Drag Queens & (Trans) Women

There was quite an inflammatory thread on our boards recently about drag queens and crossdressers who dress in over-the-top ways, and it’s gotten me thinking. I’ve often heard that feminists hate drag queens because they mock women, which has always baffled me, for two reasons: (1) I don’t think all DQs are mocking women, and my guess is that most are not, and (2) I think there’s about a million feminist issues to deal with and that the relative powerlessness of your average DQ is hardly a major problem.

But the trans woman who brought this up was very upset by the way DQs mock women and in some way “misrepresent” transness – or at least her variety.

So what I’ve been thinking is that, ironically, I have found the one place where a lot of radical feminists and trans women might agree: in their dislike of DQs. So maybe MWMF should have an “anti-DQ” rally so that they can find the common ground that’s been so sorely lacking.

I’m kidding, of course. Still, the anger of the trans woman who had the courage to post her feelings about DQs surprised me, and usually things that surprise me make me pay attention. I just didn’t expect it. I just can’t see DQs as threatening of anyone. & Yet it was very clear she was threatened and angered, so I’d love to hear other input from people here. Do you other trans women resent drag queens? Why?

(Here’s an article from the Orlando Sentinel about the DQ pageant scene, which comes with some interesting terminology. Thanks to Donna T for finding it.)

23 Replies to “Drag Queens & (Trans) Women”

  1. Well, I have some local DQ’s that I consider friends, sometimes they are kinder, more compassionate to partners than some TS women I’v met, and way nicer than the old guard of CD’ers here on occasion.

  2. I am of two minds about DQ’s (like everything, I am nothing if not equivocal).

    On the one hand, I’ve met many transwomen (often of lower socio-economic strata) for whom the drag community / clubs (and for some, sex work) provide income, a community, a safety net. What separates them from me is some combination of class, privilege, education, and/or money – not some innate difference in identity.

    On the other hand, I often have to do trans 101 with gay men (often) and lesbians (occasionally) who conflate drag and trans – assuming my gender is temporary, that they can refer to me as my former (5+ years now) name or ask “what’s your real name?”, that the way I move through the world is one big performance that I will be ending at some point by pulling off a wig and declaring in a husky voice “fooled you!”

    It happens often enough for me (a) to feel more comfortable moving through straight circles (in which it never happens) as opposed to queer ones and (b) to consciously and unconsciously seek to differentiate / disassociate myself from drag performers.

  3. Hmmm, seems to me that DQ’s have a right to be who they are. Drag is a form of passing, just like stuffing your bra and wearing beard cover or whatever. In the end, whether you’re “a man trapped in woman’s body” or a fetishistic glamazon, you’re a male pretending to be a female. And besides, most GG’s I know love DQ’s, so what does that say about all those TS prisses who insist on being considered 100% female? Someone’s always hassling someone else–you’d think transgendered folk would get the point. But it’s like Chrissie Hynde said: “I can’t get from the cab to the curb without some little jerk on my back.”

  4. Drag queen expression pushes multiple boundaries particularly in its ultra femme presentations and its borderline trans/not trans identity. If the identity is brought off as caricature in ways that demean women, then Houston, we have a problem. Still, more often it is the case that drag queen presentations reveal the performative side, as Judith Butter might put it, of our gender roles.

    That transgressive act cannot help but collide with our assumptions about the immutability of certain roles. It is similar to the disruption transwomen’s bodies play in second and third wave feminist debates that have given rise to the womyn born womyn concept. These reifications of the body, of the self, and of gender tend to ensnare more than they liberate. Drag queen expression can illuminate those moves.

    Not always then but at its best, drag queen performance helps us to think about the fluidity of identity. In that activity is the potential for a powerful guard against the tyranny of socially assigned and inscribed roles. But again, this kind of disruption to our assumptions is often not an easy thing to accept. In those moments when we cannot, anger and other strong emotions will be there.

  5. I honestly do not understand why anyone would be so angered by drag queens mocking women. I am a crossdresser and I know a few drag queens and believe me when I say that drag queens are not out to mock women.

