Ball Culture

Drag Balls in Mid Atlantic (1940s-1950s)

The history of the current drag balls to the Harlem drag balls of New York between 1920s and 1930s. The Harlem Renaissance was an artistic movement that transformed the culture of Mid-Atlantic cities by establishing a new trend in literature, night life and part culture. The Harlem drag balls accepted the visibility transgender, bisexuals, lesbians and gays. Examples of the venues where drag balls were held include Rockland Palace, Elks Lodge, and Lenox Avenue. Although the drag balls were initially organized for white gay men, they started featuring multiracial participants and audiences.

The mixed racial dynamics of the drag balls between 1940s-1950s was attributed to the interracial nature of Harlem Renaissance. The wealthy white audiences considered drag ball spaces as source of trend setting cultures while the African-American artists regarded the wealthy white investors as patronage. Although the events started as grand costume parties, they later evolved to gay beauty pageants with who competed for various categories. Imbalance of racial power was a key characteristic of the early drag balls.

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Although black performers participated in the events, they were restricted in their ability to participate the scenes and they rarely won. As a result, the black queens tried to create a sociocultural world that satisfied their needs. The Masquerade and Civic Balls were later changed to Faggot Balls after the general public felt that they were frequented by the transgender people, lesbians, and gays. The balls attracted both the gay community LGBTQ community and straight people who frequented the spectacles due to their known reputations. Although drag balls were initially created as fun and entertainment places where gays connected with gay men, the public association of drug balls with LGBTQ people led to the establishment of pronounced queer culture in the early 1940s.

Drag Balls in Mid Atlantic (1980s-1990s)

The expansion of the drag culture in the late 1960s led to the creation of more categories such as realness, business executives, butch queens, and best dressed. Other than cross dressing, there were few categories where males highlighted their masculinity while females highlighted their femininity. Voguing was among the dance performances that were introduced in the early 1980s. Introduced by Madonna, voguing was embraced by the ball community as part of the ball culture. Based on the spectrum of identities performed on the floor and personal presentation among the ball community during this period, the participants used the performances to communicate information their culture.

Voguing created a non-critical space that enabled the queer community to develop themselves in their own world free from constraints of gender expression. The late 1980s marked the transformation from the “Old Way” which put emphasis on straight lines and hard angels to the “New Way” which introduced other aspects such duckwalk, spinning, and catwalk among others. The vogue reflected the courage of the Latin and black LGBTQ communities in using the art as a sense of identity, dignity and belonging to a world that could not fully embrace their cultural values.

Ballroom Culture (2000s-2010s)

From the early 2000s, the ballroom culture had influenced the mainstream entertainment, music industry, language, and many other social aspects of the U.S and other major cities of the world. For instance, the contemporary mainstream hip hop of the “uber-puffed-up peacock sexuality” was significantly influenced by the ball culture during this period. Besides, the drag-house circuit in the States exposed the black American culture where working class gay men participated mocked up catwalk shows to the whole world. With more of the ballroom culture taking shape in all aspects of the United States media and entertainment, the late 2010s was marked with the confidence with which the LGBQT community spread to the other parts of the world.

From the early 2000s, the ball community started to be aware of the HIV/AIDS threat that posed more risk to the LBGTQ people. In 2009, the about 48% of the LGBTQ people who engaged in sex were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS . In the late 2000s, healthcare providers came out to offer free testing, sex education, and host drag balls in order to promote safe sex practices among the LGBTQ community.

 

References

Aldrich, Robert. “Homosexuality and the city: An historical overview.” Urban studies 41, no. 9 (2004): 1719-1737.

Bailey, Marlon M. “Performance as intravention: Ballroom culture and the politics of HIV/AIDS in Detroit.” Souls 11, no. 3 (2009): 253-274.

Grinnell College. “Underground Ball Culture: Subcultures and Sociology.” (2019). Retrieved from https://haenfler.sites.grinnell.edu/subcultures-and-scenes/underground-ball-culture/

Miller, Neil. Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present. Advocate Books, 2006.

Phillips, Gregory, James Peterson, Diane Binson, Julia Hidalgo, Manya Magnus, and YMSM of color SPNS Initiative Study Group. “House/ball culture and adolescent African-American transgender persons and men who have sex with men: a synthesis of the literature.” AIDS care 23, no. 4 (2011): 515-520.

Pohlen, Jerome. Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-long Struggle for LGBT Rights, with 21 Activities. Chicago Review Press, 2015.

Reed, Christopher. “A Vogue That Dare Not Speak Its Name: Sexual Subculture During the Editorship of Dorothy Todd, 1922–26.” Fashion Theory 10, no. 1-2 (2006): 39-72.

Sullivan, Michael K. “Homophobia, history, and homosexuality: Trends for sexual minorities.” Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment 8, no. 2-3 (2004): 1-13.

Tsione, Wolde-Michael. “A Brief History of Voguing.” Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. (2019). Retrieved from https://nmaahc.si.edu/blog-post/brief-history-voguing

Volpp, Sophie. “Classifying lust: The seventeenth-century vogue for male love.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 61, no. 1 (2001): 77-117.