Kind Of A Drag

Several weeks ago I became a bit mixed up in what had a lot of potential to become a hugely embarrassing misstep on the part of CFI Ontario in their efforts to present a queer-friendly image through participation in Toronto’s pride parade. As has been written about elsewhere, such as by Zinnia Jones, CFI Ontario had the plan of marching in drag as participants in the parade.

The initial proposal for this plan explicitly, and quite insultingly, presented the idea as being supportive of the trans community, an act of solidarity against transphobia, by asking cisgender CFI members and volunteers to “step outside their comfort zones”. After the initial wave of outrage reached CFI Ontario, their first response was to simply remove any reference to trans advocacy from their proposal, which had the unfortunate effect of suggesting the trans-positive message was never really genuine in the first place, and had simply been tacked on for the sake of publicity after the fact of someone, somewhere deciding that dressing up in drag would be fun. They also issued a rather patronizing notpology in which a whole lot of cissplaining was offered to teach us trans people what drag is really all about and how we ought to feel about it.

After a lot of discussion, however, an altogether positive result was reached in which the plan was scrapped and some much more genuine apologies were offered. Although clearly a great deal of work still needs to be done in terms of hetero/cis allies being more prepared to talk and, more importantly, listen to the queer communities on whose behalf they position themselves speaking and acting, it’s a nice change of pace to have been involved in actions that ultimately prevented something hurtful and insulting from occurring, rather than having to explain these things in the wake of their consequences, with the much more abstracted goal of someone maybe learning something from it, or perhaps achieving another millimeter of collective movement in what one hopes is the right direction.

However, this does end up illuminating some icky creepy things crawling around in the blind spots many cis people have in regards to what drag is, what it isn’t, and how it does and does not relate to the broader range of transgender identities. Even drag’s inclusion under the concept of transgenderism is not something I, personally, feel completely comfortable with, but do have to reluctantly accept in order for my current working definition to be consistent. At least it’s necessary in order to avoid  some really thorny territory about what is or isn’t not a significant variance from expectations about gender.

(I do kinda feel like revising my working definition, though)

CFI Ontario’s drag parade idea provides a pretty useful touchstone for exploring those misunderstandings and assumptions, and talking about how strongly drag and transsexual experiences differ. For instance, one of the most noticeable concepts on which the CFI idea hinged was the notion of “stepping outside comfort zones”, the idea that momentarily inhabiting a gender variant presentation, or a gender presentation not in accordance with your identity, would somehow approximate what it is to be trans. Comfort zones, however, can’t really be separated from the questions of safety and acceptance.

As sad as it may be, a defining aspect of trans experience, and more so the experience of coping with the realities of cissexism and transphobia, is having to learn to live with near constant risk. There is the risk of being physically attacked, of course, the risk of sexual assault, the risk of harassment, the risk of being outed, the risk of being humiliated, shamed, ridiculed, misgendered, etc. Every single time we step out the door (if we have a door to step out of), we have to work with the fact that we entering threatening, potentially hostile territory. Self-imposed isolation, a kind of not-so-irrational agoraphobia, becomes a very real way of life for many trans people who ultimately aren’t really able to cope with having to take that daily gamble.. Many of us end up resigned to the threat as an inevitability… “is this the night I finally get hurt?”

A drag performer, by contrast, engage in their performances of gender almost exclusively in the safe, sanctioned space of queer-oriented nightclubs or theaters… or the exceptionally safe space of the pride parade. The context in which the cis members of CFI were intended to show “solidarity” with trans people, who live the vast majority of our lives in overwhelmingly hostile worlds, was the safest, most queer-positive possible context, in which such casual tweaking of gender is not only tolerated but celebrated. It couldn’t possibly be further divorced from the reality of trans lives, for which no such comfort zones exist to step in or out of. It’s massively insensitive to the actual depths of what it means to live, 24/7, in all circumstances, as a gender variant individual, always under the threat of being read, exposed, humiliated, rejected, ridiculed, studied, stared at, attacked, etc., to assume that doing a little performance in a context where it is in fact part of the dominant behaviour could possibly approximate it. And given the degree to which the organizers wanted to stand by their planned performance, even after the concept had been divorced from the “trans-solidarity” gesture, it was pretty clear this wasn’t a discomfort or a sacrifice for them. It was fun. Entertainment. Performance. Just like drag always is.

