constantly inform the researchers of what is lacking in the interview
guide (Holstein and Gubrium 1995). Thus, as interviews progressed, we for-
mulated and added new questions to the interview guide. The first author
audio-recorded interviews (with the participants permission) and transcribed
them verbatim. Following the interview, she administered a questionnaire to
obtain demographic data.

Eighteen drag queens participated in the interview portion of this study. They
were recruited in clubs and bars and using a multiple-start snowball approach
with participants introducing other participants. The ages of the participants
ranged from nineteen to forty-three. Of the eighteen participants, three had
completed four years of college and one had completed a masters degree in
business administration. Two had finished less than two years of college,
nine had graduated from high school, and four had less than a high school
education. Only two participants relied on drag as their primary source of
earnings. The other sixteen participants occupations were hairstylist, cloth-
ing salesperson, high-class call girl, nightclub associate, dancer, server, and
Berkowitz, Belgrave 167

Participants came from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds. Six

described themselves as white, non-Hispanic, including a variety of Euro-
pean ethnic backgrounds; two simply stated they were of American descent.
Seven participants described themselves as Hispanic, with three born in
Puerto Rico, two in Colombia, and one in Cuba. Three participants identified
themselves as African American, with one being born in Haiti, the other a
descendant from Trinidad, and the third simply American. Finally, two par-
ticipants described themselves as racially and ethnically mixed.

Following each interview, the first author wrote field notes and transcribed
interviews. There was no preexisting coding scheme applied to the interview
data. Remaining true to the emergent nature of qualitative research requires
that the categories of analysis be shaped by the data (Lofland and Lofland
1995). As ideas surfaced in multiple interviews, they were coded and given
tentative labels during the open phase of the coding process. As similarities
in experience, patterns, and emergent themes appeared, we labeled categories
of phenomena and entered them into a code list. These categories consisted
of groupings of phenomenon that represent a more abstract quality (Glaser
and Strauss 1967). Consistent with the constructivist approach, we empha-
size how our categories are not factual realities; rather, they denote our way
of asking and seeing, coupled with our participants ways of experiencing
and narrating (Charmaz 2000, 2002). Our categories are not simply products
of the data but emerged through interplay of the mutual construction of the
interview and coding process. We compared themes identified in this study to
existing literature on drag queens and other forms of feminized service work.
The themes derived from this work unveil the dynamic and complex social-
psychological process of how drag queens actively negotiate their paradoxi-
cal celebratory/marginal statuses.

Findings are organized around marginalization and rewards in the life of drag
queens. An introduction to this contradictory status is followed by in-depth
looks at (1) how drag queens experienced, coped with, and challenged the
marginalization they encountered; and (2) the rewards of drag performance,
including the allure of the transformation, situational power, celebrity status,
and income. Finally, we address identity work as a bridge between marginal-
ization and rewards.
168 Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 39(2)

Freaks, Fairies, or Celebrities?

The Contradictory Status of Drag Queens
Drag queens perception of their social statuses ranged from admiration to
alienation. In accordance with recent literature (Hopkins 2004), a handful of
the participants explained that both heterosexuals and gay men regarded
them with admiration. One participant who was rapidly emerging onto the
Miami Beach drag scene explained,

Being a drag queen, the community begins to recognize you and see
that you put on a good show. I mean the gay community loves drag
queens. That is a worldwide fact! Everybody knows that gay people
love drag queens, I mean there are some . . . that think its wrong, but
the majority, like 99 percent of gay people love drag queens. (Kelley)

Although this comment was from an amateur drag queen and a novice to the
world of performance, others echoed his comments. Bertica, a highly experi-
enced queen who had been doing drag for more than a decade, discussed her

My status as a drag queen, in my case I think they look up to me,

people like her very much, thank God. I am very lucky. I try to live up
to everybodys expectations . . . they are very good to me from the
lowest to the highest, from the big club owner to the man on the street,
so it is great.

Bertica had to endure a decade of struggles that included booking her

own shows, making a name for herself, creating her own unique drag per-
sona, learning makeup and wig techniques, and making her own costumes
before she was able to attain her current status as a well-respected queen.
Kelley, on the other hand, was a mere eighteen years of age and, at the time
of the interview, was making her debut into the world of drag performance.
These participants represent two distinct ends of the drag continuumthe
experienced, revered professional and the novice performer who was some-
what clueless as to the internal political strife that many other drag queens
Numerous participants reported feelings of alienation and marginalization
from heterosexuals and gay men alike. Krystal, a participant who had been per-
forming for two and a half years, elaborated on the stereotypes he believes are
Berkowitz, Belgrave 169

ascribed to him when he says, Some straight people definitely think we are
freaks or sluts and think we try to pick up straight men. Similarly, Roxanne, an
active member in the drag scene, elaborated on his experiences of alienation:

I think that drag queens are not accepted as equals in the gay commu-
nity. People love to watch us, but when it comes to getting close to us .
. . that is a different story. Once people get to know us they treat us as
equals, but prior to that they think we are some serious freaks.

