Jesus Genderfucking Christ, so many things I can say about drag being both trans empowering and transmisogynistic/cissexist. Usually, when folks are praising drag, I try to point out the problematic aspects of it. And when they’re attacking drag, I try to point out the awesome aspects of it. Not to be contrarian but to help people recognize how complicated this discussion is.
- In drag queen shows, there really are sometimes cis men up there on stage making jokes about the trans feminine experience. As if trying to hide the bulge in your dress is the funniest thing ever. (I mean, joking about your own dysphoria is one thing, but joking about somebody else’s? Yeah. Problematic).
- Certain queens purposefully make fun of women with their performances. They create personas that resemble (and thus perpetuate) misogynistic stereotypes.
- It’s common for pageant queens around the world to criticize other queens for not being feminine enough, thus in some ways, policing femininity, which, yeah, I think is pretty closely tied to misogyny (and completely defeats the potential power of drag). I have a friend who was heavily criticized in a pageant for not wearing “enough padding,” even though they stopped wearing padding after their grandmother got breast cancer in solidarity with her.
Drag pageants, especially drag pageants like Ms. Gay America that prohibit anybody who is taking hormones and makes it very clear that they are looking for cis men who will dress up like caricatures of women on stage–these sorts of pageants are just the same gender essentialist bullshit we find at church, just this time dressed in rhinestones.
- Outside gender probs is the fact that drag in many areas has a tendency to participate in shameless racism and cultural appropriation with costumes and speech.
- Trans women, trans men, and non-binary folks have a long history of starting their gender experimentation with drag. Trans liberation activist Sylvia Rivera and other members of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries identified as drag queens. Even in recent history, we have a few RuPaul queens that have come out as trans women. (And the most recent winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race coming out as genderqueer).
- Femme queer men and butch queer women who are often discriminated against in both straight and queer communities have expressed empowerment through drag, a reclaiming of their own femininity and/or masculinity.
- Drag troupes since the sixties have raised money for LGBT causes, (Not just LGB–I’m including the T in here for a reason).
- A lot of genderfuck drag out there helps people reconsider gender. As one genderqueer person told me describing their experience with drag: “Drag is your gender on fire.” Successful drag performances in my book are witty, passionate, in your face, politically charged commentaries on culture, sexuality, gender, and identity.
Paris is Burning is a great documentary about the Harlem Ball Scene where black gay men and trans women found empowerment through dancing and costume competitions that would influence drag greatly in the modern day.
Venus Boyz is a documentary that explores the roles drag kings play in lesbian and trans masculine culture.
Gendernauts is a documentary that explores the genderqueer movement in the nineties and shows genderfuck drag performers and their role in queer nightlife.
Are there other links, videos, or films that you think should be suggested for those interested in this topic? If so, share them below!