I love drag, but as entertainment not identity


My SO said something curious to me the other day.  She said that she found drag offensive.  She was referring specifically to the camp style of drag that one sees popularized in the media.  Tranny culture she said she felt was denigrating to women.  She didn’t like that they over-emphasised female traits in a circus-like fashion.

I was surprised by this because my SO has always been a self-described “fag-hag”.  I am not sure if that terminology is even appropriate anymore.  Apologies.  She grew up in the fashion industry and the club scene, and I guess such people permit themselves certain things.

I hadn’t really thought about the idea that drag might be misogynistic.  I could see on one level where she was coming from.  It’s true, drag artists do not portray women or femininity in a positive light.  They make fun of it, make a pastiche of it.  It is also true that almost all drag artists are gay men, camp gay men.  I wonder if that implies a certain level of misogyny—I don’t know this to be true but have often picked up on what I would interpret as misogynistic comments passed off as humour coming from the drag community.

I found myself defending drag performers to her in front of my children.  I agreed with her, with her central tenet, that they were making fun of women.  But I also suggested that the edge of her feeling might not be fair, as they were entertainers after all.  It is just a type of comedy I suggested.

I wonder if that is the whole story?  I wonder if there are drag performers who are not gay or who are not performing, but rather living out something they cannot express any other way?  I wonder if doing drag is a way of expressing self-hate for someone who is dysphoric and who is frustrated and depressed that s/he will never look like the desired gender, will never pass, and that drag just becomes a way to express this anger and frustration.

When I see men on stage performing drag shows I think it is just good fun, nothing more, nothing less.   When I see a man wearing clothes that are gendered for women out in public I admire his/her courage.  I feel for the s/he that also wears makeup, especially when it serves to emphasise the very things that s/he is trying to hide.  I have tremendous admiration for s/he who simply claims the clothes of the opposite gender.

Before our children were born, my SO made very clear that she didn’t like to see me “dressed”.  Her resistance to seeing me that way most definitely hurt my feelings, but it also changed my sense of fashion and style in positive ways.  I changed the women’s clothes I bought to ones that I would feel comfortable wearing in any situation, including in front of my family. She’ll tell me if something looks good or not.  And in this way, I can be dressed as a woman might dress from head to toe, but you might never notice unless you knew what you were looking for.

I don’t have the courage to do much more than that, no matter how good it looks.  Thankfully I live in a tolerant city with tolerant neighbours, who either pretend not to know or who are very friendly.  And in the end, when I wear a woman’s pair of jeans, or a top, shorts, or even a pair of capri pants, it is obvious what I am doing, but I also know it looks good.  It is just across the line, perhaps a little ambiguous, but what I am comfortable with. And that suits me fine, as I know that no matter what, I will always be stuck somewhere in between.

I find a woman in a man’s suit to be intoxicatingly beautiful.  Sometimes, I find a man wearing a woman’s outfit very attractive, but only when it was chosen to be worn naturally.  Some men look really, really good in dresses.  To see it can be jarring at times, the feminine clothes in contrast to the musculature and shape of a male body—sensuous and brutal at the same time.  But these contrasts are beautiful just because they are jarring.  If anyone dresses to look good, and not to try and transform themselves, they more often than not succeed.

I saw the other day a beautiful black “man”.  He wore a wonderful shade of lavender lipstick, which matched his blouse, which was long, tunic style, and flowing over the belt at his waist.  He was portly, soft featured, somewhat round, and he was out shopping for food.  I call him “he” because he wasn’t trying to “pass”.  He had dressed himself in a way that he felt made him beautiful, and I have to agree, so I told him so.  He just looked at me and winked.

There’s also a builder who comes to our local park.  I think of him as a cross-dresser, and a him most of the time, because I have also seen him going to work as a builder. He is burly and rather muscular.  But he dresses up meticulously like a 1950’s housewife, and becomes a her at least in spirit, in a crisp white shirt, tartan skirt, and hair covered with a tartan scarf.  S/he’ll take a picnic to the local park, spread out a blanket, bare legs and arms fully depilated, and will eat a meal as daintily as can be.  I think s/he’s beautiful, truly beautiful.  Restrained, quiet, peaceful, kneeling, as s/he eats.  He is certainly more beautiful as a she than as a he, and it is wonderfully courageous for her/him to do it.  Respect.

These two examples aren’t drag.  They are noble expressions of some inner truth, delivered with quiet resolve and immense personal strength.  They are not attracting laughter or derision, they are just being, and setting a quiet example for us all.

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