Roxannes claim is in accordance with prior research that underscores the

notion that drag queens are merely coifed personalities whose only purpose
is to titillate the audience (Namaste 2000; Berkowitz, Belgrave, and Halber-
stein 2007).

Experiencing, Coping with, and Contesting Marginalization

Participants discussed various ways that they experienced, coped with, and
challenged their perceived marginalization. Outside of the safe space of the
stage, drag queens experienced verbal harassment and physical abuse. Drug
and alcohol use were widespread and relatively accepted, possibly surfacing
as a coping strategy of marginalization. Finally, very few participants out-
wardly contested marginalization, underscoring how drag queens have little
space outside performance to explicitly challenge rigid gender norms and

Experiencing Marginalization. As noted earlier, many perceive Miami Beach to

be safe haven for gays, lesbians, and transgender folk alike. It is the lure of
this sanctuary of sexual freedom that uprooted many of our participants from
their prior lives in other more sexually repressive locales and brought them
to Miami Beach in the first place. Nevertheless, Miami Beach is not without
its problems. Some participants spoke of experiences with discrimination,
bigotry, and assaults. Gina, a well-known drag personality, admitted that at
one point, he considered abandoning his career in drag. He explained,

Well, this is what happened, I said I am not doing drag anymore and I
am going to do something normal, Ill go into a record store and just
get a job in a record store; I thought that is so easy, how could I not get
it? I had sixteen-year-olds telling me no, they were telling me I could
not work there because of who I was.
170 Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 39(2)

For Gina, the local fame and contextual power of his drag identity brought with
it unintended consequences when his quest to leave the world of drag was quickly
thwarted. Other stories reveal more explicit harassment. Bertica remembered
driving to a performance and being stuck in a traffic jam dressed in drag:

I was stuck, right in the middle of the intersection in traffic, and of

course they saw my painted face and they started screaming faggot,
faggot. And I was powerless because I could not get out of the car and
fight them in heels . . . they were hateful and really ugly.

Nonconforming gender performances threaten the patriarchal order and chal-

lenge long-standing Western philosophical distinctions between appearance
and reality (Schechner 2003). Notwithstanding, gender nonconformity is
permitted in certain designated spaces, such as in carnivals and in the theatre.
Butler (1990) distinguishes between performing against the dominant code in
a theatre and on the street. Much more is permitted onstage than off. Further-
more, onstage, it is the drag queen who is in a position of power relative to
the audience. When on the stage, Bertica is adept at dealing with hecklers, yet
offstage there are no conventions of the theatre to protect a drag queen from
ridicule, harassment, or physical violence. Other participants echoed Berti-
cas experience of being verbally assaulted in public. Victoria maintained
that she never walked the streets in drag but instead made a conscious effort
to pack an overnight bag with her clothing, wig, and makeup for the evening
and prepare for the nights performance at the specified venue. Even in a
popular gay destination like Miami Beach, the streets are not safe spaces for
drag queens.

Drugs: Coping with Marginalization or Simply Coming with the Territory? One
night toward the beginning of data collection, the first author was at a drag
show at small bar on a side street off of a main strip.

I went into the bathroom to jot down some notes on a napkin and I
heard shuffling coming from one of the stalls. Curiosity got the best of
me and I looked down to see three different pairs of shoes peeping out
from under the stall. Two of these pairs were five-inch stilettos and the
third were black leather loafers. I heard sniffing noises and then cough-
ing noises coming from the stall. I just stood there, trying to listen
more to the muffled sounds when the door flew open. Two queens and
a burley man storm out of the stall laughing and squealing at one
another. The man hurries out of the womens restroom when he sees
Berkowitz, Belgrave 171

me standing there. I quickly grabbed some lipstick out of my bag and

reapplied my makeup in the mirror while directly next to me; the two
drag queens checked their noses in the mirror. (Field notes, March 25,

