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?

Domestic Violence and the Chris Brown Controversy

The film Defending Our Lives, is a documentary about abused women, who have fought back against their assailants, killed them, and have then gone on to serve prison sentences for these murders. The film is tough to watch. The second scene begins with a member of the organization “Battered Women Fighting Back!” as she reads the names of twenty women and how they were killed by acts of domestic violence. With each reading of a name is a minimal description of how the woman was killed. “Strangled to death.” “Shot.” “Stabbed over 40 times.” Twenty times over we hear the alarming statistics. Yes, these women has become statistics.


Recently, I saw a segment on TMZ regarding the performer Chris Brown and his controversial new tattoo. The media has swarmed around the subject because the new tattoo looks remarkably like the battered face of Brown’s ex-girlfriend, performer Rihanna, after Brown had beaten her back in 2009. The abusive relationship between Rihanna and Brown epitomizes that of Ike and Tina Turner, whose domestic abuse was chronicled in the film What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Why the Rihanna/Chris Brown relationship is so compelling is because it is an act of private domestic abuse that has been played out in the public by two public figures. Much like Ike and Tina. And like Ike and Tina, Brown and Rihanna’s domestic abuse has been somewhat glamorized and somewhat accepted in society because it has been internalized and normalized. And Brown has yet to go to jail – unless it be for his fighting with Drake at an NYC club.

When the attack initially happened, women were extremely critical not only of Chris Brown, but of Rihanna and whether or not she would choose to get back together with him. Some have even noted that the abuse boosted Brown’s image to that of “Bad Boy” status as a hip-hop music artist. Furthermore, questions arise as to whether or not Brown’s violent behavior is somewhat assumed and therefore normalized in the media.

Take for instance Brown appearance on Good Morning America. When reporter Robin Roberts interviewed Brown, asking questions surrounding his infamous incident with Rihanna, Brown diligently tried to steer the conversation back to his latest album (the reason for him being on the show in the first place). Apparently aggravated by this confrontation, Brown stormed “into his dressing room and screaming so loud, the people in hair and makeup became alarmed and called security. Brown was out of control, and one source present tells us he smashed a window in his dressing room, and the glass shattered and some shards fell onto 43rd and Broadway.  ABC security tells TMZ … the window was shattered with a chair” (TMZ).

The kid has a temper. But does this bad-boy persona justify abuse, of any kind? Absolutely not, nor is it acceptable behavior for any private or public figure. So my question is, aside from the legal system that is charging Brown for these acts of violence, is there any other form of punishment inflicted upon Brown? It is more likely that he is using these acts of unacceptable violence to his advantage.

Domestic Violence is not normal. Rather it is an epidemic that needs to be treated as such and cannot be ignored.

Sexuality and Choice

Have you ever thought of your sexuality as a choice? I’m generalizing here, but if you are a self-identified “straight” person, my guess is that you have never thought of your sexuality as a matter of choice. You probably couldn’t look back into your past and identify the moment where you proclaimed, “Yes, I’m going to be a self-identified biologically ordered woman who likes self-identified biologically ordered men” or vice versa.  But then again, have you investigated whether or not heterosexuality has been forced into your society so that you have normalize this form of sexuality?

In her work Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Existence theorist Adrienne Rich suggests that we take a closer look into what we perceive to be normal in our society. “I am suggesting that heterosexuality needs to be recognized and studied as a political institution” (Rich, 637).

Within this political institution, Rich notes violence towards women and how it is used as a form of control in a compulsory heterosexual world. Could we then go even further with this argument to suggest that violence towards women enforces heterosexuality? “I do not wish to psychologize here, but rather to identify sources of male power” (Rich, 638).

Within a compulsory heterosexual world, individuals are extremely limited with choice. Women are surrounded by heterosexual relationships: Cinderella and Prince Charming to Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski. And often the socially explicit forms of lesbianism we see are those that are oriented with the satisfaction of men.

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Photo courtesy of arteunporro

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Photo courtesy of Foxtongue

This lifestyle, the heterosexual lifestyle, is normative and any lifestyle that exists outside of this must, therefore, be explained and justified. But does a society that is rooted in compulsory heterosexuality give leeway to acts of patriarchal terrorism and general acts of violence against women?

In her work The Sexual Politics of Murder author Jane Caputi suggests that acts of violence against women are, in fact, “sexually political murders, a form of murder rooted in a system of male supremacy in the same way that lynching is based in white supremacy. Such murder is, in short, a form of patriarchal terrorism” (Caputi, 438).

A compulsory influence on any sex to perform and embody gender differences and enlist in a form of sexuality, leaves little room for one to reflect on choice. Individuals who exist within these confines are limited and, therefore, exposed to the re-enforcement of heterosexuality.

But what about choice? If we lived in a world where individuals took a political stance with their sexuality and stated that whichever sexual orientation they chose to choose was a choice, then what would that mean for our society? We would have to be a society grounded in choice as opposed to a society grounded in providence, “natural” order and procreation, and religious conflicts. Furthermore, what would that mean for the individuals who took a political stance with their sexuality? These individuals would assume an extreme risk owning their “difference” as a choice. Whenever something is perceived to be “normal” we must investigate. For what lies behind a given might not always be natural.