Drag might have finally hit the mainstream with the success of series like RuPaul's Drag Race and We're Here, but the art of female illusion has always been part of the queer community.
A new documentary, P.S. Burn This Letter Please, shows what life was like for New York City drag queens during the 1950s and 60s when drag was illegal.
"In 2014, a trove of letters was discovered in the storage locker of Los Angeles DJ and talent agent Reno Martin chronicling the joys, squabbles, and everyday lives of New York City drag queens during the 1950s and 60s," reads the doc's description. "Gorgeously told through vintage home movies, photos, and interviews with the queens themselves, this fascinating look at Pre-Stonewall gay culture rewrites what we know about the clandestine, transcontinental networks that sustained queer people when female impersonation and homosexuality were criminal offenses."
The film's producer, Craig Olsen, was the one who discovered these letters and he could not believe what he found:
"These letters gave extremely detailed accounts of their lives, their loves, their fears and their gowns—as well as their sexual conquests! Many times I felt as though I shouldn’t be reading these discovered letters, as they are so incredibly personal," he tells NewNowNext. "We discovered that drag was illegal and that mafia involvement in the community was a turning point for drag and the art of illusion impersonation. We had no idea regarding the politics and oppression of our community."
Director Jennifer Tiexiera says that everyone should learn the history of their community and where they come from: "We all deserve the chance to learn our history and where we come from but for too long that opportunity has mostly been reserved for white, straight men. We feel that we caught these queens just in time before this history was lost forever and now LGBTQ+ youth will have another resource to learn where they come from and maybe find inspiration in who they want to be."
Director Michael Seligman adds that P.S. Burn This Letter Please proves that queer people "have not only survived but thrived for decades, despite overwhelming hostility and oppression."
"It filled me with a sense of pride to know that my queer elders were strong and fierce people who found a way to be themselves. I’m pleased we have the opportunity to shine a light on the queens who were and still are marginalized—even within the gay community," Seligman explains.
"We owe such a debt of gratitude to the people who stuck their necks out, who didn’t hide because they couldn’t hide and who helped pave the way for us to enjoy some of the freedoms we have today. I hope these stories will empower our generation and those to come."
P.S. Burn This Letter Please is available now on Discovery's new streaming service, Discovery+.