In dis/patches from the Foreign Office, Trans Collection Project Assistant Sajdeep Soomal explores newspaper articles, legal cases, and other ephemera stored in the CLGA’s international collection.
Queens / Begums
Today, drag queens, TV queens, kweens, dancing queens, welfare queens, faux queens, street queens, drama queens, dairy queens and the queen regent herself dot our contemporary anglophone landscape. But where does the term queen come from? What does it signify? The story is complex, but its roots can be traced to the Proto-Germanic word “kwēniz” meaning woman or wife. It was only in the middle medieval period that queen became a monarchic title. Since then, the term queen has been mobilized for varying itineraries (see above). Most notable is the genesis of drag queens and trans women as public figures in the American settler imagination following the 1966 Compton Riots. Susan Stryker reminds us of the Screaming Queens that led the charge.
In the subcontinent, the story started earlier, in part with the khwaja saras. Translatable to “mystic princess,” it marks out sufic futures on the brink of revival. But what about the Begums and Malikas now sweeping Pakistan today? In late 2005, when Karachi-based television host and actor Ali Saleem started cross-dressing on television as Begum Nawazish Ali, he was heralded in the English-language Pakistani media as a “chat show queen” – the new “TV queen” of Pakistan. Drawing on North American drag presenter traditions – think RuPaul – and with the self-ascribed Urdu title “Begum” which means lady of high rank, Ali Saleem is a part of an emergent global cosmopolitan drag culture.
American Queens and Pakistani Begums, both wrapped up in the modernity of drag, do not tend to ask about the well-being of the fakir. But perhaps an upcoming generation of khwaja saras will.