Female Drag Artists Are Disrupting “Tradition”
Since it’s conception, drag performance has been essential to the queer community. In the underground clubs of major cities and small towns, drag allowed for a sense of community and subcultural solidarity to transpire. Drag usurped the dominant, heteronormative cultural iconography and narratives, re-appropriating and re-assembling this material, and giving it a new meaning in a queer context. Drag reorganizes tradition and breaks the arrangements of mass cultural material. In addition to shattering and rearranging conceptions of gender, drag performance became a tool for education. Drag performance becomes a site in which people can learn and participate in their queer culture. As Michael Warner notes, queer, or specifically “gay” culture is often neglected or forgotten, and it is through “participation” that the queer community can become acquainted with their culture.
In a world where queer history was not “taught” in the way that the history of the First World War is taught, drag clubs became a place where queer history could be passed on to new generations. An example of this is the technique of the lip-synch: when a queen lip-synchs Judy Garland, this action effectively shatters heteronormative and linear temporalities. Drag, and specifically the lip-synch, becomes a vehicle for transmitting mass cultural knowledge through re-appropriation. When the voice of Judy Garland from the past is called to the present through the lip synch, she provides a kind of relevant wisdom to the contemporary, present moment in which the drag performance is taking place.
However, now more than ever traditional drag spaces are being called into question with gender-fluid and female-identifying performers stepping through the doors of traditional gay clubs wanting to perform. The tension between “gay” and “queer” identities or aesthetics are becoming increasingly evident as female drag queens (“bio-queens” or “faux queens”) – female-identifying performers that parody, critique and perform femininity are being told that they cannot do drag because they are women.
It seems that the original purpose of drag is being forgotten. Now that drag is an increasingly mainstream performance form, alternative forms of drag, such as “Gender Fuck drag” (Performers such as Taylor Mac: http://www.taylormac.org/, or CRISTEENE: http://christeenemusic.com/) and female drag, are being treated the way traditional drag was treated in its emergence – with suspicion and exclusion.
However, instead of this misogyny and exclusion coming from the dominant, heteronormative community, it is coming from within the queer community itself.
If gay drag performers questioned and critiqued gender norms through their performances and caricatures of gender, it follows that female-identifying and female-bodied individuals can do the same. The misogyny that female drag queens are facing in gay spaces is a tune that is all too familiar. This exclusion attempts to preserve a misogynistic tradition that says men can do this (because that’s the way it has always been), and women cannot. This exclusion says, this is not your space, and you do not have this right. It is silencing. It says, you do not have a voice.
I am drawn to drag because it is ultimately about empowerment. To me, drag is about taking up space where it has historically been denied. It is about social critique. Let’s not forget that.