Drag is, as a rule, done because it’s fun, and is done in the contexts where it will be the most fun. That casts an impossibly wide gap between what it is and means and transition which, as rewarding as it may be, is very, very rarely fun. Drag is also very much under the performer’s control. Before leaving the safety of the nightclub, the costume and make-up and falsies and binders and packers can all be taken off.

There is one thing that almost always happens at the immediate outset of an incident in which a drag queen is harassed or at risk of being assaulted. The wig comes off. What does this suggest about how violence operates in relation to gender variance? What does this suggest about how violence operates differently when the intended victim is a women than when the intended victim is a man? What does it say about gender and violence that maleness itself can be presented as a tool of intimidation, and that femaleness is so consistently treated as a weakness, a target?

I wonder, in the absurd hypothetical that a cis guy wearing drag “in solidarity” at Pride were to be harassed and threatened, how long the wig would stay on.

Aside from the questions of violence and risk, safety and comfort zones, where and when unusual gender things are or aren’t perceived as socially acceptable, one of the things that has long bothered me about drag, and represents an equally vast gap between it and other kinds of trans experiences, is the fundamentally different way gender is treated and perceived, especially in regards to the motives. In drag, gender roles are almost always exaggerated, distorted, and turned into campy, ridiculous caricatures, for the sake of making everything more, well, fun. One of the things about this that is probably just as empowering for those who enjoy it as it is trivializing and offensive for others is how these exaggerations serve to mock and satirize gender roles.

Drag often presents itself as if to say, “Look! All those big, nasty genders that have limited and bound you don’t really have any real power! They’re silly. They’re just costumes. Gender is just a joke! Don’t you see?” …and while I’m very aware of how liberating this can be for many people, the truth is that gender is not always a joke. For some people it is, at risk of putting too fine a point on it, deadly serious. Not all of us have the opportunity of divorcing ourselves from those harsh realities to find it all that funny, and it seems that the whole set-up demands the luxury of being able to take gender somewhat for granted…something that is very much a cis privilege. It’s much harder to laugh at your gender when you’ve had to fight so hard and sacrifice so much in order to possess it.

In there lies a hint at a difficult, paradoxical, complex and yet very important question: is drag only possible in the context of cis privilege, or something fairly close to it? Is drag a fundamentally cisgender phenomenon?

When asked, I’ve always maintained that concepts like an “LGBT community”, “queer community” or “trans community” were validated and sustained despite the enormous differences between various individual identities in those groups as being basically political coalitions. They make sense due to a shared oppression, and shared political necessity to respond. But when virtually every aspect of the oppression and marginalization that affects trans people does not operate in relation to drag, does the concepts inclusion still make sense? Do drag performers, in any meaningful sense at all, even broadly, share the same risks, the same marginalization, the same experience of oppression, or share the political needs, as the trans community?

Arguably, cross-dressing for the purposes of entertainment, drag, was never actually marginalized or subjugated. There have always been contexts in theatre and performance in which cross-dressing, usually for the sake of comedy and camp and fun, just as it exists in our current cultural climate, was socially sanctioned.

Maybe entertainment-drag has always existed as a socially-sanctioned means for a cisgender culture to explore and exorcise its anxieties about gender. I can’t help but think of how often cross-dressing has been historically sanctioned in the context of Carnivale… a festival of bright colours, costumes, parades and general hedonism not even remotely unlike the contemporary phenomenon of Pride.

