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“Black Drag Queens Inventend Camp” Culture Recap

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Jun. 4 2019, Published 2:38 p.m. ET

Just wrapped up last month, Met Gala 2019‘s theme was “camp” in honour of LGBTQ+ appreciation. When Lena Waithe showed up in an incredible outfit with the phrase “Black Drag Queens Inventend Camp” written on the back, the writer-producer-actress shocked the red carpet with her (literal) statement piece. Designed by Kerby Jean-Raymond at Pyer Moss, the blue-purple suit has pinstripes made up of lyrics from Diana Ross“I’m Coming Out” and Gloria Gaynor‘s “I Will Survive”.

Waithe‘s custom tuxedo possessed shock value in terms of aesthetic and fashion, but also had a very strong sociocultural message. By saluting to camp‘s roots in queer black subcultures, Waithe also made a powerful tribute to massive cultural icons in the genre, people like Pepper LaBeija, Benny Ninja, RuPaul, etc. These are the people that brought an immensely marginalised subculture up to a heteronormative stage of global entertainment, thus giving proper representation to the community.

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According to John M. Wolf, “Camp is a queer sense — making practice that subverts dominant gender norms and heteronormative practices and institutions.”

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According to John M. Wolf, “Camp is a queer sense — making practice that subverts dominant gender norms and heteronormative practices and institutions.”

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For years, camp has been used as a pejorative. It was initially created by marginalised communities to escape from traditional social constructs, especially the ones regarding gender, sexuality, and race. It is a way of existing as a queer person in a “straight” world. No one really knows where and why camp was invented, but we do know that marginalised people of colour of “different” sexuality needed camp culture to avoid scrutiny and toxic prejudice that came from the mainstream public. Camp doesn’t really have a concrete definition — it simply is fluid, liberating, and over-the-top. This is also why on Lena Waithe‘s suit for the Met Gala, the word “invented” is spelled differently as “inventend”.

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Black queer people have been faced with intersectional prejudice regarding gender roles, sexual orientation, and racial politics. Mikelle Street wrote in her article “Do Not Erase Black Femmes in Your History of Gay Slang”:

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“Black gay feminine men took the rejection of black women from the femme canon and created a coded language that allowed them to not only exist in the world but also, for those who understood the language, express their true selves.”

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“Black gay feminine men took the rejection of black women from the femme canon and created a coded language that allowed them to not only exist in the world but also, for those who understood the language, express their true selves.”

Camp is not just a performance of exaggerated self-expression; it is black queer people’s way of presenting themselves and their true identity to the world, in the most real, true, uncritical, and unapologetic way possible. If you want to learn more about the self-awareness and humour behind camp drag queens, check out Sunday at The Met—Camp: Notes on Fashion that will take place on Sunday, June 23 from 14:00 to 15:30 at the Metropolitan Museum of New York. The talk is free with admission.

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