Researchers have documented the prevalence of drug use within the gay
club scene, maintaining that these venues are common sites for the use of
club drugs, particularly methamphetamine, ecstasy, and cocaine (Mattison
et al. 2001; Green and Halkitis 2006). In April 2000, the president of the Gay
and Lesbian Medical Association called for urgent research on the devastat-
ing results in our emergency rooms of club drugs, noting their severe
increase (Frontiers Newsmagazine, 2000, as cited in Mattison etal. 2001).
Drag queens are fixtures in urban gay subcultural spaces, and within these
spaces they are reviled and revered, facing an added layer of complexity
compared with other gay men. It is possibly for this reason that drugs were
such a ubiquitous part of many participants lives. Cocaine was the drug of
choice and many queens did not have to actively seek it out; rather, it simply
came with the territory. Alexa asserted that Miami Beach is the cocaine
sandbar, and Ruby remembered his drug use reaching an all-time high when
he moved to Miami Beach:

Cocaine and alcohol became a big part of my life. I mean this is The
Beach. There is somebody who can get you cocaine every three people
you meet; it is constantly around. . . . Cocaine is a staple here It
became a problem for a while. . . . So, I went into drug and alcohol

As stated above, the gay nightclub scene in general and the drag scene in
particular are simply overwhelmed with drugs and alcohol, and it can be dif-
ficult to resist. Eve recalled, There were a lot of drugs, just in the gay life-
style. Sharon extends Eves assertion and maintains that drag queens in
Miami Beach have access to almost any drug of their choice . . . we get every-
thing for free . . . when you do drag you get popular and people love you so
they give you things. Sharon brings up the benefits that accompany the
celebrity status some drag queens achieve in their local communities. How-
ever, this celebrity was also accompanied by feelings of isolation. When the
first author probed deeper into the subject of drug use, one participant, Ruby,
solemnly explained, I just really did not want to see what I felt . . . I was
being a coward, not wanting to recognize my feelings. Likewise, Victoria
172 Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 39(2)

replied, alcohol [and cocaine] was a way for me to mask the pain I was deal-
ing with.
For some, the perks that come with celebrity status combined with margin-
alization had disastrous consequences. Rhonda, who at the time of the inter-
view was residing in a temporary homeless shelter and who was also in drug
and alcohol recovery and no longer performing, remembered his drag days:

My typical day as a drag queen would be laying in bed feeling so numb

and dead when I opened my eyes and saying I cant believe I did it
again, meaning stayed out that late. . . . Then I would try to clean up
and get myself half decent and get myself to work [at a beauty salon].
. . . Going to work and pretending that everything is okay, slapping on
some cover-up under my eyes to hide the bags. . . . Everybody thought
I was living this fabulous life. . . . Once I got out of work I would get
in my car, exhausted and I was either on my way to the coke dealer or
I would have the coke dealer deliver it to [the workplace] so that as
soon as I sat in my car I could do my first bump. This would give me
enough energy to get home, call my friends and get ready . . . meaning,
get ready in drag.

We spoke with two very high-paid and respected members of the drag com-
munity in Miami Beach who adamantly maintained that one crucial aspect
that separated professional queens from their amateur and novice counter-
parts was their refusal to succumb to drug and alcohol abuse. Although many
of these professionals were out until all hours of the night, they asserted that
they were out working, not partying. These two queens had been performing
drag for a decade or more and have seen it all (Sabine). Bertica had wit-
nessed many queens throw their careers away because of drugs and alcohol:

Where I work I have seen people lose their careers because they cant
get up for work or get there on time. If I party every night that I went
out [to work], I wouldnt be able to do the things I do. I am very seri-
ous about work, it would be like any actor getting high every night;
you cant work.

While drag blurred the boundaries between work and play, it was still a
job, and one that only garnered financial success and notoriety through hard
work, time, preparation and keeping your nose clean (Sabine). Although
both Bertica and Sabine4 were adamant that they did not use drugs, the first
author ran into Bertica one night out of costume at a local bar and was
Berkowitz, Belgrave 173

