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Joseph on The Black Drag Queens Who Fought Before Stonewall at Outhistory

Outhistory is featuring original research by Channing Joseph on “drag” parties hosted in Washington, D.C.

“If Swann and his companions were alive today, they might proudly declare themselves to be gay or transgender. In doing so, they would receive support and validation for their desires and identities from LGBT people and allies in every sizable American city, including the nation’s capital. They would receive support from powerful organizations and people within the legal, political, medical and religious establishments.In 19th-century society, however, the organizers of Washington’s underground drag parties were known simply as deviant men, and it is quite likely that the only support and validation that they could hope for was from one another. These men were not only among the nation’s first drag queens. They were rebels whose sacrifices, courage and determination helped lay the foundations of self-acceptance, solidarity and community that made the Stonewall riots possible more than 80 years later.”


One of the sources he posted speaks quietly back to New Orleans, and the complicated ties white journalists and a very racist medical establishment made between deviance, race, sexuality, and Afro-Atlantic systems of belief:

Here is a sample of the racist, sexist medical texts published in the late-nineteenth century U.S. It’s from an article by Dr. Irving C. Rosse, “Sexual Hypochondriasis and Perversion of the Genesic Instinct,” published in a Saint Louis, Missouri medical journal in 1892:

“Among other genital idiosyncrasies of negroes coming to the knowledge of the Washington police, is the old Scythian malady spoken of by Hippocrates and Herodotus, and observed by contemporary travelers in the Caucasus. A band of negro men, with all the androgynous characteristics of the malady, was some time since raided by the police. The same race a few years ago had one or more gangs that practiced a kind of phallic worship. An informant, who has made a study of skatological rites among lower races described to me how a big buck, with turgescent penis, decorated with gaily colored ribbons, stood and allowed his comrades to caress and even osculate the member. Performances of the same nature are known to the rites of vadouism. In New Orleans a few years ago a vadoux society was suddenly surprised by the police during these ceremonies. Two of the naked persons taking part in the orgy were white women. The incident lead to a famous trial which resulted in acquittal.”[7]

My friends, when they tell you there are no sources for black lgbtq history worth speaking of…READ them.

Thank you, Channing.

Read in full: A “Drag Party” Raided · Channing G. Joseph: The Black Drag Queens Who Fought Before Stonewall ·