But nonetheless there’s a history of drag that extends outside the context of entertainment that has come to encompass it. At certain points in North American history, as well as ongoing in many other parts of the world, the boundaries between what was drag, what was transsexual, what was transgender, what was cross-dressing, and what was sexual kink were much, much more blurry and indistinct. These contexts seem to exist whenever or wherever access to medical transition, and tolerance of transsexuality and transgenderism, is limited or unavailable.

Maybe in those contexts, the possibility for transgender/transsexual communities to form on their own terms, to pursue the various identities or medical treatments or legal decisions that would distinguish a transsexual from anyone else, and to pursue and assert such an identity as distinct from those merely dressing as the opposite sex, was so limited or remote that assimilating under the protective umbrella of the forms of gender transgression that are socially-sanctioned, as in entertainment, theatre, drag… that was the best possible response. Survival demanded the cooperation, even if the actual motivations and understandings of self may have vastly differed from individual to individual.

Not at all unlike, perhaps, how many trans people initially explore their feelings and identities in the still far more socially-acceptable domain of drag (yes…gay men who are drag queens have far more acceptance and privilege than trans women… and not only due to the maintained ability to remove the wig) or butch (likewise) before realizing the necessity of transition.

Which is not to say that people living in such contexts have all been secretly thinking of themselves as different but just weren’t allowed to say so. Gender is always a social and cultural thing, and can only ever manifest in relation to the concepts that are available. We work with what we have to build and understand who we are.

All of these differences and complications have led to a not inconsiderable amount of tension and resentment. While drag continues to be the most accepted and most visible form of “cross-sex” behaviour, cis people, from the outside looking in, rarely have enough education about these nuances, or any nuances about gender variance at all, and end up not being aware that there’s much, if any, meaningful distinction between drag and trans. This ignorance about the complexity of these issues is very much exemplified by a group of cis people deciding it would be a gesture of “trans solidarity” to dress up in drag for a pride parade, consulting “actual queer people” (were any of them trans?) and a “real drag queen” (define real?) to ensure that the idea was on the level. Drag performers, like the often staggeringly insensitive RuPaul, are often then called upon to speak on behalf of transsexual people, or on issues that exlusively effect other transgender identities and experiences, and those cis performers then provide extremely cis-friendly answers, blinded by cis privilege, that are all too readily uncritically accepted by a cis audience.

It’s a bit of a problem.

Please, cis people… it’s not just enough to know that drag queens and trans women are two different things. If you want to think yourself capable of speaking to trans issues, if you want to think you’re able to “help” without actually consulting us (which is actually kind of always a bad idea), you really need to also understand why and how those are two different things… and what that means for those living on either side of that gap.


  1. says

    I wish that tension could be reduced, and I wish we heard more from cissexual people who get something more than “fun” out of a cross-gender presentation seriously, but who also want to be trans allies. Perhaps that’s none of my business. It’s frustrating to have friends with different transgender identities who want to dialogue about them and are (apparently) afraid to.

    • says

      If it’s about something more than fun for them, something deeper and important and significant, it does raise questions as to how cisgender they really are.

      But also, yeah, I could imagine cis people exploring cross-gender presentation in more of an “art”/ “exploration” kind of way rather than as a “entertainment” / “fun” way, but I would consider that by definition not “drag” because my definition of drag is pretty much “cross-gender presentation for the sake of entertainment or performance”.

      • Dan M. says

        This article would have been much less baffling if that narrow definition of “drag” were more obvious up front.

    • says

      I might be one of those people. There are times when dressing like a boy feels… right. Comfortable. Triumphant. It’s something I’m still exploring, but I know that in general I’m very at home with my female-not-very-feminine self, but that sometimes a male presentation just feels better. I don’t particularly care if people actually take me for male, and I doubt they would… to me it’s about expressing masculinity, not maleness. If I were a lesbian, I feel like this would make sense to people: I’d just be someone who likes to go butch from time to time. But there’s no space in our culture for cis heterosexuals (both of which I might not be entirely, but close enough) to engage in cross-gender presentations for reasons of self-expression, and not just fun.

