Tag Archives: drag kings

Pride 09

THE INSTABILITY OF GENDER AMBIGUITY

 

peter lindberghI was shocked when I first realised my identity and existence as a woman wasn’t stable. I felt like I’d been hit in the face. It happened in a moment. I didn’t grow up ‘always’ thinking I was, or wanting to be, a boy, a guy, male. I was a rough tomboy kid, a loudmouth bitchy teenager and then a radical feminist dyke. While I’d never felt particularly comfortable in that genre, I thought ‘dyke’ was one which allowed for the shifting materialisations of my gender ambiguity: that I could still be a tomboy.

Gender is a frame through which we see each other and the world. Everything about me and my life was now in question. I couldn’t keep track of my things or myself. I was one of those people who never lost anything, but I just lost it. What can you cling onto if not even your own gender is stable? Suddenly, nothing was solid. I started losing things. I drank a lot. I smoked a lot. I was pretty much intoxicated in one way or another consistently for really quite a long time. I wore a lot of fancy clothes, hand made suits and shirts with cufflinks and flashy shoes, and sat in gutters drinking red wine, inevitably spilling it down the front of my pants and the sleeves of my shirts. And it was a contradiction I appreciated: a symbolic tension which manifested my internal one – Who the fuck was I? 

In the autobiography of his transition (What Took You So Long?) Raymond Thompson tells of how he smashed apart his house and lived in the rubble for weeks: “The walls of protection that I had carefully built about myself, I was now breaking down. The home harnesses the semiotics of boundary maintenance; as anxious people often obsess over cleanliness in order to feel some kind of control in their lives, Thompson’s desire to live in chaos displayed his bodily feelings of damage, inadequacy and fragmentation. And it’s just not a sustainable existence.

I realised that being a dyke, being a feminist, and being politically active about sexist bullshit had made me recognisable as ‘a woman,’ and I wasn’t very happy about that. Feminism is for Everybody and feminist discourse needs to take into account the complex position of transmen within the nexus of sexual difference: women aren’t the only gender-oppressed group. As Barbara Johnson points out: “Any discourse that is based on the questioning of boundary lines must never stop questioning its own.”

 Have Pride. Take it Easy.

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(Avoiding) Mardi Gras

“Faggot bisexual cunt!” was how I was saluted when I exited the train in Sydney‘s CBD for the 31st New Mardi Gras. I was gobsmacked. Not because I was being insulted on the one day of the year it’s supposed to be ok to be flamboyantly gay, (clearly not), but because never had such a whirlwind of terms I adore been used against me with such aggressive force. I laughed. He wasn’t wrong.

I was in for a long night.

I’ve never been in the parade. For a long time I’ve been disconcerted and troubled by spectacle. I am highly aware of its political uses (as mass distraction, especially fascist), which disables me from ever ‘enjoying the moment’ in a crowd. However, I realised that my discomfort has more to do with the fact that I’m a spectacle every day everywhere I go. My friends and I joke about being a gay pride parade. But we are. Every day. And I feel like if I enact that spectacle in a parade, then I legitimate all the things I think are illegitimate every other day.

Mardi Gras is important, absolutely. We have cause to celebrate, and reason to remember to keep fighting: a lot hasn’t changed on the other side of the fence.

Here are some of the other encounters I had at this year’s Mardi Gras in Sydney:

l        >while sitting by myself at the end of the parade, tears running the make-up down the sides of my face, a lovely gentleman gave me a plastic rose.

 

l        3 guys in a taxi stop at the lights while we’re waiting for the bus and scream at my friend and I: it blurs in my memory –  ‘fucking transsexuals’ was there ‘what are ya?’ There’s one empty lane between us and the cars aren’t moving. We stand there as they abuse us for almost 2 minutes. I march over to the car and the guy in the front quickly pulls up his window. The guy in the back doesn’t bother and as I reach into the cab, he grabs me and the guy on the other side gets out ‘Are we ok?’ are the words he uses but what he says is ‘Are you going to fuck off now?’ I walk back to the bus shelter and he gets back in the cab. They don’t stop shouting as the cab moves away. My friend yells at me for my violence. ‘It’s fine that it makes you uncomfortable,’ I say, ‘And I’m sorry. But being yelled at and not responding I can’t abide right now. And I had no words.’

Best of luck out there,

 

Max xx

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To T or not to T?

Facial Hair: Fantasy and Reality

What makes a man?

