Letters on Liberty: In Defence of Drag

Battle of Ideas festival 2023, Sunday 29 October, Church House, London


Open debate has been suffocated by today’s censorious climate and there is little cultural support for freedom as a foundational value. What we need is rowdy, good-natured disagreement and people prepared to experiment with what freedom might mean today. Faced with this challenge, the Academy of Ideas decided to launch Letters on Liberty – a radical public pamphleteering campaign aimed at reimagining arguments for freedom in the twenty-first century.

In her Letter – In defence of drag – cabaret tour-de-force and drag queen Vanity von Glow explores the beauty and power of the drag performance. The true sorcery of drag is the magical way a drag queen can get away with murder on stage, she argues. As well as the pomp and performance of the show, the power of drag has far more to do with who the artists are, and what they say. By showing people that supposed identities, social structures, norms, attire and hierarchies can be shuffled around, Vanity argues, drag queens put people in touch with braver, more creative versions of themselves.

Join Vanity and respondents to delve into the world of drag. Have recent controversies over drag-queen story-hour had a chilling effect on drag artists in pubs, clubs and other adult venues? How do recent discussions about the importance of identity marry with drag – an art form that has long played with the fluidity of gender? What can infamous drag queens – from Ru Paul to the late Lily Savage – tell us about gay history and working-class culture? And with increasing pressure on performers to be role models, should drag resist becoming a moral examplar and stick to its ability to stun and amaze, titillate and inspire?

Caroline Ffiske
co-founder and spokesperson, Conservatives for Women

Manick Govinda
guest co-curator, Culture Tensions, Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw, Poland

Dr Don Milligan
writer and social commentator; author, The Embrace of Capital

Vanity von Glow
internationally ignored superstar; cabaret performer; host, The Vanity Project; host, Drag Queen Wine Tasting and Drag Queen Power Ballads

Cressida Wetton
comedian; panellist, Headliners, GB News

Ella Whelan
co-convenor, Battle of Ideas festival; journalist; author, What Women Want