  2. says

    Having followed that situation with CFI Ontario I too noticed the notion of “stepping outside of you comfort zone”. I have heard that one before and it always makes me extremely angry. As a trans woman I have no comfort zone really. I get to choose between discomforts. Door A is a life where I live as myself but face harrassment, violence, discrimination, poverty, etc. Door B is hiding myself, slowly dying inside as I deny a fundamental part of my existence.

    The only way they could maybe understand my existence would be to dress in drag and be forced to wear it long past when they wanted to take it off. Or they could choose to take it off but have everyone treat them badly for it. Then they might get it. Even then it would be temporary for them so they could never possibly get it.

    Or maybe if they wanted to get it the could ask or listen? Would have saved a lot of hurt feelings for all and they might genuinely learn something.

    • says

      Or force them to not only DRESS in a cross-gender manner, but to live that way, constantly, for years on end, while taking cross-sex hormones, many of the affects of which will only be reversible through medical means like laser or surgery, while being subjected to ridicule and abuse whenever they let it slip that they’re at all uncomfortable with it, or do anything that might make it seem like it’s a costume rather than who they are, and then force them to jump through YEARS worth of therapy and all kinds of bureaucratic hoops before being able to take the costume off, stop taking the hormones, and beging taking steps to undo their affects. TW. At this point, someone overseeing things also rolls a 12-sided die that, if it comes up “7”, means they get viciously assaulted by surprise some random night (and if they’re PoC, or live in an economically disadvantaged area, it’s an eight-sided die instead), and possibly killed and/or sexually assaulted.

      And you definitely do not get to know the result of your roll. Instead you just have to carry on, and continue going out of your house as necessary, and try to find a way to live with the fact that you might have rolled a 7, and that attack is waiting for you someday.

      THAT’S “stepping outside your comfort zone” to “understand trans experiences”.

      • natashayar-routh says

        A couple of little addendum to the ‘game’. If your married if you roll anything other then a one your relationship with your spouse goes to pieces. If you roll anything but a 3 your relationship with your family falls apart. Anything but a 5 and you lose all your friends. To be fair if you can roll three 7’s in a row you get to keep your relationships with all three.

        Yes this does mean you are most likely to be on your own. Sort of sucks doesn’t it.

      • Tualha says

        I don’t know too much about these issues first-hand, not having realized I was trans until my mid-30s, having progressed very slowly since then, and not having felt a strong need to transition until quite recently. I’m sure in many ways my thinking is that of a clueless cis person. But I’m put in mind of the great line near the end of Soul Man, where the black professor tells the white student who pretended to be black that he’s learned what it feels like to be black, and the student says, no, he hasn’t: “If I didn’t like it, I could always get out.”

      • Amy says

        I’m not usually one to post, but I must say that was a very good description of what we go through. If you don’t mind, I’m going to save it off and use it when I need to explain how we feel to people that don’t get it.

        Thanks 🙂

  3. quietmarc says

    It may be a reflection of my cis-privilege, but as a gay man I can’t come down very hard against drag. The more I learn about the issues that face ALL non-gender-binary-compliant people, the more it seems that the boundaries are fuzzy, at best. While individuals often fall squarely into one domain or another, the actual “graph” or “chart” of what is or isn’t trans/drag/genderfuck/etc seems to be variable and highly context-dependant.

    I’ve known people for whom drag was not just a job or something they do strictly for fun, but for whom it is an identity, just as critical to their self-perceptions as my homosexuality is to me. I know of drag performers who have had surgery, and so for them it is not as simple as “taking off a wig” when they face harrassment. And even though many drag performers have a type of celebrity in the queer community, they also face increased hostility from inside and outside the community.

    This isn’t to say that drag is not problematic. You’ve pointed out a LOT, not least of which is the huge gender imbalance and the way that “drag kings” are treated as opposed to “drag queens”. Many shows I’ve seen are beyond the pale with their insensitivity to many issues, and there are acts that would make Tosh.O look progressive by comparison. This needs to change, and I would bet that the drag community will be just as resistant to that change as, say, some skeptic communities have been resistant to acknowledging sexism.

