Friday, March 18, 2011

Drag vs. Mockery

[ETA: I want to clarify that my entire point here is to say that I see a difference between dressing like a woman as a joke and dressing like a woman because you like it. You don't have to look "traditionally feminine" or be able to pass as a woman to be taking it seriously. As Kyrie says, it's about intention, not degree of passing. You know where to find me if you need further clarification on my views here. I don't explicitly address trans issues here - that's another post.]

A person only has to know me for about thirty seconds to learn that I love drag. It is, in fact, one of the many things Kyrie and I have in common. Neither of us are drag performers, but we both regularly go see drag shows in our town. I am in love with RuPaul's Drag Race on Logo. My favorite movie is Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I watch drag videos online when I need to be energized or cheered up. Aside from roller derby, it's pretty much my favorite thing.

[All links below are to drag videos. If your workplace considers that inappropriate, you have been duly warned.]

I think drag is empowering. I've heard queens talk about how it empowers them, and nothing could make me happier. But I also think it's empowering to women. Here are men, the people our culture holds up as the standard (male is considered neutral, whereas female is considered "other") choosing to find power in dressing like, and performing as, women. It's awesome, and many of them are so beautiful. I love the opportunities for creativity, too.

You know what I really hate, though? When guys throw on a skirt* and maybe a bra for Halloween or a frat prank or whatever and find it heeeeelarious. There's rarely a genuine attempt to look feminine: hairy legs, facial hair, cartoonish makeup or none at all. There is nothing wrong with hairiness, on men or women, of course. But when these guys put on skirts, it's like they're trying to show how their masculinity shines through even when wearing women's clothing. That is the opposite of what drag is about. It's mocking women (and feminine men), not embracing womanhood/femininity. It is, in that way, kind of like blackface.**

So, guys, find something else to do on a dare or wear for Halloween. It's immature and embarrassing - for you. And if you want to see how some real queens*** do it, join us at the gay bar in town some evening. I promise it will be worth your while.

* I am not talking about kilts, of course.
** I don't mean that it is exactly like blackface, or as damaging or historically loaded as blackface. It's just a comparison.

*** Yes, the picture and two of the videos are of Raja. A lady can have a favorite.

I'd like to add that men can also cross-dress while simultaneously letting their masculinity show through without being an ass. One golden, shining example is Eddie Izzard. He is clearly male-identified, yet wears traditionally female dress seriously. (The result? IMHO, hawtness. But I digress.) It's all about not mocking women. -- Kyrie

Thank you for pointing that out - I agree. I suppose it is the spirit in which it is done that makes a difference. It's not a party trick for Eddie Izzard (who is, I think, one of the best people alive). Interestingly, Izzard doesn't identify as just a straight man, necessarily. He's called himself a transvestite (saying, "If you can walk down the street in women's clothing, you can do anything" - swoon, right?), a lesbian trapped in a man's body, and as transgendered. So for multiple reasons, he falls outside the realm of straight guys dressing in women's clothes to be silly. He's not being silly - he says, according to those articles, that he dresses in women's clothes because he likes to. Rock on, sir. -- Jess

Thanks for the correction -- he has often described himself as male, and so I assumed he was not transgender. Cis privilege alert! -- Kyrie


  1. One Halloween, I dressed as a woman (and not in the drag context). There was, perhaps, a difference in the approach. I was dressed as my wife, and she was dressed as me, and both of us were taking the children trick or treating.

    Question: Was I still being a sexist ass? (I hope not, and if I was I apologize.)

    This was in my pre-beard phase, but I made no other attempts to cover any other masculine traits. Conversely, my wife made no attempt to mask her feminine traits when she was dressed as me. Does my status as friend to the LGBT community have any bearing on this? The fact that my own sexuality has been questioned most of my life (as a former thespian with a penchant for writing poetry, high school wasn't easy)? I saw it as a way of declaring comfort with my sexual identity... but perhaps that interpretation was insensitively incorrect?

  2. Andrew, I just adore you.

    I don't think you were being a sexist ass. I think we could really get into some queer/gender theory here, actually: you and your wife could have been making some kind of statement about your partnership and heteronormativity. Bill and I dressed as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez one Halloween (I was Dylan). He has a beard and didn't shave it, but he was dressed so androgynously that everyone thought he was Jesus. It was as much about my gender-bendy queerness as anything else, I think.

    I don't think a person's status as friend or foe of the LGBTQs always matters in situations like these, actually. I recently called someone out on saying "you homos" to a bunch of guys he was jokingly threatening. His first defense was, "I hang with the family." Well, I'm IN the family and it bugged me. "The family" is not monolithic, and his having some gay friends doesn't excuse him from using the word "homos" as a slur. [I do think it's possible to use homo/fag in a non-slurring or even empowering way. This wasn't that kind of context.]

    I should have, perhaps, spent more time on the gray area in this post. There's drag, there's douchey frat boys saying "haha I'm wearing a skirt," and then there's some level of experimentation/whatever you want to call it in the middle. You aren't at all what I'm talking about here.

  3. @Scarecrow: I actually think dressing like your wife is an excellent way to play with cross-dressing. After all, she's probably the woman you most respect in the world, so it's a route unlikely to lead to vicious mockery.

    I would also say it's always good to accompany this with some self-examination, since this concept really boils down to intent, not degree-of-passing.