This project seeks to uncover the historical practices of gender performance in Chicago by mapping specific locations that featured drag in the city over time. The digital map produced as a result of this research will illustrate the longstanding practice of drag and vibrant history of queer life in Chicago, particularly how it has migrated over time across the city.
Beginning in 1851, reports of individuals dressed in clothing not reflective of their birth gender were reported in Chicago newspapers - despite cross-dressing being illegal until 1973. While the criminality of drag forced individuals who enjoyed cross-dressing to frequent bars and clubs that attracted other illegal activities (such as homosexuality), they also brought together different ethnic groups, a rarity in Chicago’s historically racially segregated neighborhoods. “Boys Town” is a well-established neighborhood on the North Side with queer-positive businesses and drag shows; however, research shows that “Drag Balls” featuring cross-dressing began on the far South Side of the city. This historical timeline culminates in the early 1990s when Queer Nation selected a black drag queen from Chicago (Joan Jett Blakk) to run for President of the United States.