drag kinging cissexism

This evening I went to a drag show. I have found myself going to drag shows quite a bit (for me) over the last few months. There is something about the ridiculous, extravagant, and bold nature of drag shows that brings me lots of ambivalent feelings: joyful feelings of celebrating other people’s genders, the potential for political subversion in fucking with gender, and also discomfort in usually feeling like the only trans* person in the audience. I want to move away from a worn discussion of whether or not drag is for entertainment or political purposes as I believe it can be either or neither, depending on the drag performer. However, I do know that as a trans* person that is often read as masculine, in my body it feels like a mindfuck to be in an audience of some portions of queer (as catch-all) community that has tensions with trans* communities but simultaneously and so exuberantly applauds masculinity vis–à–vis drag kinging.

Tonite’s particular performance was intended to help raise money for a local organization that serves as a shelter for (cis)women and children who are survivors of domestic violence. It didn’t escape my attention, nor my friend’s, when the emcee consistently used binary language in the interludes in describing the services the shelter provides for “women, men, and children in Iowa.” In addition to a performance, the drag kings also did a short panel after the show to open up space for audience members to ask questions.

During the panel the kings were asked to share with us how they came up with their persona. It was within these responses from the kings that I find interstices for dialogue. I am continuing to unpack the various layers of complicated politics of the tensions between drag and trans* communities and larger questions of do we all really fit within similar communities and how can we build solidarity around expanding the parameters of gender for all folks.

One of the more playful kings responded to the question by describing drag as a way to access and extend childhood playfulness of dancing and singing. This king described how being in the troupe is fun, and also has a politics of performance in the intricate ways in which audience members respond to kings in that some ‘forget’ that kings are performing gender. I believe it is in those moments when (some) audience members are going through a translation process of making intelligible a king’s gender that makes me celebrate the particularities of drag shows. But the panelist then spiraled into a discourse of reminding us that he is really female, a woman performing in drag, and that he attempts to play with hyper-masculinity in an effort to bring the possibility of more fluidity in all people’s gender identities, but that he wasn’t a ‘real’ man.  That is, he didn’t have balls.

I find this cissexist discourse of “real” any gender or sex extremely disappointing. That our genders and bodies are suddenly reduced to genitals is not new. It operates in a systemic manner that oppresses trans* and cis people alike in our genders and ways of relating to our bodies. The irony of the notion of tolerance for diversity within gender, spoken in the same sentence as real men having balls was not missed. The only response, in that particular moment, was to turn to my friend and say, “I think it’s time to go.”

But I am stuck with these questions, these broader questions, of how we can create space within our collective communities for all of us to fuck with or lean into or embrace gender in any way it manifests and feels good in the ways in which we want to be in the world, and simultaneously not regard “authentic” genders as being marked by having bodies that conform to assignments made at birth, and that relies on cissexism.


Posted on March 14, 2013, in blog postings and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. loose quote” how to create a space to embrace gender in any way and not regard as authentic birth assigned genders. ”

    the first thought i have is that of intersexed people. they sort of blow a hole in the idea of birth gender. but really we are talking about striations of societal existance. a drag king resorting to labeling herself as a her because she does not have male organs says to me that whether she has body parts or not she feels she is a she. she is an actress using the idea of polarity to create tension and interest. she probably also feels an affinity of varying degree for a more radical lifestyle. that she is subjecting her identity to a biologically observable phenominon is probably not occuring to her. also that she is helping to denegrate a sphere of people is not occuring either. this is not a sexual identity issue exactly. its more of a taste of sin thrill. so again my feeling is that she feels she is doing something wrong and enjoying it. to deny morality one has to have some sort of moral compass.

    [ to create a space to understand and embrace this sort of activity is probably difficult if that is what you are asking. to be able to embrace abusive tendencies is possible. one must first realize that one must never tell the offender that they are offending. one must go to a surface level of enjoyment of a human being and not think deeply. i don’t think its wrong to do this, but the snickering parallel feelings of such a surface endeavor must also be avoided or you will be outed. males have this also, its like wolves in a pack… they submit by actions and sound to the alpha male and tend to follow. you need to find a way around this adherance phenominon. males and females do form packs and usually it is an aggressive bond. the excitement of a group aggression accerbates and titalates each individual mental state and creates a high; thus allowing the individual to do what they would normally not do. its like the lynch crowd. atrocities are common in this type of behavior. best to avoid it or you might get caught up in it. however befriending the preset will naturally entail some form of subjugation, so best to learn the signs; like the open hand and the half smile. ]

    if you are asking not about the performers attitude at all but in general then; creating a space would mean creating a mental paradigm. my feeling is that knowledge of pre existing natural behavior patterns is the only good way to do this. most people objecting to transgender constructs refer to the “way it is supposed to be”. this ‘way” is actually a very recent and highly stratified attitude of a moral code that is unsupportable in the natural world. because moronic behavior seems to defer to authority then an authoritarian discourse on natural phenominon should be pursued. in my studies of nature, man and religion i have noticed one thing; answers are very obvious. for instance, man is not a monogamous creature. yet he lauds species that are. duh! it should be obvious that a species that is monogamous would have to be very secure in its evolution to do that, as the gene pool becomes striated with the pursuit of monogamy. no one says much about this, but its one of the reasons humans have done very well on earth. with this knowledge the idea of monogamy as a virtue sort of becomes negated. so knowledge organized and presented in a timely way will create a space for sanity; or “embracing gender in any way and not regarding as authentic birth assigned genders. ” and you better have your sources down pat. 🙂

  2. Georgia Robison

    “How we can create space within our collective communities for all of us to fuck with or lean into or embrace gender in any way it manifests and feels good in the ways in which we want to be in the world, and simultaneously not regard “authentic” genders as being marked by having bodies that conform to assignments made at birth, and that relies on cissexism.”

    This is a tall order. There are so few Trans folk out and about in Eastern Iowa such that drag performers in particular, and 99.99 percent of everyone else in general have no concept of the complexity of gender which we experience day by day.

    It is nothing new for me to think that my gender is by not defined by my body. I have this big ass M on my birth certificate, not to mention a penis, but I feel so much more complete as a person when presenting female. This is a difficult concept which I have grown accustomed to over the course of years.

    Hence to create our space, we first must be patient. Well meaning people typically do not understand. Its a new concept. Love them, they’ll grow. The Quiltbag will get a little soiled now and again, but it always comes clean in the wash.

    Second, we must be open to opportunities to explain and validate our unique perspective. We must create caring and friendly discussions with our allies, to educate them with good information. It is only by giving someone a stake in our lives, that they will find the time to care about our experience.

    Third, we should identify well meaning people who have a willingness to try to understand. Likewise we must identify knuckle dragging cretins who won’t even listen. We reserve our frustration and anger, and sharp words for them.

    Case in point: Last night I had a discussion with Kevin, a insurance executive, over some beers (copious beers) at RG Books in Cedar Rapids. I was presenting as female. Kevin insisted I did so only because I was attracted to men. Instead of telling him he was full of shit I explained to him that gender orientation and sexual orientation were two different things. I repeated this concept three times. I hope he remembers it. We parted friendly. I’ll probably see him again next time I make the rounds.

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