    Again, this may be my cis-privilege, but I DO see overlap in ALL aspects of the queer communities’ battles, and there are many common causes between drag and trans issues. I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of the tension exists in part -because- of the cis-majority’s ignorance. While reading parts of your post I had a feeling that part of the problem is that the existence of drag makes trans battles more difficult, more complex, and more frustrating, because of how it affects the majority’s views of trans people and trans issues. But when I get that sense, I hear echoes of gay men saying “I wish those drag performers would cut it out, they’re giving us respectable gays a bad name.” To be clear, it is NOT the same, because the gay men who say this are coming from a place of privilege, and you are not.

    In the end, CFI’s misstep was pretty horrendous (I live in Toronto, and was considering joining CFI in the march to see if it was the right organisation for me. As luck would have it, the day I went looking for information was the day they posted their first announcement, and so I decided that maybe I’ll wait until next year), but I place the blame for that misstep at the feet of cis, straight people not doing their homework, not at the feet of drag.

    • says

      Well…yeah, it’s not like I blame drag for existing, or think of drag performers as “the enemy”. But I think there’s an enormous problem with those differences and nuances and complexities not being taken into consideration, primarily, yes, by cis/het people and cis/het media and cis/het attitudes and cis/het everything, but ALSO by a lot of drag performers who are all too eager to exploit that situation for their benefit. For instance, RuPaul, that New Zealand drag queen from the Libra tampon ad, or the “real drag queen” that CFI Ontario consulted, who told them it was a good idea, and who offered to help them do their make-up and everything. I don’t hold ALL drag performers complicit in that. That would be silly. But I’m not going to absolve them from their fuck-ups just because it was taking an opportunity provided by the ignorance of cis people.

      • quietmarc says

        I agree. Thank you for clarifying. It’s a good reminder that familiarity with one axis of oppression does not automatically translate to other axes of oppression, no matter what any superficial similarities exist.

  4. says

    I think some people just dress up in drag for kicks (and rely to some greater or lesser extent, on society’s negative attitudes — if nobody batted an eyelid, it would not work). I also think that some people with some measure of gender dysphoria associate themselves with the former group in order to indulge their true selves in what is, ironically, an accepting environment (even though they have to pretend pretence in order to be taken for what they are).

    Anyway, who are we to judge? I just think it sounds a wee bit too much like “You’re not trans enough” for comfort. Besides which, where do you draw the lines between “depressed” and “normal”, and between “normal” and “fun”?

    (There are also a minority of people who are just taking the piss — I will make an exception for judging them.)

    • says

      How is “just dressing in drag for kicks” at all different from how I defined and characterized it? Cross-sex presentation for the sake of entertainment (aka fun aka kicks) or performance.

      As for “not trans enough”, this has bugger all with me trying to kick anyone out of a club or deny them anything. Most drag queens have absolutely zero interest in trying to be “trans enough”, relative to what that usually means. They aren’t a part of the communities and support groups and reddits and message boards and things where the “not trans enough” messages and polices have weight, and they don’t want to be, nor would those places have much to offer them. Drag queens know that they’re not the same thing as transsexual just as well as we do, and they AREN’T trying to be understood as such. So I think that analogy is way, way, way off and tbh, a bit insulting.

      Finally, the lines between “depressed”, “normal” and “fun” not only seem clear as day to me, as words with completely separate meanings, I don’t see how that’s applicable, or what it has to do with the ideas in this post.

  5. Shplane says

    Would this be ok if they didn’t use the whole “step outside your comfort zone” thing, and made it clear that they were just doing it as a gesture of good will and not claiming that it gave them any sort of insight into what it’s like to be transsexual?

    I think the answer is “No”, but I’m not entirely sure.

      • Shplane says

        Yeah, that’s what I thought.

        If someone did want to perform some large, visible gesture of good will towards the trans community, what would you suggest? I admit that I’m mostly just asking out of curiosity, but it would help if I ever end up being the leader of anything.