surprised to see white powder lining his right nostril. As they engaged in
small talk, she noticed that Berticas pupils were dilated, his jaw was shifting
uncontrollably back and forth, and he could not look the researcher in the
eye. It was clear that Bertica was, in fact, high on cocaine. Like many persons
in an interview setting, Bertica wanted to portray himself in a positive light,
which meant presenting himself as a professional performer, a successful
drag queen, and a diligent worker. During their interview, Bertica even
asserted that there is not a drag queen in town who has the level of profes-
sionalism and seriousness as me. While Berticas presentation of self might
not have been factually true, certainly it speaks volumes regarding his defi-
nition of a valued self. Thus, this example demonstrates the usefulness of
narratively constructed data. In addition, his use of drugs in the face of his
stated values supports the interpretation that drugs are, at least to some extent,
used to cope. Finally, although the situation of the professional performer
who reflexively masters the techniques of performance differs from the Goff-
manian performer (Schechner 1988), Berticas misrepresentation of self in
the interview setting is not unlike his manipulation of gender when in drag.
Pharr (1988) maintains that alcohol and drug abuse can be a major product of
internalized homophobia, and the combination of alcohol, drugs, and internal-
ized homophobia creates a climate that fosters self-destruction. We cannot say
for sure if drugs pervade the drag scene because they serve as a coping mecha-
nism to counter the marginalization and harassment that accrues from internal-
ized homophobia and gender nonconformity or if this is something that simply
comes with the territory in the nightclubs in which drag queens spend so much
of their time. However, it is clear that drug and alcohol abuse is common and
relatively accepted as part of drag, except for those who define themselves as
professional drag queens. Furthermore, we see that the professional and estab-
lished queens used their relative sobriety, (whether it was real or not) to distin-
guish themselves from their amateur counterparts, pointing to hidden status
dynamics within this subculture to which future research should attend.

Challenging Marginalization. A few drag queens told stories of outwardly chal-

lenging marginalization, asserting their power by verbally and physically
fighting back. While these form a collective story of a narrow social group,
their experiences and narratives show that simply because performing in drag
transgresses some social norms, it does not necessarily challenge others.
Drag attracts attention, much of it positive but a good deal quite negative. As
previously noted, even in the relatively safe space of Miami Beach, drag
queens are the victims of verbal and physical abuse. Sharon maintained that
whenever she was the victim of cruel remarks or verbal assaults, she would
174 Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 39(2)

simply respond with an equally rude comment. Usually these comments

would be low blows and reference the miniscule size of their cock or he
would shout back that the assailants were white southern trash or dirty
spics. Gina used a similar strategy late one evening when he was coming out
of a nightclub:

I came out and there were like five really big black guys and they were
like, What the fuck is that? You faggot! So, I go You know what, I
may be a faggot, but this makeup washes off. Tomorrow morning you
are still going to be black and ugly. Fuck them, they deserved it.

When the first author asked Gina what happened following her tirade, Gina
explained that other insults and verbal assaults were exchanged until one of
the bouncers of the club dragged her back inside.
For Gina and Sharon, a way of fighting back was to verbally attack assault-
ers with crude remarks that condemned the original perpetrators race or
class identity. Because these drag queens were being assaulted for both their
sexual preference and gender transgressions, for them, an equally spiteful
insult was one that was damaging to the other axes that frame social life
specifically the axes of race and class. As Schacht and Underwood assert in
their introduction to a special issue of Journal of Homosexuality on drag
queens (2004, 12), Many drag queens seem successful in questioning and
challenging notions of heterosexism, especially straight male privilege, but
far less subversive when it comes to other oppressive inequalities, such as
sexism, racism, and classism. In these narrative fragments, participants are
performing both gender and sexual transgression and white privilege. Their
white privilege counteracts their sexual and gender nonconformity, allowing
them to draw upon a racial hierarchy that positions their whiteness above the
race or ethnicity of their (black or Latino) assailants. In prevailing American
discourse, blackness represents a kind of otherthe queer race-representing
exoticism, primitiveness and mysteriousness that enables whiteness tomas-
querade as the rational, the civilized, the known (Wilchins 2004, 117). The
function black performs for white is analogous to the function offemale to male
or gay to straight or gender conforming to nonconforming. Femaleness, homo-
sexuality, and gender transgression emerge as strange, unnatural, and in need
of explanation, whereas their counterparts are understood as normal, natural,
and ahistorical. Sharons and Ginas homosexuality and drag apparel, while
marginalized, stand in opposition to their privileged and normative white
identity. It is their whiteness that affords them the ability to rely on an
Berkowitz, Belgrave 175

unmarked cultural privilege as leverage to counteract their sexual and gender

Only one participant shared a story about an incident where he actually
fought back physically when another man attacked him. Bertica explained
that one night he and a friend were attacked in a dark street in a somewhat
unsafe area of Miami Beach:

This guy started screaming Maricon, Faggot. But, I kept walking,

trying to ignore him . . . but then I felt a kick on my ass very hard . . .
and I felt this kick it was like BOOM . . . I fought back . . . I kicked
him a lot. My boots were steel toe . . . I was so angry at the ignorance
and stupidity. I left him and he was bleeding all over.

