Patriarchy, Biology and The World of Drag

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Courtesy bjornerlingurfloki

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?

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The Identity of Hair

What does your hair say about you? Is it long and free like an earthy bohemian? Or short and bobbed like a roaring flapper? Perhaps your head is shaved – that could really say something about you. Just ask Britney Spears.
For centuries, much of a woman’s identity has been tangled up in her hair. From First Corinthians 11:15 to the Victorian Era to Goldilocks, we find examples of women who are intimately associated with the quality of their hair. Hair says something about women – after all, who would Goldilocks be without her yellow coiffeur, or Kim Kardashian without her dark tendrils? Women are willing to go to painful and expensive lengths to achieve ultimate hair status. And if our hair can speak volumes of our health, our class, our social status, how far will we go to get a superior head of hair?
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Today, the hair business is booming. According to the 2008/2009 Census, The salon and spa industry is a vibrant and growing component of the U.S. economy, with more than 900,000 total establishments and annual sales of nearly $40 billion. Martha Gill at NewStatesman, writes of members of the Hindu religion in India shedding their egos by shaving their heads whilst peddlers gather the remaining hair to auction off to eager Americans. Some auctions earn as much as $27,000,000 a day.

So what is it about hair that will cause us to drain our wallets and to sit for hours in a salon chair? Actor Chris Rock asks these questions in the documentary Good Hair, as he takes a comedic look into the hair industry within the African-American community. Although humorous, this documentary illuminates the extremities women (and a few men) go to in order to alter their natural hair. Interestingly enough, the language of “relaxing” natural hair brings to mind the familiar dance of passing within an American society. If hair is changeable, albeit expensive and abrasive to change but changeable, then it could be employed to pass by minorities within this American Society. Through this lens, we understand the importance and the identity of “good hair” even if we aren’t quite too sure what exactly that is.