        • says

          I would suggest a fundraiser for a trans health group or trans advocacy organization or something like that. Perhaps organize a trans education event with the participation of the trans community. Tangable help is better than a simple gesture of good will.

    • abigailjensen says

      I am always offended when any supposed LGBT organization uses drag as a fundraiser, somehow thinking it’s supportive of trans people. It’s not. It mocks what we work so hard to become. That’s why I refuse to support any group that claims to support trans people but uses drag to fundraise and/or show their supposed support for us.

  6. says

    this article brought to my mind that one time a German judge decided to don blackface to try to see what it’s like to be a person of color in our society. I originally understood the offensiveness/BS of it as a combination of “insufficient quantity” of experience and the offensiveness of blackface in-and-of itself (with some vague notion that constant racism experiences would shape you to be a different person, who would experience further acts of racism differently, anyway) . It only now clicked that the experiences of this judge didn’t just differ in the quantity of racism he’d have experienced, but in the quality of it (both in terms of what would happen to him, and in terms of what options would be open to him to react to what was happening to him).

    None of which has anything to do with your article, but that’s just the connection my brain made. Though of course the article was awesome in itself too. I didn’t even have a scrap of a solid notion where the real differences in drag vs trans experiences might lie (other than “well they just are different”). But the way you explained it makes some sense to me, even if I have filter real understanding through my own experiences of class (I’m poor and undereducated, but my Middleclass European background give that poverty a transient, superficial quality when compared to the poverty of people who’ve never been anything other than poor; even when on paper we’re equally poor).

    er. which is really just a ridiculously longwinded way of thanking you for writing this, I guess. Because without your writing, there would be a lot of mental paper-bags I wouldn’t be able to think my way out of, apparently :-p

  7. says

    Great, thought-provoking post, as always.

    Every single time we step out the door (if we have a door to step out of), we have to work with the fact that we entering threatening, potentially hostile territory.

    This may be a little thing, but I really appriciate how you continue to point out class issues that almost always get overlooked elsewhere. Maybe it’s because a lot of people on the internet, just by virtue of having access to a computer, are middle class (and assume everyone else is, as well), but it’s so rare that this reality is talked about. I also appriciate your candor about addiction for the same reason. I’ve lived in poverty (still there, technically, but I have a place to live and food to eat, so I don’t really think of myself that way anymore), and I spent years addicted to pills. Forget understanding my experience, I don’t expect that, most people don’t even acknowledge that we exist, outside of the very occassional “oh, those poor people” and the more common “those trash are destroying society”. And often, even with my own experience, I find myself ignoring or writing off a whole section of society, falling into the same trap of assuming everyone I see has a safe place to sleep.

    Your parenthetical mesnt a lot to me, as do a lot of your posts. Yeah, I’m a cis woman, but I often see myself reflected in your writing, and it helps knowing I’m not alone. I’m sure this is just a small fraction of what you go through, but it sucks when you never see an accurate representation of your experience. Ummm I might be saying this wrong, and I hope I’m not coming off condesending or silly, but I just wanted to let you know that your writing is really helpful, and I always look forward to your posts. Thank you.

  8. TBS says

    Yes I can see how dressing up, and ‘confronting boundaries’ could be offensive.

    I concur, there is no costume to being trans. It is a day to day slog in world that is looking for you to screw up, and probably hates you. Mess up modulating voice, borrow a shirt that isn’t tailored and look shapeless, don’t brush out your hair.

    As a fiancee of a trans woman in middle America, and I’m definition cis. WASP hetero. I only borrow it and it gets me upset.

    My Fiancee passes fairly well, but we already lost a job because she got made, and the boss (evangelical, who would have thought?) complained, and I hold her hand after many interviews where they are great on the phone, but in person, the position evaporates.

    I think I can commiserate a bit (and have had a privileged life), when we sit around the kitchen table and try to pay the bills, and plan for our wedding.

    R would laugh heartily at me if I put on a dress and tried to pretend it gave me some understanding of what she has gone through, and justifiably so.

