Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


UCLA Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUCLA

Critical Crossings: Intersections of Passing and Drag in Popular Culture


My dissertation, Critical Crossings: Intersections of Passing and Drag in Popular Culture, offers an innovative study of the political possibilities of two related performative strategies: Drag and Passing. "Drag" refers to the excessive performance of feminine gender, i.e. drag queens, but more recently has been linked to other parodic performances such as blackface. "Passing" originated in the post- and antebellum eras when mixed-race African-Americans passed as white to escape oppressions. It denotes the believable portrayal of another identity, usually racial or gendered. Both have long been topics of media representations. Probing where and how they are used differently in popular culture yields insight into the operation of identity, engaging such issues as the social construction of authenticity, performance, and the "real." I argue cinema and television have changed how drag and passing are deployed, such that what passes for reality and authenticity comes into question while the purposes and functions of drag and passing are also changed. I utilize an interdisciplinary multiperspectival cultural studies approach that draws connections across fields of inquiry and theoretical paradigms. Through analysis of context, production, and reception of texts with theoretical insights from queer, feminist, critical race, film, media, and cultural studies, this project shows how these theories can align to create new knowledges about the subversive potential of drag and passing. A series of four case studies that range from Cher, to journalistic passing texts such as Black Like Me and the TV series Black. White., to Divine and John Waters, to Stephen Colbert as pundit passing-in-drag, my dissertation critically reapplies passing and drag to unconventional texts or in unconventional ways to broaden their critical cache while using their unique parameters to reinterpret representational politics in media texts to reveal what has not been seen through traditional critiques of the politics of representation of identity, authenticity, and reality. The resulting analyses show the possible shifting multiplicities not only of identity but also reality and how producing and consuming media through the optics of passing and drag can take authenticity out of the identity equation and redirect attention to aspects of performance, repetition, and modification.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View