Who gets to do drag? A discussion of drag and its offshoots by Ray A J.
SO YOU wanna be a drag queen? One problem, you’re biologically female.
Historically, the idea of a drag queen has been a strictly male dominated territory – you can get the female equivalent (drag king), but women aren’t usually allowed to be queens. It boils down to the idea that drag is dressing up as the opposite gender, which makes sense. Yet over the past few years drag has become much more. It’s a form of expression and opportunity to break down the social construct behind the definition of gender. These queens wear make-up and dresses which are typically considered female things, in order to show how dainty our definition of the female gender is. They don’t necessarily have to ‘pass’ as a female, or look ‘fishy’ (looking like a biological woman). They’re exaggerated versions of a feminine persona, or what is widely considered feminine.
In recent years we’ve seen a change in drag culture. There’s the phenomenon of bio queens, and I’m sure their counterpart bio kings exist too. These people either identify as or are biologically the same gender as their drag persona and yet still dress up and perform in the exaggerated manner of drag. Of course the movement has come under fire (as nothing is without scrutiny) from existing queens or kings that feel the idea isn’t true drag. To be honest, that makes sense, because how can you be an exaggerated version of your own gender? Surely that’s cheating? I can see what they mean. But having said that, what actually is drag? And why can’t a woman be a drag queen, or a man be a drag king? Surely, if the idea is to challenge gender norms, or just to have fun performing or dressing up, then everyone should be welcome? Surely there aren’t any rules over who gets to contribute?
Another issue that needs to be raised: what if you identify outside of the binary of male or female, or you’re trans? Can non-binary people do drag? In the words of the fabulous queen Ben De La Creme, ‘drag is inherently political’; it always pushes gender boundaries. So why can’t non-binaries do drag too?
In the world of drag, there are many acts who identify as non-binary or transgender, or perform using androgyny in their styles, like: Jinkx Monsoon, Violet Chachki, Adore Delano, Celebrity Big Brother winner Courtney Act, Peppermint and Milk. And they’re all successful in what they do. Recently, there’s even been an eight-year-old boy featured in Elle Magazine, as drag queen Lactacia.
Personally, I identify under the non-binary circuit (and am biologically female), and recently I’ve seriously considered doing drag (both male and female). To play into the stereotype of a drag newbie, I’m a huge fan of the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, and the way they challenge artists to incorporate fashion, modelling and acting into their art.
The idea of dressing up as my own characters and performing to audiences inspires me. It’s fascinating. I just love the concept and the opportunity to dress up as a man or a woman or anything else – even exaggerated androgynous drag. It’s an exciting way of experimenting with the concept of gender identity. But the one thing that’s holding me back is whether I’ll be accepted by other drag artists. Will I even be considered as a drag artist? And on top of that, am I at risk of offending anyone?
During a group conversation on Facebook, the topic of gender cropped up and I sent an image of a drag queen to the chat. Immediately it was met with applause at how “feminine and authentic” the man dressed as a woman looked. My friend (who is transgender) even expressed jealously over how much like a biological woman this man looked, and how they could ‘pass’. She thought they were transgender. The others didn’t.
Clearing up the confusion, I explained they were a drag queen. But this revelation was met with unusual distain. My friend immediately went into exclamations of hurt and anger over drag, expressing her dislike of it as it “mocks transgender people”. She thought that drag was performed as comedy (some queens are deliberately comical and do stand-up routines), to make fun of a man in a dress and how ‘unusual’ it is. She found the stereotype incredibly hurtful.
Disliking drag is okay though, and I respect her opinion. Of course I felt bad for upsetting my friend – I didn’t realise she’d be offended by drag, or that anyone would be, after all, it’s just wearing clothes outside of your gender norm. To me it’s performance art and gender expression, but to her it was a dig at transgender people.
After speaking to her more, I began to understand that there was a stigma around drag. A lot of misconceptions fly around that drag mocks the gender it imitates, or even that people in drag are a joke to be laughed at. But I don’t think that’s the case anymore – drag is an art form in itself. Just look at the gorgeously intricate drag make-up scattered across Instagram, or the amazing costume and fashion designs woven across the internet. To even watch a drag artist perform is beautiful in itself. It’s not about poking fun at gender, it’s about challenging it.
Regardless of biological gender or identity, anyone should be allowed to do drag if they want to. Actually, to submit to the idea of only having drag queens and drag kings is pushing out other genders. If I’m doing drag, I could dress up as a king, a queen or somewhere between – as long as it’s exaggerated, it’s still drag. If there are so many more than two genders, then there are more options for drag.