54 Rare Historical Photos Of Drag Queens Before It Was Safe To Be Out!

by Todd Briscoe
Todd is a LittleThings editor. He grew up in Texas and has lived in New York since 2003. He doesn't own a Boston terrier, but he will one day soon.

Because of our forefathers, we in the LGBTQ community are fortunate enough to live in a more tolerant world.

“Queens,” or men who defy gender norms and dress as women, have always been present in the LGBTQ community and pop culture: Straight men like Flip Wilson and Milton Berle used them as punch lines in their humor; Divine created a media sensation when she burst onto the scene; and RuPaul began to break down barriers with her mainstream pop hit, “Supermodel (Of the World),” and a cheeky VH1 talk show.

RuPaul’s popular reality competition show RuPaul’s Drag Race helped bring drag queens further into the mainstream consciousness.

Starbucks recently released its first LGBTQ-driven commercial featuring drag queens; the Tony-winning musical Kinky Boots, about a factory that manufactures shoes for drag queens, is a popular Broadway show; and even Ru herself calls drag “mainstream” now.

We acknowledge that not every person in the photos below is a “drag queen,” and that there’s a big difference between a transgender person, a transvestite, and a drag queen: A transgender person is someone who does not identify with their assigned sex and would most likely not want to be referred to as a “drag queen.” A transvestite is a cisgender male who enjoys wearing women’s clothing. A drag queen tends to be someone who dresses in women’s clothing more so for performance or entertainment purposes.

We can’t tell you how most of the subjects in the following photos identify, but we can say with certainty that these people took a major risk by dressing this way during less tolerant times. The images start in the 1800s and continue through the pre-Stonewall 1960s.

Click through to see the evolution of drag, and please SHARE these brave forefathers of drag with everyone you know.

Late 1800s: The etymology of the phrase “drag queen” is debatable, but many scholars believe that the phrase was coined in the 1800s as a reference to the hoop skirt. As seen in this photo, hoop skirts would “drag” along the ground.


1800s: The term “queen” was used as a derogatory slur towards homosexuals.


1800s: Brigham Young’s son, Brigham Morris Young, made a career in drag performing as Madam Pattrini. Supposedly, his falsetto was so convincing that many audiences did not know he was a man. It’s hard to believe early LDS audiences responded so positively to such a concept, but it was quite popular at the time.


1800s: A man and woman in switched outfits. One can presume this was more for a lark than any other purpose.


Please SHARE this article with anyone you know interested in LGBTQ history!