Bertica followed this story with an explanation that under normal circum-
stances, he was not a fighter. In fact, this was the only violent encounter that
Bertica had experienced in his entire adult life, and it was the only incident
of reciprocated violence that we encountered in our eighteen interviews and
nine months of observations in the field. Recall Berticas incident involving
a traffic jam and rude remarks that left him feeling powerless because he
could not fight back. That time, Bertica was wearing high-heeled shoes. This
time he was dressed as more of a gothic drag queen and was wearing steel-toe
boots. Although it is not quite clearand of course we can never be sureit
is possible that the hypergendered nature of the clothing typically worn by
drag queens renders them feeling that they should act in accordance with
expectations associated with emphasized femininity (Connell 1987), wherein
traditionally female characteristics of passivity and nurturance are invoked.
Furthermore, the masculine steel-toe boots worn by Bertica that day, coupled
with the previous incident that left him feeling powerless, invoked a violent
response that may not have otherwise occurred.

The Rewards of Drag: Allure of

Transformation, Situational Power, and Income
Participants discussed myriad rewards of drag that served to counteract or at
least lessen the effects of marginalization that so many of them brought up in
interviews. These included the transformative effect of drag (including the
raw experience of creating the illusion and performing), the situational power
of performance, and the income generated from drag.
176 Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 39(2)

Allure of Transformation. The metamorphosis from man to drag requires skill,

patience, and a lot of work. The first author had the pleasure of watching
Sabine get ready one evening before her performance for a special event; it
was an incredible sight.

He pulled out a huge Louis Vuitton train case (that he said he got as a
gift for doing an event for the high-fashion company) full of liquids,
powders, pencils, brushes, and fake eyelashes. I watched him apply a
thick powder to his face, using blush and more powder to create the
illusion of cheekbones. Next, came the application of lots of concealer,
eye-liner, eye-brow pencil, eye-shadows, more blush, fake eyelashes,
lip-liner, and lipstick and forty-five minutes later, the face of Sabine
began to appear. Next, he puts on panty hose, a corset, duct tape, stuff-
ing, and more panty hose. Then came some tucking, tying, and cinch-
ing, on went a floor-length baby pink gown with silver trimming, a
bouffant blonde wig, and five-inch heels, and an hour and a half later,
Sabine emerges from the dressing room onto the stage. (Field notes,
April 2, 2002)

It is not only outsider researchers who are in awe of the transformation.

Participants discussed what is seemingly an inherent allure of creating/becom-
ing their character. Shannon conveyed this clearly: It is just so much fun to
just turn into this other person. I mean it really is the coolest thing! Eves
experience is similar to Shannons: The transformation is unbelievable; from
a scrawny man to a fabulous woman, from one end to the next. For partici-
pants, the ability to convert from one gendered character into another was a
respectable art form, one that if managed correctly could yield desired attention
from others. Furthermore, they noted that it was precisely this transformation
that was at the crux of their ability to garner situational power and financial
rewards (discussed in further detail below). Kelley said, I am starting to real-
ize the more work I put into my costume, the better I do and feel on stage.
Similarly, Sabine reported that she puts a lot of preparation into my makeup,
my costume, and wig construction, my routine, the whole shebang you know .
. . it takes a lot effort to be this fabulous.
Most drag queens do not enter and stay in the world of drag performance
for the money. Most do it because they love the possibility of the celebrity
status that comes with drag, as in the case of Sabine or, on a larger scale,
RuPaul (see power, below). Yet another, less tangible reward is the gender
transgression that drag permits. For example, one night, when the first author
was at a drag show, she observed the following scene:
Berkowitz, Belgrave 177

Gina is dressed in a long dark Elvira wig with a tight fitting garment
that accentuates her large breasts. She sticks her tongue all the way out
and then lifts a beer bottle to her lips. She sucks on the beer bottle so
that it goes all the way down her throat as a way to show that she is
adept at fellatio. She then unzips her leather pants and sticks the micro-
phone between her legs and dangles it erotically as if it were her own
penis. (Field notes, May 25, 2002)

The drag performer plays upon the distinction between the anatomy of the
performer and the gender that is being performed. As Butler (1990, 187) articu-
lates, Part of the pleasure, the giddiness of the performance is in the recogni-
tion of a radical contingency in the relation between sex and gender in the face
of cultural configurations of causal unities that are regularly assumed to be
natural and necessary. In the observation above, Gina denaturalizes sex and
gender by means of performance, dramatizing the cultural mechanism of their
fabricated unity (Butler 1990, 187). It is a powerful experience to witness a
space wherein femininity, masculinity, and queerness flow freely. Sasha rever-
berates this political power of drag when she says, When people from Iowa or
Nebraska or somewhere like that see me perform, they leave with a sense of
freedom, experiencing a sense of self-expression that might be unorthodox, but
they realize that it is okay and even fabulous! Within the safe space of the
stage, drag queens have the contextual power to subvert gender norms where
they (at least temporarily) challenge audience members taken-for-granted
notions of gender, sex, and sexuality.

