LGBTQ+ Culture and Subcultures

October 6, 2021
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Written by Hannah Luscombe, Associate & Senior Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Assistant Litigation Executive, Nermeen Salahuddin, explores some LGBTQ+ subcultures and how they relate to pop culture today

The LGBTQ+ community is one of inclusivity and diversity, which includes varying cultures. LGBTQ+ culture is shared by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals. It is sometimes referred to as queer culture (indicating people who are queer), while the term gay culture may be used to mean “LGBT culture” or to refer specifically to homosexual culture.

The culture includes individuals from different backgrounds, races and religions. It is not surprising therefore, that different subcultures and collectives arise within the community. There are many different communities; including Youth Culture, BAME and POC communities. The culture also extends to self-expression and art forms, for example Drag and Ballroom Culture.


A drag show is a form of entertainment performed by drag artists. The most common drag artists are drag queens, however, individuals performing drag can be of any gender and sexual identity.
The process of ‘getting into drag’ or character can take numerous hours. Drag performers will focus on their hair, costume and applying makeup, in order to portray a certain style or send a message.

History of Drag:

William Dorsey Swann was the first person to describe themselves as ‘the queen of drag’. Born into slavery in Hancock Maryland, Swann started hosting drag balls in Washington DC in the 1880s. These were attended by other men who were also formerly enslaved. In 1896, Swann was convicted and sentenced to 10 months in jail on the false charges of ‘keeping a disorderly house’. Swann requested a pardon from the president for hosting the balls, but he was denied.

During the 1980s – 1990s, drag shows became a very important part of LGBTQ+ culture. Drag had evolved into elaborate shows involving performers singing or lip syncing to songs, whilst also performing choreography or pantomime-like dances. There would also be some comedy skits and audience interactions.

In recent years, drag had also branched out into Drag Brunch. This is a type of drag show where drag kings and queens entertain the audience whilst consuming food and drink.

Drag in Pop Culture:

With the rise of TV shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race and films such as The Birdcage, drag as an art form and for entertainment purposes has increased in popularity and has also played a key role in becoming more accepted in society. However, it is important to note that not all drag is the same. Performers such as Lily Savage pay more attention to the comedy of their show rather than the aesthetics.

Ball culture:

Ball culture goes by many names including, drag ball culture, the house-ballroom community, the ballroom scene or ballroom culture. This underground culture originating in New York City involves young African American and Latin American contestants who ‘walk’ – compete for trophies and notability within the community.

There are usually a number of different categories, which may involve a mix of performances, lip-syncing, voguing and modelling. These categories are designed to depict and satirise various gender and social issues. Ball is a form of self-expression, offers an escape from reality and builds a strong family community known as ‘Houses’.

History of ball culture:

Ball culture is rooted in necessity and defiance. It started as a counter cultural phenomenon, protesting against laws across the world which banned people from wearing clothes associated with the opposite gender.

It began in Harlem more than 50 years ago and is known as the epicentre of the world’s drag ball culture.

Most often, ‘Houses’ compete as a team. This is a long-standing tradition within LGBTQ+ communities in which many minorities, estranged from their biological families, live together as a chosen family.

Ball in Pop Culture:

Since the 1980s, ball culture has had a massive impact on society in a number of ways including language, dance, fashion and music. This has been emphasised by the classics such as Paris Is Burning and recent shows such as Pose. The most notable influence into mainstream society is the dance style ‘voguing’. Named after the fashion magazine, dancers would play out elaborate performances of applying makeup or taking a phone call whilst ‘shading’ other competitors. This was popularised by Madonna in 1990 with her release of her hit song ‘Vogue’.



Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash

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