Dr. Lady J (known out of drag as J Davenport) is a Cleveland, Ohio-based historian, drag artist, podcaster, curator, and activist originally from rural East Tennessee who specializes in drag performance history. She is best known for her dissertation “From the Love Ball to RuPaul: The Mainstreaming of Drag in the 1990s,” which was recently featured as a ProQuest Dissertation and Theses Success Story. She is also known as the host of the podcast Untucking the Past and cohost/co-producer of The Pod of Dust and Rainbows with Kenyon Farrow. Lady J is an award-winning queer and trans community leader who was voted “Cleveland’s Best Activist” in 2021 and served as the founding Director of Programming, Education & Outreach for Studio West 117, a $100 million development project focusing on arts and entertainment for the Northeast Ohio LGBTQ+ and allied community. Her work as a writer has been featured in the Journal of the American Musicological Society and her essay “Experimenting with Lady J: A Trans Take on Drag” will be featured in Dance in US Popular Culture (forthcoming).
As a non-binary trans woman with over a decade of experience performing and producing in the drag world, Lady J’s lived experience deeply informs her understanding of the art form’s history and allows her to speak to both its past and present. Her research and educational outreach focus on fighting the historical erasure of marginalized drag communities and bringing forward the contributions drag performers have made to politics, music, film, fashion, and popular culture. Through public education and nightlife activism, Lady J attempts to undo the misogynistic myth that drag is primarily and historically performed by, and thus belongs to, cisgender men who dress as women. She highlights the significant role of transgender people and cisgender women throughout drag history, placing emphasis on the foundational role of performers of color. She further works to show how drag performances function by returning performances and performers back into their full cultural context.
In her drag career, Lady J has produced individual works and shows for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Gay Games, FRONT International, and the Austin International Drag Festival among hundreds of other clients across the United States. In her performances Lady J has collaborated with artists across a variety of mediums including puppetry, textile art, burlesque, and theater. You can find Lady J’s podcasts, writings, and samples of her years of performances on her website www.theonlyladyj.com.