Situational Power. The celebrity status of some drag queens, even the simple
status of having the stage, introduces power relationships between the queens
and their audiences. Some talked of this in terms of attention. Ruby explained
that my friends and I are the type of people who just love to be the center of
attention, I am probably infamous for that, so when I realized the magnitude
of attention I received as a drag queen, well lets just say I could not resist.
Sasha, an ex-dancer who had to end his career early due to an injury, main-
tained that doing drag for him extends beyond mere attention. He asserted
that he went into drag performance because I needed the stage. Once I found
myself onstage again I was like wow, I have an audience again, which is great
. . . the stage, performing is everything. Although off the stage drag queens
might be subject to verbal and physical assaults, once they are up on that
stage, all eyes become focused on them. This situational power accompanies
drag performance, since for the most part the gaze of the audience is one of
awe and admiration, but it is tied to the stage, to the setting and scene.
178 Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 39(2)

Nonetheless, for many, these few moments a night on the stage were worth
any discrimination they might face elsewhere. Dressing and performing in
drag allowed some to attract attention, to experience the lure of the stage and
express an in-your-face-attitude that countered the ridicule many effemi-
nate gay men experience in being labeled girly or faggy (Rupp and Taylor
2003, 30).

Income. Many drag queens also maintained that doing drag was a financial
means to an end, like any other job, and that monetary gain was their primary
reason for continuing with drag performances. Bertica explained,

I just started to accept that I was going to make my living doing this and
I turned it into a profession . . . I charge a nice amount of money to do
what I do. I also work for a lot of corporate events . . . I get paid to come
to club openings, and I get paid to do everything; whenever you see me
in drag, I am getting paid. I dont go anywhere dressed up for free. Ill
go somewhere as a boy for free but not dressed up in drag.

Similarly, Sabine retorted, I am an actor. I invented a character . . . I use it

for work. This is what I do for a living . . . I do not wake up with heels on. I
use it only and strictly to work, which I love. Drag queens, like exotic danc-
ers, fashion models, waitresses, even professors, put on a performance so that
they will make money. In the case of drag, financial rewards and celebrity
status can come if the performer successfully portrays a parodied version of
femininity and keeps the audiences attention. Drag queens define their work
as acting, but it is not simply a job, as for many, drag is also play (see allure,
above). Kelley, the young novice performer, recalled his first night in drag at
a performance contest with unadulterated excitement: They want us to come
back and they are going to pay us $100. . . . To come and do something you
like for 100 bucks, hmm great! Kelley and his friend were two of the lucky
winners of the amateur drag contest that evening and were invited back to
make consistent weekly appearances for what is a hefty stipend for an other-
wise unemployed eighteen-year-old.
For most drag queens, financial reasons alone do not explain why they con-
tinue with their performance career, as drag is not usually a lucrative profes-
sion. Recall that drag queens are marginalized not only socially but also
economically (Rupp and Taylor 2003). Aside from two participants who were
able to rely solely on drag for their income, others had to supplement their drag
income with other, more reliable sources in other segments of the service econ-
omy. However, the celebrity status of drag afforded some a unique popularity
Berkowitz, Belgrave 179

that could foster career development elsewhere. Gina, who was a marketing
director for a massive Miami Beach nightclub, explained,

[Drag] doesnt pay anything really, but at this point I am using the
name because after ten years of doing it I can use the name as a mar-
keting tool. . . . At this point, people know my name and they associate
it with a good time . . . its like being class president and getting paid
for it.

Drag queens can forge a unique, powerful celebrity for themselves that
comes from being recognizable stars on Miami Beach. Sabine has become
such a celebrity that she has befriended such stars as Elton John, Madonna,
and Dennis Rodman; has traveled the world using her drag persona; and has
had numerous guest appearances in televisions shows, documentaries, and
feature films. Again, one cannot help but see parallels to other occupations,
such as university faculty, who parlay their research status into consulting or
expert testimony gigs.
Performing drag uses expectations associated with stereotypical and paro-
died femininity as a calculated method of doing masculinity, in that doing
drag can yield situational power, control over the audience, and income, all
while still reaping the benefits of the patriarchal dividend (Schacht and
Underwood 2004). Although drag may seem to be a feminized space on the
surface, some participants compared it to a competitive sport characterized
with masculine aggression. If drag is a sport, then Sabine is the gold medalist.
Revered by many as the queen of the night, or the Michael Jordan of female
impersonators, she is referred to as a drag legend. In fact, she is so respected
that when the first author would speak with her in public, or even mentioned
to others that she interviewed Sabine, a legitimacy surfaced that gave our
project almost limitless credibility.

