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At The Intersection: Is Drag a Problem?

It’s very difficult to not be problematic. Even for a someone who puts a conscious effort into unpacking his privilege, there are gaps, gaffs and mistakes that range from the micro to the macro. It’s not something I’m pleased about but it’s something I have to face, to deconstruct and for the love of god own up to. Denying my privilege is more dangerous to those around me than speaking it as the truth that it is. This extends not only to the way I live my day to day life but also, of course, to the art I make. What plays am I choosing to write? What shows do I want to be cast in? What projects am I prioritizing over others? All of this goes back to my training as a white, cis-male individual and the narratives that I am taught are the best.

So I take active steps to work against my social training. When I write a play I put a note on the character list to consider the bodies being put on stage and urging productions to think not only of white cis actors. I work to read plays by people who have been historically ignored by the cannon. All in all, I try and be as active as I can to expand my artistic worldview so that I can be the most responsible artist that I can be.

But then I hit a snag. Where does my drag factor into this?

At the end of the day I can’t deny that when the sun goes down and the lights come up, I’m a man who dresses up as a woman. Is that an issue? A huge question arises when drag is looked at closer, one that the community has spent several years engaging in.

Question: Is drag transphobic? 

The question of if Drag is transphobic is a conversation that has gained a huge life simply within the last few years. What with the growing national dialogue around trans and gender issues and with an episode of the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. On the season 6 episode “Shade: The Rusical” the mini challenge was a game called “He-male or She-male?” in which the contestants were shown pictures of body parts and asked to guess whether they belonged to a biological woman or to a drag queen. The episode sparked immediate controversy and the mini challenge was permanently removed from the episode and has never been shown or seen again. Further, the show removed it’s opening siren which had been RuPaul announcing: “OOOOh girl, you’ve got she-male!” The controversy around the mini challenge and the use of the term she-male sparked a huge discussion in the community about the possibility that drag was transphobic.

Here’s what I think:

First, I must attempt to define drag itself. To me, drag is simply an overblown, exaggerated expression of gender, in whatever way the performer sees fit. My drag, for example, is a loud and colourful exploration of what can be done with a feminine vail rather than the male clothes I identify with in my daily life. The same could be said of a leather daddy who dressing in hypermasculine fetish gear that is meant to accentuate the typical “male” traits. That man is also doing drag. Drag is simply an artistic expression of one’s own personal relationship with gender, whether that be pushing what they already identify as or leaning into another part of their identity that perhaps they tend to ignore. That’s how drag came to be in my life, for years I was teased for being a boy who acted like a girl so one day I put on the pumps and said, “oh you want a girl? Well, how do you like these eggrolls fuckers?!”

Through this lens, the art of drag is not transphobic inherent but give that it plays with gender there is more room to be transphobic, intentionally or not. This means that each and every queen, no matter what, NO MATTER WHAT has an added responsibility to be educated and smart about how they express their drag. Drag exists on a fault line that can be either be uplifting and give a huge middle finger to traditional conceptions of gender (As noted drag queen Sasha Velour says: “This art, this is for us! Gender is a construct, tear it apart!”) OR drag can become a vicious act that appropriates and maligns trans culture by pretending that’s what it is. Drag is dangerous. Drag is so dangerous. It can be dangerous for the institutions that it seeks to dismantle or it can be dangerous toward the very people that it says it fights for. Queens need to be smart, queens need to think and queens need to dramaturg their drag.

There are several trans queens who have lots to say on this subject. For further reading look into queens such as Carmen Carrera, Peppermint, Monica Beverly Hilz, Kenya Michaels and Sonique 

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