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Houston LGBTQ Exhibits

Introduction

Mary's Bar

An advertisement from Mary's Bar, 1971

Welcome to the Houston Drag Collection! This is an amalgamation of the history, resources, events, people, and lifestyles that, collectively, make up the drag community of Houston. These resources are gathered from various sources on the Internet, Gulf Coast Archive & Museum of GLBT History, Inc (GCAM), Rice University, University of Houston, and others. 

While we do not pretend to encompass the histories of all of the members of the Houston drag community, we hope that what we have shown in this exhibit gives the non-Houstonian a glimpse into the history of Houston drag, from the bars that gave female impersonators a place to perform and raise AIDS awareness from the 1980s forward to the university clubs that support gender fluidity and expression both in their student body and in the greater Houston area. 

Also, we would like to highlight an important distinction between some of the titles that we'll be using throughout this display. While to a passive observer the similarities may make it seem that drag pageantry, female impersonation and drag shows are all basically the same thing, this is not the case. For female impersonators, what they do is their life's work; their day identity (the person they were out of drag) is not as well known as the persona that they presented, and the shows and entertainment that they did was how they put food on their table. Drag pageantry is often satirical and can be for charity, but the participants do not necessarily support themselves with drag. The same is true for drag shows. We find this distinction very important to note before going into this exhibit, as when describing an image, person or event it can be easy to make it seem as though these terms are interchangeable when they are not. 

 

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Red Room

Flyer for the Red Room Bar, a popular bar in Houston, open from 1965-1974

While you enjoy our exhibit, we want to remind you of the odd nature of history and the importance of stories. By choosing to include the pieces we have in this exhibit, we have also left out other aspects of the history of Houston drag. Our narrative should be thought of akin to skimming the top layer off of a cake; we have given you a taste, a sampling of the complex and rewarding history, and we hope that by giving some of the highlights that we will spark a desire to eat up as much of the Houston drag scene's history that you can find. However, in order to encompass a larger time span, we tell a narrative that may be different from the experiences of some. 

Miss Gay USofA (2013)

A snapshot from the Miss Gay USofA Pageant in 2013

However, we hope that the parts of Houston's drag scene history that we have shown here will show you that drag is about many things other than pageants. It's about blurring the lines of the gender binary, if not throwing it out the window altogether. It is about raising money and awareness for the community that the performers love and the people they cherish when disaster strikes. It's about self-love, artistic expression, sexuality, and the brazen freedom of choosing to enthusiastically be who you are regardless of the circumstances. 

We hope that our exhibit shows this in the pieces that we have selected. 

 

 

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Southbeach Drag Show

Snapshot of a drag performance at Southbeach, a club in Montrose 

Additionally, we have some questions that we thought would be pertinent to ponder as you go through the exhibit.

What did you think of drag before examining this exhibit? Why did you think people performed? Have your thoughts changed after going through the exhibit?

Think of what is public and what is private during a drag performance. What assumptions are you making from the term "drag queen" or "drag king" or "genderfuck" in terms of that person's sexuality, personality, clothing style out of drag? Are there things that you assume about drag performers that you would feel uncomfortable talking about? Why? 

 

 

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Finally, we would like to thank the people that first thought of this exhibit and helped make it into a reality. 

Judy Reeves and Ty Burns of the Gulf Coast Archive and Museum of GLBT History, Inc., we thank you both for your time and patience with our group and the wealth of knowledge and information that both of you gave to us to help this exhibit become what it is now. Thank you for helping our group accurately portray Houston's drag community.

J.D. Doyle, thank you for your website, houstonlgbthistory.org. The information and sources that you have compiled onto that site have been priceless in terms of contextualizing and providing some of the images that we have in this exhibit. Thank you for your continued efforts to help archive and make accessible Houston LGBTQ+ information.

Baird Campbell, thank you for continuously poking our class with "yes, but" statements and pushing us to think outside the realm of our experience and comfort zone. 

Dr. Brian Riedel, we thank you for being such an enthusiastic and inspiring source of assistance, support, knowledge, and good humor throughout this process. We could not have asked for a better teacher to help us along the way.