Identity Work as Bridge between Contradictory Statuses

The metamorphosis from man to drag does not simply entail physical and
body labor but includes a degree of identity work. The embodied labor of
transforming the self into the character occurs concurrently with the identity
work of separating the drag persona from other identities. During this meta-
morphosis, participants literally change into a character, into their drag per-
sona. Thus, performers move between a marginalized identity, one subject to
taunts and even physical attack, and a drag celebrity status (even if only for a
time, on a poor stage), which brings audience attention at the least,
180 Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 39(2)

admiration and lucrative opportunities at the extreme. The irony, of course, is

that some of the marginalization flows directly from the same drag persona
that yields the celebrity status.
Participants distinguish between their real or core identities and their drag
identities. Where Rupp and Taylor (2003) found that the drag queens at the
801 Cabaret expressed both separation and fluidity between their selves and
their character, our participants tended to place a clearer distinction between
their drag persona and their other identities. This phenomenon has also been
documented with workers in the sexual service industry, such as exotic danc-
ers and sex workers, who, like drag queens, must negotiate this separation of
their work identities (Ronai and Cross 1998; Montemurro 2001; Murphy
2003; Sanders 2005). Drag queens undergo a reconceptualization of their
identities in the space of the stage that is distinct and purposefully separate
from the construction of their identity in other spaces. Creating this manufac-
tured identity is a combination of the embodied labor and identity labor that
goes into becoming a drag queen.
The self is capable of multifaceted identities that are performed or switched
on in specific spaces and situations (Simmel 1955; Goffman 1959). Manufac-
turing a drag persona specifically for work is a deliberate strategy that is con-
sciously constructed (Sanders 2005). One consequence of this separation of
the self from the character played is that drag queens become unaccountable
as individuals for what they do in character. Roxanne explained to the first
author that drag to me is sometimes like the ventriloquist dummy; I can
blame the wig. It wasnt me, it was my character. Shannon duplicates Rox-
annes comments when she claimed she and her drag persona are like two
totally different people; even my mom notices it. Similarly, Gina articulated
the separation of self and the character quite eloquently using a superhero
analogy: I am always [real name] but sometimes, like twice a week when I
feel like being somebody a little different, I turn into [Gina]. I am like Bruce
Wayne and Batman. The importance of keeping drag personas distinct from
oneself was crucial. Bertica explained, I have seen some people lose it . . .
themselves . . . taking hormones, wanting titties . . . that is not what being a
drag queen is about, at least not to me.
Although participants asserted that their drag identity was separate and
distinct from their selves, some performance theorists would disagree, main-
taining that this separation is in fact illusory (Schechner 1985).5 For example,
in their conversation, recall above that Shannon told the first author, We are
like two different people, even my mom notices it. Her use of the word we
in this narrative fragment is a crucial indicator that for many drag queens,
Berkowitz, Belgrave 181

their identities exhibit much more fluidity than a Goffmanian (1959) analysis
permits. Schechner (1985) would argue that the drag performer integrates
two distinct states of simultaneous existence within one physical body; drag
queens are neither themselves nor their roles. The character in flow, or his
drag persona, is not himself, but he is not not himself at the same time. This
is what Schechner (1985) has termed the not menot not me phenomena.
Employing the not menot not me as a theoretical lens elucidates how the
drag performance is between a denial of being another and a denial of not
being another. Performer training focuses its techniques not on making one
person into another but on permitting the performer to act in between identi-
ties, in this sense, performing is a paradigm of liminality (Schechner 1985,
123). The liminal state is characterized by ambiguity and indeterminacy and
is a subjective, conscious state of being on the threshold of or between two
different existential planes, in this case being somewhere in between their
everyday selves and their drag personas. Perhaps this very ambiguity and
indeterminacy are key to negotiating ones way between very contradictory
social worlds.

