April 2, 2004 08:17 AM

I've heard arguments that drag performance is analogous to blackface or other ethnic imitation before. Morgaine brought it up on WHB last week: la.

I think it's too simple to say men in drag demean women. I think it's way too simple to say gay men in drag demean women. And what about women in drag? What about drag as performance art?

I'll grant this article one point. There is an implication of gender inequity in the idea of straight men dressing comically as female stereotypes. To borrow a cliched image that I've never seen played outside a sitcome, there's the Powder Puff football cheerleader (Powder Puff football, if you haven't watched as much TV as I have, is when the high school cheerleaders and football team trade places, to much ensuing hijinks). A large man dressed as a cheerleader is funny precisely because he's clearly not a woman. And there is certainly inequity in the range of female stereotypes that we're all familiar with - namely, that it's pretty easy to pick up on "slut", "virginal bimbo", etc., but male stereotypes can be a little less obvious (and generally are based on media icons more than "types"). But the Powder Puff cheerleader also has a counterpart - the girl acting out the role of big jock boy. Are they 100% equal? No. It's pretty clear from the cultural result of feminism (women acting more "masculine" but men not acting loads more "feminine") that we think being a boy is better. So they can't be equal.

But I think our response to both is very similar.

The second before you begin to laugh, your body tenses much like it does the second before you decide to run away. Not to get all sociobiology on you, but to make the point that we laugh about things that are strange or challenging. I think we laugh at "normal, straight" people in drag because they convey simultaneously the image of what we think they are and what we think they're not. And on some level we realize the boundaries between are and are-not are artificial.

Drag as art and drag as an element of queer identity are a whole other story. I think a lot of queer identity is caught up in appropriating supposedly other-gendered behaviors, and drag can be a magnification and exaggeration of that. It's not even so much imitative of women as taking on an opposite, non-man, identity. To be queer and in drag is to declare I AM NOT WHAT YOU THINK. As a part of identity, or as part of a performance, that can be very powerful. It can also be silly and excessive, but it's a part of queer culture I'm personally quite fond of. Drag seems to say "Call us sissys? Fags? Well, fuck you, we ARE sissys and fags, and we're so fabulous we don't give a damn if you're sorry." It creates a problem for a straight community that is uncomfortable with sliding gender, and a problem for a gay community that wants to be seen as part of normal.

Why isn't drag part of normal? Why isn't over the top gender behavior normal? Not easy questions.

It's odd to me that the article Morgaine referenced cites Judith Butler but doesn't bring up the question of women in drag. Butler's "Female Masculinities" (which I've read only about a chapter of) talks quite a bit on that subject, and on the long history of women dressing in men's clothes - or otherwise "masculinely" - as a similar phenomenon to men-in-drag-as-queerness. That is, women in drag are also claiming an identity as "other", not appropriating man-ness, but appropriating ideas of what is masculine. The drag king thang seems a lot like it's queeny counterpart - kinda complicated, kinda challenging.

And that does not demean me.

TrackBack : in feministy stuff « if i had a magazine deedle deedle deedle deedle deedle dee | Main | the blog. »
your wicked thoughts

Thank you! I was afraid I was the only feminist out there who does not think Drag Queens demean me. I mean, as I said on my blog, men thought women in pants demeaned them for a long time! We came at it from different angles but we seem to share the same view!

these are the thoughts of Vic... on April 2, 2004 08:20 AM

Great points. I never even considered the idea that drag was somehow demeaning. I never saw mockery of women in it at all. I love to wear ultra-feminine clothes occassionally myself and while it's taken mostly seriously when I do, there is a tiny bit of "performance" to it. Drag just seems to be an amplification of that, not a mockery.

these are the thoughts of Amanda on April 16, 2004 05:35 PM

(I found this entry from feministe, by the way.)

I've always seen it even differently from any of you, considering I am a gay man. I always thought it was kind of a way for gay men to stand by and defend cross-dressers/transs.exuals/transgender/whatever you want to call it. Kind of saying "we laugh at ourselves, too." Does that make any sense?

But I really don't think demeaning women was ever on the mind of a "drag queen" when he was doing his thing. I mean, seriously. How can it be demeaning to a woman to want to be one (for those that do)? In general, gay men usually relate more to women than men anyway -- and I think all groups latch onto others that they see as similarly oppressed, similarly looking for a way out.

these are the thoughts of James D on April 18, 2004 01:39 PM

James, I think you're 100% right where drag queens' intentions are concerned - there's very clearly no individual intention to put women down. Could some of the non-queer folk who dress in drag (i.e. frat boy camp) be deliberately demeaning women? Eh, maybe.

You're right on where camp is concerned - I can definitely see that comic overthetopness of drag being about solidarity, between women & the gay community & the trans community, basically laughing at ourselves. But there are also some serious, challenging aspects to cross-gender performance that have come to stand for more of an f-you mainstream attitude.

these are the thoughts of april on April 19, 2004 03:49 PM

please note that your IP address is logged when comments are posted, and comment abuse including spam will be investigated and reported to your internet service provider.

in this section
miss anything? (monthly)
artsy stuff
books & tv & internet stuff
fat & health stuff
feministy stuff
generally political stuff
nerdy & silly stuff
sexually liberated stuff
vaguely personal stuff
work & money stuff
i have a livejournal, too
more info
email me
design by seven ten


about the site wicked thoughts edge of the season arts links we have brains