Today when we think of drag, images of fake eyelashes, wigs, glitter and Kylie Minogue rapidly come to mind. But this is the patriarchal world of drag. And yes, regardless of one’s biological sex, a life in drag is not easy – one must walk the fine line of passing within society, either extravagantly like the images above, or quietly as reiterated in the film Paris Is Burning below.
Within the Pop Cultural world, we see superstars like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj adopting drag culture into their larger than life stage personas. We seem to have adopted this playful mentality with the world of drag. But the overall most “shocking” drag moment of these said artists, was when Lady Gaga performed in male drag during the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards. Why so shocking?
Beyond the wigs of drag, we enter the dangerous world of trans where things become a little more serious. Here we can start to explore the dynamics and differences between biologically ascribed sexes. Within the film Southern Comfort, we meet a man named Robert who is dying from cervical cancer. Yes, Robert is trans. As Robert discusses his sexual/gender orientation, we see that he does not identify himself as gay but as a heterosexual male. Despite this, Robert was married, had children and even lived as a lesbian in his ascribed self “Barbara” for ten years. But after Robert underwent surgery and started living as “Robert” instead of “Barbara” more than the obvious changed. Robert’s parents grew distant. They didn’t understand why Robert couldn’t just remain female.
While watching the film, I started to think about drag and trans communities in the public sphere, and couldn’t help but notice a sizable imbalance between the biological sexes. Aside from Chaz Bono, there are few biological women turned trans or even drag within the public sphere. Why is this? And could this fall in line with the familiar rhetoric we have heard regarding “wasted femininity”? In the trans community, when a biological woman chooses to become a man, what are the implications of this? A wasted uterus? A wasted woman?
So is this just another example of patriarchy? Or has drag culture integrated itself within our society? Maybe drag will become a gateway path for trans men and women, and hopefully our society will become more accepting of these groups. But beyond this hope, I ask that we look at who’s drag culture has been integrated and where. Yes, this is a patriarchal world and we have television series like RuPaul’s Drag U where male drag queens revamp biological women with an extra dose of femininity. These shows are fun and entertaining, but what exists for women who identify themselves as men? What can offer them?