Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Transmitting “Realness”: Linguistic and Economic Tension in Drag Queen Speech

Transmitting “Realness”: Linguistic and Economic Tension in Drag Queen Speech

Michael Elster

In the last few decades, drag queens have grown as a topic of interest for linguistic anthropologists because their speech and performances provide a point of study for gender, sexuality, and race in non-binary terms. Drawing from the theoretical framework of anthropologists such as Rusty Barrett, Mary Bucholtz, and Kira Hall, this paper explores the transmission of drag queen speech on the internet, with the bulk of the data coming from YouTube videos. While most anthropological studies of drag queens have been ethnographically based, and other fields have taken a media studies approach, this paper uses an anthropological perspective to study a new medium for linguistic exchanges. The present argument is centered on the idea that queerness is a relative category that comes into being in certain sociocultural settings, rather than a binary or static category. Speech that takes place on YouTube, or the internet generally, results in new understandings of drag performance in three ways. It decenters drag performance as a community act by making information and speech publicly available rather than in subcultural counterhegemonic spaces. This opens the opportunity for a larger group of people to speak authoritatively on metalinguistic beliefs about what it means to be (or speak like) a drag queen. This recasts the sociocultural meanings of drag performance, leading to an analysis beyond gender performativity and toward considerations of race and class. Finally, it commodifies some speech for mass consumption, which in turn strips some language of its contextual meaning and presents it as archetypical drag queen speech.

Keywords: queer, drag queen speech, performativity, linguistic exchange on the internet

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April 9, 2014 - Posted by | abstract

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