Saturday, 20 May 2017

Jackie Shane Was A Drag Queen

Recently, there has been a lot of publicity about Jackie Shane, a drag performer from the 60’s in Toronto. Shane was a consummate artist and a gender warrior, and a significant part of our queer heritage (see Carl Wilson’s excellent article on Hazlitt).
But misinformation has appeared in some recent articles; principally the false idea that Jackie Shane was a ‘transgender’ performer.
This is not true. Jackie Shane now reportedly identifies as a transgender woman and uses the pronoun ‘she.’ I respect that, and we all should. But during the 60’s when he performed in Toronto at various Yonge Street coffee houses and recorded an album, he identified as gay, and as a drag queen -- part of a proud tradition of American ‘tent queens’ who used the pronoun he. 
Why do these distinctions matter?
Because recently there have been concerted attempts to erase the history of drag, and to disrespect drag itself. I don’t think this is Jackie Shane’s fault. It is the fault of those who are trying to use Jackie Shane to further their cause.
At a queer academic conference this summer, I had to endure young queer people saying that drag is misogynistic and drag queens appropriate black music. I do not understand these accusations. When it comes to appropriation, drag queens are not the culprits. Capitalism and the record industry are to blame, not some struggling gender warrior on a street corner trying to make a few pennies performing at a gay bar. In terms of misogyny, anyone who accuses drag queens of being misogynistic hasn’t read their Judith Butler (or are we throwing her in the garbage now too?) who valorized drag as the exemplary pioneer of gender freedom; releasing us from the notion that men must act like men, and women must act like women. 
I am a drag queen. I met Leslie Feinberg back in the 80’s. Leslie -- like Jackie --  is a significant gender warrior (Stone Butch Blues) who bravely broke down gender boundaries  back in the 80s. S/he was wearing a signature masculine ‘power suit’ when we met. Back then, I talked to Leslie about my drag persona ‘Jane,’ and Leslie was eager to meet Jane; s/he hugged me, and we bonded. I’ll never forget that moment.
Unfortunately it seems solidarity like that is now a thing of the past. Nowadays there are ‘good’ gender warriors and ‘bad’ ones. Drag queens are ‘bad’ gender warriors -- not only because of accusations of appropriation and misogyny, but because they are considered ‘gender tourists.’ However, the fact is drag queens are not masculine men who choose to drop their privilege for a few moments a month to perform for their friends, but effeminate gay men who have been vilified and bullied all their lives, men for whom drag is a safe refuge to celebrate the best part of themselves -- their femininity, vulnerability, and gentleness.
Let me say it here -- to all those who wish to erase the history of proud drag queens like Jackie Shane:
I, for one, won’t let you do it.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Why Aaron Hernandez’s Sexuality Matters

There is a lot of talk about Aaron Hernandez. Understandably. He was football star -- a New England Patriots tight end who was convicted of murder and recently committed suicide in jail. Hernandez was convicted of shooting his friend Odin Lloyd on June 17, 2013 and sentenced to life.
But the case appears to be more complicated than that. Hernandez did not just commit suicide, he wrote ‘John:16’ on his forehead, and scrawled ‘Illuminati’ on the wall. Though he had a fiancĂ© and a child, there were rumours that he had a gay relationship with a best friend (whom he allegedly tried to leave large sums of money in his will), and that teammates made fun of him for being bisexual. On top of that, it appears that Hernandez may have had a male lover in prison -- and that he may have written his lover a suicide note.
Who cares if Aaron Hernandez was gay, or bisexual or whatever?
I care very much and you should too.
We will never know the details of Aaron Hernandez’s sex life; we will doubtless never know the details of anyone’s sex life -- what happens behind closed doors is inscrutable and personal. 
Nevertheless, Aaron Hernandez’s sexuality matters -- not because of what we know about it or will ever know --  but because of public reaction to such speculation.
Let me explain.
The general consensus in both the liberal and conservative media seems to be that now that Aaron Hernandez is dead we should stop talking about his sexuality. This isn’t so objectionable in and of itself. But why does the media think this? Because they believe it is disrespectful to speculate on whether or not he was gay. For instance, Hernandez’s attorney, Joan Baez states “These are malicious leaks used to tarnish someone who is dead.” Cyd Zeigler, founder of the GLBT sports publication says “What relevance is there to the public interest of who someone has sex with, particularly in prison? If that’s of public interest, why don’t we start outing everybody?””
First of all, why is it malicious to suggest someone is gay? It’s great to be gay. I love being gay, and I think more people should be gay, including Aaron Hernandez, whether dead or alive. Secondly, you can’t ‘out’ a dead person. I understand that it’s not fair to reveal the sexuality of a living person against their wishes. But once they are dead, our only responsibility is to the truth.
What is distasteful is not the idea that Hernandez was gay, or that he cheated on his wife, or that his son may now find out that he was bisexual. What is distasteful is the homophobia that that is revealed by the fear of discussing his sexuality after his death.
And I’ll tell you what’s malicious: the jokes about Aaron Hernandez being a ‘tight end.’
Do you find yourself laughing at that, just a little bit?
Could it be because homophobia isn’t ‘over’?  Could it be that we are all still more than just a little bit afraid of the idea of a massive, athletic, masculine, straight-looking, sports-loving gay man?
And that -- not speculation about Hernandez’s sexuality --  is the real problem.