Just Be A Queen
I used to tell people that Drag Queens made me feel like I was being made fun of.
And that was how I felt. I hadn't ever gone to a show, or seen more than a few seconds of one... save for one episode of Ru Paul I watched fascinated and perplexed, largely in silence with some art friends. The way they were laughing made me feel like everyone was being made fun of.
At some point in the past decade, I started to realize just what parts of femininity were being forced on me, and by whom, and why me dressing and more often behaving in a certain way would benefit them, or benefit someone or some system they protect. Once you see that thread of motivation, you start to see what behaviors of your own are ones you wouldn't choose for yourself. It's disorienting and upsetting, but then ultimately very freeing when you realize you do have a choice in how you dress, behave, and generally communicate to the people around you who you are.
Your idea of yourself changes over time. In the same way, your idea of those around you, and how you relate to them, is subject to updating. Recently, I spent an evening watching a large variety of drag related performances with some of my friends who are gay, and who had been trying to get me to come to shows with them for years, and this time I was ready to watch with an open heart and an open mind.
But I'll admit I was shocked at my own response: I adored it. And I didn't feel made fun of at all; in fact, I felt empowered. For the past few months, I've felt like my notion of femininity has been revealed to have a whole new facet I hadn't explored. These men found something strong, resilient, beautiful, and powerful in their drag personas that I myself have never felt so radiantly or so fully. The idea of that power, that I feel one small shard of dressed up to the nines and turning a head, being an enviable position, not an objectification or a vulnerability, not a consolation prize but a worthwhile pursuit, has emboldened me in my daily living, and helped me rethink some of the ways I comport myself.
I went to a Lady Gaga concert this summer, and it got me thinking about some of these ideas in new ways. Rewatching her old videos and seeing her display a lot of that same bedazzled confidence and power; it's what drew me to her work in the first place. But it's also what has made many people claim she was "secretly a man." This is a pattern I've seen often in our culture: when Barack Obama displays a gentle, tempered, patient form of masculinity, we whisper that he's gay. And if Stefani Germanotta comes out both pyrotechnic breasts blazing, she must be a transgender man. It doesn't make a difference; it shouldn't make a difference, and yet this urgent, incessant need to reclassify celebrities betrays how people truly view LGBTQ people, as well as the roles of cisgender men and women. By "accusing" her of being a man, does it make her relative power "acceptable?" Does it take some of her power away? Why do people feel that her genitalia would make any sort of difference? What do they stand to gain or would be protected by that revelation?
In art school, we learned to lean into things that made us uncomfortable. What about someone's work don't you like, if you don't like it? What does that say about you? About the work? About culture in general? This is what you do if you want to build something, you take it apart piece by piece, and examine how it goes back together.
I'm finding myself increasingly dissatisfied with how a lot of our culture goes back together. The good news is that there is so much we can improve.