    They perform for entertainment and some of them make a living from it. Where I come from there are a lot of women both straight, lesbian, and as well as transgendered/transsexual folk who love them. I know I do and there are a lot great drag queen performers out there. I have been a volunteer coordinator for Halifax Pride and in the three plus years that I have been involved with Pride I have met scores of people from the LGBTQ community and I have yet to hear a complaint from any woman, straight or otherwise about drag queens mocking women.

    As far as I am concerned drag queens are not out to mock women they just want to entertain.

  6. Why oh why must we continue to denigrate others who simply have gender-expressions different than ours, and yet expect wider society to take our own fight for gender-expression freedoms seriously? I view that kind of short-sighted, exclusionary behavior as totally self-destructive. It’s doing the same thing to them (scapegoating an even more marginalized subculture than our own) that Barney Frank and the HRC have been doing to us!

    Every drag queen I know just wants to entertain and make people laugh and be themselves – plain and simple. What in the world is wrong with that?

  7. I’ve always thought drag queens were a colorful riot as a group, and each one an interesting, brave soul.

    I’d rather spend time with a DQ than loads of other social types!

  8. I thought Daniel Harris, in “The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture,” made a pretty sute observation:

    “If traditional forms of drag tended to dress upscale, aiming to achieve the glamour and elegance of the inaccessibly remote celebrity, more contemporary forms of drag dress downscale, revolving around the absense of glamour and elegance, around the barbaric and the crude, the beer-can curler, bunny bedroom slippers, and ratty negligees of bedraggled housewives.

    It is perhaps because kitsch plays such an important political function in the aesthetic of contemporary drag that many feminists mistakenly believe that drag queen are misogynistic, when in fact they are taunting, not women in particular, but complacent hetrosexuals in general.

    The drag queen orchestrates a brilliant stylistic reprisal against the leisure-suited chauvanists sitting in the Naugahyde La-Z-Boys beneath the velvet paintings, exacting an eye for an eye, a clutch purse for a clingy tube top.” (Pg. 214)

    (That’s not to say some DQs aren’t misogynistic. Unfortunately, I’m seen some myself. FWIW, I find that’s more common in the “shock drag” types that Harris talks about than among old school “glamour queens” like myself — though the latter can be prone to “women these days just don’t know how to look good, act feminine, etc.” sexism.)

    For trans women there’s of course the whole conflation issue that Jude touched on. But I also wonder if there’s not an element of envy for some. If you were closeted for years, obsessed with passing and fitting in, see someone who just doesn’t give shit if someone sees her as a guy in a dress, who seeks to be the center of attention… well I can see how that could trigger a lot of envy.

  9. BTW, as far as the kitsch queens, I think Harris offers another good insight: “This new breed of drag queen is so ambivalent about the stereotypically effeminate behavior of the old-style swish that he attempts to deflate his costome, turning it into a knee-slapping farce, undercutting it with such items as towering ancien regime wigs or breasts made out of plastic funnels containing flashing lights. The already tenuous relation of drag to women’s clothing became significantly more so as men lampooned what they viewed as a contemptible charade by wearing the wacky costumes of goose-stepping drum majorettes, vengeful Sissy Spaceks in blood-soaked prom dresses, or murderous Joan Crawfords brandishing coat hangers and chasing terrified Christinas in knee socks and pinafores.”

    It’s similar to the inevitable buffoonary of straight guys who crossdress for Halloween, or Carnival or because they lost a bet — it’s a way of signaling, “this is just for laughes, I’m not doing it because I might actually enjoy wearing a dress, no sirree, not at all.”

  10. Drag queens used to make me feel uncomfortable because I was afraid that people would lump me together with them. As, indeed, it seems that marci does (hi, marci, whoever and whatever you are *waves*)

    “In the end, whether you’re “a man trapped in woman’s body” or a fetishistic glamazon, you’re a male pretending to be a female.”

    …uh, whatever.

