Saturday, 3 September 2016

It’s Time to Stop Bashing Drag Queens

I’ve had it with this recent trend. The fashionable yet stupid idea that drag queens should stop ‘appropriating’ black culture reached it’s apotheosis in Sierra Mannie’s article 'Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture’  published in TIME on July 9. Mannie argues “at the end of the day, if you are a white male, gay or not, you retain so much privilege. What is extremely unfairly denied you because of your sexuality could float back to you, if no one knew that you preferred the romantic and sexual company of men over women.”
Mannie’s offensive and idiotic article does not stand in isolation. I recently attended a queer conference at which a trans person made the argument that drag is misogynistic, that drag queens appropriate black culture, and that drag queen humour is offensive. People in the audience applauded the remarks.
These arguments against drag queens betray more than just a basic misunderstanding of drag; they are indicative of deep seated homophobia. I am a proud drag queen. And let me tell you, I’ve been pressured lots of times to take ‘drag queen’ off my resume. Once, when I was being introduced at Canadian Stage many years ago the artistic director asked me “Should I really read what it says here — that you are a ‘drag queen extraordinaire?” I told him:  “Yes, that’s why ‘drag queen’ is on my resume!” Very embarrassed, the artistic director somehow manage to include ‘drag queen’ in the introduction. And he was a gay man.
Before my father died he implored me to take ‘drag queen extraordinaire’ out of my author’s bio, saying —“You don’t really do the ‘dressup thing’ anymore, do you?”
I lied to my father, because he was dying. I said: “I’ll think about it.”
But drag queen is still on my resume. Once a drag queen, always a drag queen.
And here’s why.
Drag queens — contrary to what Sierra Mannie may think, are not masculine, straight acting gay men with a lot of privilege who decide they want to  make fun of women at weekend parties. Look into the heart and soul of every drag queen and you will find a young man who was exiled, othered, criticized, and — most likely — physically abused, for being effeminate.
Sure. There are some butch gay men who don a wig for a party or Halloween, so their friends can reassure them they are far too hot to dress like a lady. But those gay men are not drag queens. What is a drag queen? A drag queen is a gay man who dresses like a woman for entertainment, or  business, or personal pleasure, on some sort of regular basis (i.e. more than once in a lifetime!). Drag queens are gay men who are either startlingly effeminate in real life (no, they are not putting it on — that’s the way they are, they were ‘born that way’ to quote LADY GAGA!), or, at the very least they are easily identifiable as gay when they are not in drag, because they are never quite masculine enough. These gay men carry with them a stigma related to their effeminacy, which they — in contrast to what Sierra Mannie says  — cannot jettison at will. It is part of who they are, and it forges a clear barrier between them and other people, even other gay men — who treat them like garbage because they are effeminate (see the GRINDR ads: ‘no fats or fems’).
Drag queens were there at Stonewall, and they were some of the first (if not the first, because no one knows who the first person was) to throw rocks at the police. The trans movement in fact, owes its history to the brave drag queens who were the first trans people and who should still (in my view) be considered trans.
Drag queens do not ‘appropriate’ black music. They consume racist mass culture like everyone else, because racism is endemic to capitalism. Drag queens (many of whom are black) love and worship black women. To attack drag queens for doing so is homophobic. Period.

You heard it here first — from Canada’s one and only ‘drag queen extraordinaire.’