William Dorsey Swann, Queen of Drag: Uncovering America’s Black Queer History
In his new book, House of Swann: Where Slaves Became Queens – and Changed the World, Channing Joseph tells the story of William Dorsey Swann, a formerly enslaved Black man who became the earliest-known self-described drag queen and the first known American queer activist. Drawing on previously unexplored archival sources, Joseph describes how Swann inspired a rebellious group of butlers, coachmen, and cooks—most of them also formerly enslaved people—to create a secret world of crossdressing balls in the 1880s and ’90s in Washington, DC, the center of American power, prestige, and influence. Joseph describes Swann’s remarkable life and explores how anti-Blackness and queerphobia have intersected throughout US history.
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