    My daughter and I popped in on our local (Bristol) Mardi Gras a couple of summers back; it was a predominantly gay male event, and there were several drag queens around the arena. We didn’t stay long, because we felt out of place and uncomfortable, and when we left, my daughter said to me, “I don’t think they like women very much.”

    That was my perception, too.

  11. @marci:

    “In the end, whether you’re “a man trapped in woman’s body” or a fetishistic glamazon, you’re a male pretending to be a female.”

    I assume you meant “woman trapped in a man’s body” (a phrase I don’t use). And if that’s what you meant, then


  12. I think that it’s important to maintain a sense of humour when dealing with trans issues, and often people get so hung up with the seriousness of it (and I know it can be deadly serious at times) that they forget just how fun and liberating it can be. With drag, there are so many opportunities to mock gender roles, and be quite free and creative about it, whereas with crossdressing-to-pass, there is less room for exploration and creativity. I know many of my transvestite friends criticise the way each other dresses and try to enforce a certain decorum in a group, but frankly, none of us is perfect, and it’s quite hypocritical. It’s important to remember the ludicrousness of the situation and not become too self important about it all. If we can’t laugh at ourselves at times, then it’s a shame. Life is a cabaret, and all that.

  13. Dunno. I have never been bothered by drag queens and certainly would not consider them threatening. They are another interesting dimension of our rich trans community.

    Then again, I am just a crossdresser so what do I know… 😉

  14. I’ve liked most of the DQ’s I’ve met, they’re pretty cool. I think some of them look kind of atrocious, but then some seem to favor a really over the top look, which is fine. I think there’s definitely a place for camp and humor on the TG spectrum.

  15. i dont understand all the fuss about this. THe real issue, for me anyway, is why I want to crossdress at all. Im sure I look ridiculous. I want to stop, but cant. What drives me to do this. Why do I put myself into such dangerous situations. Why do I feel the way I do about my gender? why do I feel the need to shave mylegs and wear dresses, especially as most women wear trousers these days?for me these questions are far more important than anything about D.Q’s. I think we all need help, we dont need to bitch about each other.


  16. why waste energy on recenting something you can not relate to and don’t understand? Believing/interpreting that DQs (in general) are who they are to mock other women seems to me a bit far fetched and actually a bit wicked. (Seems to me rather like some kind of celebration of femaleness-what do I know and why does it matter?)
    What is transness and who “owns” it anyway? DQs in general surely “misrepresent” me (being a ts woman) and certainly a lot of other women. But whats the problem? Many biological women misrepresent me too (and I as a ts women probably misrepresent many of them as DQs). As a ts woman I certainly try do my best not to judge others who are “different”. I find life so much more exciting with diversity. Let it be that way and never forget groups are the sum of individuals. If someone should deliberately mock someone else its due to an individual persons ill minded motivation-not anyone elses.
    what happened to be who you are and treat others with respect? If you ask for respect and acceptance you should at least try to show some. Why do some people spend so much anger, energy and frustration in the wrong directions?

  17. paula, that’s kind of what i argued originally in the thread of it: that surely, paris hilton misrepresents me as a woman far more than any DQ ever has, & she has a lot more media power, but i’m still not going to take issue with her because she’s her, & i’m me. (believe me, she wouldn’t stand up to the standards i’d prefer to live up to, & i certainly wouldn’t live up to hers.)

  18. I am a feminist and lesbian, who has difficulty with the concept of drag queens. I have rarely seen one who projects positive images of femaleness, rather than the hyper stylized, over-the-top worst of female traits brought on by our oppression. They are not unlike the white minstrels who used to paint their faces black, shuck n jive, eat watermelons, and faint at the image of ghosts. They are not the same as transgendered persons who seek to become their true selves. I’ve never seen a drag queen support women or women’s causes (they won’t even stand on the side lines during dyke marches,but must shuck n jive next to us in the march) I feel that their behavior is so misogynistic, and it’s tough for me to feel empowered and proud at gay pride functions because I cannot separate the feminist from the lesbian

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