I’m going to begin by saying this may be a long read, so brace yourself. These are thoughts and beliefs I have held for a long time, but never known how to articulate them or never felt that it was the right opportunity and wanted both to align which, now, I think they do.
Firstly, I want to say that I don’t need my drag to be validated and, if you are a drag artist, you shouldn’t either. I know that what I do is drag and I know that a misogynistic gay male’s opinions will never change that. I know that there are people in this community who may want to tear me down or make me feel excluded from the community, but I’m still here, and I’ve still fought just as hard to be here as any of them have.
The first argument against women or AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) people who do drag is that we do not experience the same level of hate and prejudice as men who do drag experience. We do not get harassed in the street, called the f slur or beaten for presenting ourselves in a feminine way. Now, this argument very clearly excludes trans women who do drag as they are very clearly harassed day in and day out for expressing themselves in a feminine manner. Even with female-aligned queens, oftentimes it’s only replacing homophobia with slut-shaming, which is just another breed of hatred towards women. It’s an irrelevant argument that ignores the fact that women are diverse and, therefore, have diverse experiences.
I’ve been outside my house in drag. I’ve been on the underground in drag. I’ve walked around my tiny town alone in drag. I am lucky enough that I live in a liberal town that is full of students, but that doesn’t stop the stares. It doesn’t stop people from looking at me as if I’ve literally come from another planet. Not only are we experiencing prejudice and hatred from the outside community, we are also experiencing discrimination from the people who are supposed to lift us up and are supposed to celebrate our difference.
Drag is about embracing and celebrating difference-it’s about accepting the parts of us that society has taught us to hate about ourselves. For many male drag queens, this is femininity. For many female queens, this is also femininity. Femininity is something that is shamed and ridiculed regardless of your gender- one of the other arguments is that women’s femininity is celebrated, whereas a man’s is not. It’s not ‘celebration’. It’s more a prison that we are forced to hold ourselves within. When I was around 11-14, I refused to embrace anything that was ‘feminine’. I hated skirts and dresses, I hated makeup and I hated the idea of being weak because there was so much else in society that made me feel weak that I refused to add another layer on top of that. Embracing my femininity was one of the best things that happened to me, but it was one hell of a fucking journey.
It is not that people who have been socialised as women do not experience hatred for their femininity. When we put on bold makeup, we are told we are wearing too much. When we put on no makeup, we are told we are not trying. When we wear too little, we are shamed and told to cover up but, when we do, it’s almost as if we become invisible. This does not change the fact that they are different experiences. This does not change the fact that we should celebrate men who express femininity. Merely, it means that the idea that a woman’s femininity is merely accepted without question is absurd. One of the main things to learn from this is: do not talk about a woman’s experience unless you have spoken to a woman about it.
The most common argument against women doing drag or about AFAB people doing drag, however, is that there’s ‘no transformation’. You’re already a woman, why would you want to transform yourself into something you already are?
The idea that drag is merely a transformation from man to woman simplifies the definition of it to an extent it was never meant to be simplified to. Drag is about a transformation, yes, but that can be a transformation of any kind. Why are male queens allowed to put on some eyeliner and lipstick and call it drag when a woman/AFAB queen is expected to put on a full face of makeup and make herself look completely unrecognisable to be deemed anything close to ‘drag’? These standards are the same standards set by the men who try to keep us out of the community, making us feel as if we are unwelcome. These standards are ironic, however, as these are the very same people who believe that it’s easier for women /AFAB people to do drag and that there are lower expectations for us, when they are the very people placing these expectations on us.
The most interesting to me about RuPaul saying that he believes that there is something ‘punk rock’ about men doing drag and that women doing it also takes away from that fact is, besides the fact Ru does not do his own hair or makeup, is that RuPaul started as someone who performed genderfuck drag. He performed drag that aimed to confuse, that aimed to make the wider audience question what ‘gender’ really is. He gave that up to take part of a more ‘socially accepted’ style of drag, but by starting off with performing drag in a way that aimed to question gender, why would he want to reinforce it? By stating that only cis men can do drag, we are reinforcing the idea that gender is binary and, oftentimes, these arguments are followed by transphobic statements that define gender in terms of biology, reducing it to things such as one has to tuck, the other does not, one has to pad, etc.
I’m going to shock you right here: none of the trans women on Drag Race were men and nor have they ever been. Being a woman is not defined by biology and never has been. It’s never even been questioned that queens such as Carmen Carrera were told to stop taking hormones so that they could be on the show. The tagline ‘Gentleman, start your engines’ said directly in front of a woman who has stated that she is trans is rarely questioned either. The fact that these queens are allowed on the show isn’t, sadly, revolutionary when they are forced to reject parts of who they are. The fact RuPaul won’t allow a fully transitioned trans queen on the show but will allow queens like Trinity Taylor who are open about plastic and cosmetic surgery and the amount they have had is plain and simple transphobia. It’s about separating trans women from the very community that they helped create because gay men have decided that they just exclude women from their community because they are not satisfied with what they have.
Instead of making it an open and inclusive community, queens such as RuPaul and Rhea Litre decide to reject the very thing that makes drag so unique and incredible. By ostracising queer women, trans men and nonbinary people from the scene, it’s almost a suggestion that we are not on the same level as gay men. It’s a suggestion that, despite fighting for our rights just as hard, we are not worthy. We are not allowed to celebrate the very things that outside members of society ridicule us for and, honestly, isn’t that what drag is about?
Drag aims to break down the gender divide, not to reinforce it. We are not ‘faux queens’ and there is nothing ‘fake’ about our drag. Rather than tearing down the women around you, lift them up. Embrace queer women. Amplify their voices, especially trans woman, who are a huge part of the reason many of us can do what we love. We experience enough hatred and divide from the outside community, why do we need to enforce that within our own community, a community that is celebrated for its acceptance of difference without question?
Celebrate drag. Celebrate difference. Celebrate the fact that, even though we may have different experiences, putting simplistic definitions on drag denies the very essence of what it is. Drag isn’t just about padding, extravagant makeup or ‘looking like a woman’. Drag is something that is a part of the queer community, which means it should be open to everyone and anyone. Drag is something that celebrates the weird and the wonderful, the beautiful and the terrifying, the filthy and the polished- and these should all be respected and celebrated on the same level because, at the end of the day, they are all drag. If we’re all born naked and the rest is drag, why on earth does that statement only seem to apply to gay men?
Jinx or, my drag name,
(Cover artwork by @houseoflabeija on twitter!)