But… Drag Queens.

The other day I posted and commented on an article about the way language is used in the LGBTQ+ communities, specifically about the way gay men often insist that “tranny” is not a slur even though they would never be called one.

That is, by the way, my rule of thumb, and a good one for allies to remember: if it’s something someone would say to you before threatening you, you get to use it. If it isn’t, you don’t.

But the article talked about how drag queens return to being members of the gay male community when they get out of their femme gear, and a friend of mine protested, saying:

Great article, but I don’t really agree with this line: “When drag queens remove the trappings of their dramatized personas, they become once again a part of the gay rights movement and leave real transgender people to suffer the consequences.” Drag queens have always been a part of the gay right’s movement–they led at the Stonewall riots, and they’ve taught us to fight with our wits. I’m not denying that the language used on Ru-Paul’s drag race isn’t harmful to the T-community, but let’s not denigrate the important role that the queens have played in gay civil rights either.

And he is entirely right. Drag queens had a significant part in taking crossdressing laws off the books, which was an important step in decriminalizing homosexuality and of course transness itself. They were at Stonewall, and at Compton’s.

But here’s the thing: some drag queens identify as trans themselves. Others don’t. RuPaul, for instance, doesn’t, and yet he keeps speaking up about how tranny isn’t derogatory or a slur.

Continue reading “But… Drag Queens.”

NYC Drag Photos

With many recent exhibitions, screenings and publications, the queer community, particularly in New York, seems to be on an archival bent, mapping a genealogy of various aspects of LGBTQ history. Not only is queer culture experiencing archive fever, but the era of the 1980s and 1990s has been given an inordinate amount of attention by curators, critics and writers. Adding to that dialogue, Simpson’s Drag Explosion presents an archive of the drag scene, which seems to often appear on the periphery of many exhibitions and publications on the 1980s art scene or LGBTQ history despite its influential humor, camp and fashion that still pervades culture today.

The photos themselves are a blast. I hope there are a lot more screenings, but if you can’t catch one, you can watch a slideshow of the photos online with Linda’s narration.

The Drag Show

Tonight is Lawrence’s Drag Show, put on by (mostly) LGBTQIAA students, and I think it’s the 4th (5th?) one I’ve been here for. I haven’t missed one.

I get to go whether or not I drag anyone with me, and every year I’m blown away – first, because I usually get to hear some song I have never heard before that they all know, and so I get to remind myself that I am ancient. That’s honestly a great reminder to someone who teaches.

Almost every year there is some student who does drag (in public, at least) for the very first time, and that is always remarkable. I don’t even personally know what that’s like as someone who would never step onto a stage to perform anything but a lecture, but I do know that I have held a lot of first-time-out crossdressers by the elbow to make sure they don’t just faint. For some, of course, it’s just fun, and they’re naturally extroverted, theatrical types. One former student is out in San Francisco doing drag as I type, no doubt.

But I am pleased it seems to have become an institution here, now, & I hope I’ve had at least some small part in making it that.

The Revolution: Taylor Mac

Lawrence King was killed in 2008 and Taylor Mac performed this piece that same year – the very first year I taught Transgender Lives at Lawrence. Ever since then I’ve shown this video, but somehow failed to put it here.

I love this piece so much, and it’s so good to see Taylor Mac getting credit from the likes of PBS. He’s a very old friend of ours who acted with Betty in an era that seems like a lifetime or two ago now.

Mad About the Boy: Yul Brynner in Drag

No one ever believes me that Yul Brynner did drag, so here’s proof. He was Jean Cocteau’s opium runner, after all; it’s not like he was squeaky clean.

I think he did this just to prove he was the sexiest person who ever lived, entirely independent of gender.

Kumar: Indian Drag Queen in Singapore

Kumar is an Indian drag queen who works & lives in Singapore. A documentary about hir was broadcast in 2006 that’s found its way to YouTube.

and you can see hir do a bit of stand-up that’s also in three parts

but may be harder to understand without subtitles – and as zie points out, zie talks fast, on top of the regional humor about the first family of Singapore, Malaysia, and the Chinese in Singapore, but I think the joke about rooster eggs translates okay.