I think of Nuwās as the incomparable soloist, the high, clear, castrati soprano rising above an innumerous chorus of Arab poets whose work touches on love or sex between men, dating from the dawn of Islam to the present.
Like most people, I came to queer history looking for a sign that I wasn’t alone. I thought that understanding it was like a mechanical exercise in grammar, where I just had to change the tense on the information I already knew — that we are everywhere; we were everywhere; we will be everywhere. I assumed I understood what I was seeing: namely, myself in a cute period outfit. I thought if I looked long enough, I would find gay people just like me throughout recorded history.
Thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race, there’s no question that drag is having a mainstream moment. Their recent VH1 finale had nearly a million viewers, making it their most watched episode ever. From your local library’s reading hour to DragCon to YouTube, there has been a subsequent boom in all-ages spaces where drag is welcome. But as the art form moves out of bars and into living rooms, what does that mean for kids playing dress-up? Or for parents of children entering into what is, at heart, a bar scene built around adult gay men and trans women? And finally, what does it mean for drag itself — which at its best is often subversive, raunchy, and cutting — to suddenly have to cater to families?