Weekly Watch: Paris Is Burning



Paris Is Burning is Jennie Livingston's infamous 1990 documentary on the drag ball scene of New York City. There is much about ball culture familiar to us now that would not have been when this came out -- you can thank Pride (and more specific things, like RuPaul's Drag Race) for that. The phrases "Yassss queen" and "werk it" and so forth are from here, as is the concept of "throwing shade".

The documentary is worth watching solely for the history lesson, although, as with many parts of history, some of the terminology sounds very awkward or even offensive to people who are familiar with the modern LGBT* community. From my personal experience, a good first blind guess as to pronouns for drag queens whom you haven't had a chance to ask about it directly are "he" for the performer and "she" for the persona, but I suspect this is largely because being transgender is now a thing: People who see themselves as women can present as women without pretending it's merely a performance. This was not the case in 1990, where "drag queen" tended to encompass men who performed femininity as an avocation, men who enjoyed crossdressing, men (or non-binary people) who were just very femme in general, and people who would now be categorized as transwomen.

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