Studying drag queens can yield understanding about the social and cultural
norms and values of a given society (Schacht and Underwood 2004). Fur-
thermore, viewing drag performances from the perspective of identity and
performance theories provide an entirely new angle of vision (Rupp and
Taylor 2003, 217). Drag mocks the expressive model of gender and the
notion of a true gender identity (Butler 1990), and gender and sexuality inter-
act in a unique way in the everyday lives of drag queens. As drag queens
transgress two primary axes of social life, their identities become infused
with the blurring of some very sacred institutionalized boundaries. Drag
queens offer sociologists and gender scholars a lens into a world where mas-
culinity, femininity, homosexuality, and heterosexuality become destabilized
and collide into uncharted territory. Yet if our analysis speaks to social trends
at all, the weight of such transgressions is not easy to carry on ones back.
Our findings support previous findings that drag queens do indeed cope
with marginalization, both socially and economically (Rupp and Taylor
2003; Berkowitz, Belgrave, and Halberstein 2007). Where some participants
were local celebrities, fewer were able to survive on the income of
drag alone, and most experienced verbal and physical cruelty; engaged in
drug and alcohol abuse; and, as is discussed in depth elsewhere, had lonely
182 Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 39(2)

romantic lives (Berkowitz et al. 2007). This is not to say that doing drag
is always onerous. Rather, our findings highlight how drag can enable
some gay men to emphasize and manipulate aspects of femininity for the
means of earning attention, income, and situational power. Nevertheless, our
findings also suggest that drugs and alcohol are ways that drag queens may
mask or cope with their experiences of marginalization. Only a small minor-
ity of participants discussed how they outwardly challenged marginalization
through verbally or physically attacking perpetuators, highlighting how drag
queens have little space outside performance to explicitly challenge hetero-
normativity and rigid gender norms. Furthermore, those that did engage in
conflict illustrate how even though drag can be critical of heterosexual male
privilege, it is far less subversive when it comes to other oppressive inequali-
ties, such as sexism, racism, and classism.
Our findings should be viewed in context and their limitations noted.
The location of the study warrants discussion. The interviews and observa-
tions took place in a particular area in Miami Beach that is considered to be
somewhat of a safe haven for gays and drag queens alike. While a relatively
extreme social setting can be quite useful for such research with its goal of
discovery and exploration into the lives of drag queens, the sexually liberal
setting makes these findings suggestive and not necessarily generalizable
to the larger populations of drag queens. Despite the limitations of our
study and the fact that drag queens fall outside of normative societal expec-
tations, the everyday strategies that they employ can enrich the growing
body of literature on gender identity construction, negotiation, and manipu-
lation. Future research should also include the experiences of drag kings
and compare the identity work between king and queen performers. Such
exploration could generate nuanced theoretical analysis on the meaning
and influence gender has in performance and in embodied labor. Beyond
issues of gender and sexuality, these findings speak to the value of identity
work as a bridge between contradictory worlds and statuses; this is an ave-
nue that should be pursued among members of parallel situations. Finally,
further analysis of how race and class intersect with gender and sexuality is
necessary to unveil how multiple layers of marginalization and privilege
shape the experiences, performances, and identity manipulation of drag

Declaration of Conflicting Interest

The authors declared no conflicts of interests with respect to the authorship and/or
publication of this article.
Berkowitz, Belgrave 183


The authors received no financial support for the research and/or authorship of this

1. Following the practices of the drag queens, we switch between female and male
pronouns. All names are pseudonyms that reflect the stage character. We only use
stage pseudonyms to avoid the confusion for readers that multiple names for each
participant would entail. However, we randomly switch between he and she to
mirror the linguistic habits of the queens themselves.
2. We are indebted to an anonymous reviewer for calling our attention to this.
3. Although the second author did not participate in data collection, she contributed
to the interpretation, coding of data, and writing up emergent findings. Although
on the surface this may seem like an unusual division of labor for an ethnogra-
phy, the first author was a graduate student at the time and a novice researcher.
The development of many of these ideas would not have been possible without
the consistent guidance of the second author, who served as her masters thesis
4. These are the two drag queens who were able to survive solely on their drag
income and were regarded as professionals by other drag queens, club owners,
and regulars in the scene.
5. We note that if ones goal is to approximate empathetic understanding, then
participants definitions of the identities as distinct takes precedence over expert

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Dana Berkowitz is an assistant professor of sociology and womens and gender stud-
ies at Louisiana State University. Her research and teaching interests include gender,
sexualities, families, feminist theories, and qualitative methods. She has conducted
186 Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 39(2)

qualitative studies on drag queens, gender performances in pornographic establish-

ments, and gay mens procreative and fathering experiences.

Linda Liska Belgrave is an associate professor of sociology at the University of

Miami. Her areas of specialization include qualitative research methods, social geron-
tology, medical sociology, and social psychology. Her current research includes work
on well-being among elders, a campus janitors strike, and a collective autoethnogra-
phy of academic freedom, as seen and experienced by faculty and students.