    As a hetero cis man, breaking up the ‘seriousness’ of hetro manhood is a good and decent goal. I think it is a step to being even able to communicate with folks of differing gender identities, and, really, most cis hetero men I have met have never even met a trans person, some never even a gay person.

    But yeah, perhaps inappropriate for a parade.

    I mean I am (re) learning Russian, but I don’t expect to get published soon…

  9. A. Person says

    Personally, I hate drag. So I was glad to see that CFI Ontario dropped the plan.

    I have never seen drag used as anything other than an opportunity for cis men of all sexualities to mock and belittle women.

    It still kills me to think of those guys prancing around in drag who would have made my life a living hell if I asserted my gender identity. And no, drag wasn’t an opportunity for me to go around in public in my preferred presentation either. If you weren’t an obvious caricature of a woman they would have made your life a living hell anyway.

    I’m sure drag has been great for some people, but it just makes me bitter and angry.

    • Bia says

      I’m sorry for whatever experiences brought you to that place. Is it just Queens that bother you? Or Kings as well? I can’t and won’t speak for everyone that enjoys drag but I’ve yet to meet a drag King Or Queen that was performing specifically to mock the other gender. It seems as though you’ve conflated the exaggerated performance of drag with malicious satire.

      Drag can be satire of course, but usually the subject of any actual mockery isn’t women or men themselves, or males and females, but gender roles in general. Now I see a lot of people getting upset when gender roles are critiqued, but that’s generally because those people are conflating their personal identity with the gender role. This happens a lot too with regards to sexual orientation. When that is the case I think it’s healthy for that individual to question why they have so fixated their identity around such a small part of their existence.

      • A. Person says

        I am talking about the type of drag done in small towns, by boys and men who aren’t professional entertainers. Where drag is done as a Halloween costume or a prank.

        Believe me, you can tell the difference between critiquing gender roles and drag done with malicious intent.

        An example. A few college acquaintances of mine did an impromptu drag performance about a trans junkie hooker.

      • Bia says

        Thank you for the clarification because when you say;

        “I have never seen drag used as anything other than an opportunity for cis men of all sexualities to mock and belittle women.”

        It sounds as though you’ve experienced all kinds of Drag, including those listed in your exclusions. I personally don’t count Halloween costumes as Drag. That’s just kids being stupid, which they often are. Hell there are entire tumblr and other blogs devoted to just this kind of stupidity, mostly they are about cultural appropriation etc but yeah this “drag” would qualify I think.

        • A. Person says

          I have a very simple definition of drag: cross-dressing done as performance.

          Calling such performances culturally appropriation is problematic because drag is the interface between mainstream and queer culture, and drag as Halloween costume is the closest to the historical role of drag in Western festivals. So it’s an established part of the cultural context.

          For this next part, I apologize in advance, because I’m going to try and explain myself but I’m probably going to screw it up when putting it into words.

          Drag as a strictly queer performance art can be liberating for the performer because it reclaims and defangs by ridiculing the idea of attributing a gender role with eir presumed sexual role. But, drag as queer performance art exists within and is informed by mainstream culture’s view on drag, which can be simply stated as: “A man in a dress is funny.” and as long as that is the case, cannot be divorced from that context while it is billed as performance and entertainment. It necessarily exists in the same conceptual space as “Work It”, “White Chicks”, “Some Like It Hot”, “Mrs. Doubtfire”, etc.

          And because of that cultural context, it reinforces gender existentialism instead of undermining it. It’s predicated on the idea that the performer is “really” eir everyday gender. And by extension, reduces every act of gender non-conformance to a performance.

          So while not as harmful as the malicious acts mentioned in my previous post, it still causes harm.

          I think drag has served a useful purpose in the past, but I think it is time to acknowledge the harm that it does to trans women and move on.

          *Checks clock* Joy. I hope that makes sense for something posted at 5:30am. If not, I preemptively claim the spaghetti brain defense.


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