Sex is (most unfortunately) all too often heralded in popular culture as one’s initiation into manhood, but facial hair is a much more striking sign. A beard or moustache is such a strong signifier of maleness that little else can contradict it. I enjoy the parody and glamour of drag king make up, or eyelash glue  does do the trick (so to speak), but a lack of facial hair combined with a moderate height of 5”5′ means my gender is read as that of a boy, not a man.

cyborg-supermanI grew up from a generally accepted tomboy into a much less accepted tranny boi, but will I want to be a boy forever?

T is often regaled as the journey into manhood for the transguy, for precisely these reasons. Sometimes I long for the relief of passing. Although, of course, it comes with its own pains.

Physically it is not yet possible to trans ftm in the way it is mtf. And it is prohibitively expensive. This reflects the still misogynistic nature of trans surgery, which privileges the male body and creates it as ‘unimitatable’, while it treats the female body as easily (re)constructed, yet for the most part ‘untreatable’.

When someone ‘misreads’ me, I usually turn away in the hope they won’t reconsider as it is in the so-called ‘realisation’ that violence manifests. Or mockery. Or cruelty. The liveability of a genderqueer life is always in question. It can be straining, stressful, frustrating, and sometimes, well, terrifying. As well as daring, fun, fabulous, subversive and socially treacherous.

Hard muscles. A flat chest. Bulging pants. These are things I dream of. But what would it mean for my maleness, my manhood, to be sculptured by surgeons? Kate Bornstein argues that to move from F to M or M to F doesn’t reinforce a binary concept of gender, but rather creates transformation itself as the meaning of gender. Here she carries the legacy of Simone de Beauvoir, that one is not born a woman but becomes one: gender is the act of becoming. And I agree. But the fact remains that the maleness of my body would be crafted and re-created according to standards of gendered beauty that I, theoretically, disapprove of and have for so long openly rejected. This is troubling.

As I have said often to my fellows on the subject of embracing male privileges: one always has the choice about what kind of man one becomes.

Right now my masculinity doesn’t necessitate surgical intervention. But when I gaze at the flat, hard pecs of a guy at the gym, when I watch beads of sweat gather on his chest hair, his grimaced jaw shadowed with stubble – I wonder if I will hold out forever.

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Drag

I don’t have the balls to be a drag king. I wish I did. But I’m something else. Jack Halberstam says he’s an off-stage king and he’s my hero. So maybe I’m one of those too.

Glamour Bois, Brighton
Glamour Bois, Brighton

For a long time I thought drag relied upon the body: ‘sex’, ‘opposition’. But now I think that’s not it at all. That’s precisely what it’s not about. Drag says ‘who cares what’s under the clothes, I look fucking fantastic and you know it!’

Drag works by highlighting the performativity of gender; drawing attention to its ‘unnaturalness’. But whether there’s a female, male, intersexed or trans body underneath, well that’s just not the point.

That a male infant will become a masculine (heterosexual) man is the only trajectory offered by dominant Western ideas on gender. But drag works to break down this assumption, showing us that gender is what we do (and how we look). 

Drag can both subvert gender stereotypes and reinforce them: it inherently calls into question what makes a man and a woman, but in practice provides only the opportunity to destabilise these ideas. Whether or not gender conventions are in fact disrupted is dependent upon the performer, and indeed the audience. It is judgements by individuals that uphold cultural norms; whether a person is transcending (or reinforcing) expectations of gender depends on the interpretation of the audience. Thus, it makes sense to look at individual drag artists and performers to see if (and how) they subvert or reinforce gender stereotypes.

Gender theorist Kate Bornstein suggests ‘It doesn’t really matter what a person decides to do, or how radically a person plays with gender. What matters, I think, is how aware a person is of the options. How sad for a person to be missing out on some expression of identity, just for not knowing there are options.’ 

Heterosexist culture dictates that we must be simply and exclusively either a masculine male man or a feminine female woman. Drag kings and queens, as well as intersexed people, transsexuals, cross dressers, gender benders and other transgendered people, subvert this expectation that gender is (and can ever be) singular or stable. And drag is not limited to a ‘cross-gender’ presentation: queer femmes and male drag kings can say as much about society’s uptight gender philosophies as any male bodied drag queen.

In The Drag King Book, J. Jack Halberstam asks ‘To what degree is the Drag King, like the drag queen, both a revered image of queerness and an image associated with shame?’ And that, really, is still the question. What does it say about ‘us’, about our internalised queerphobia, perhaps, that so many of ‘us’ despise the character in drag?

Most of all drag is about pride. Drag artists scream out a kind of queer pride no once-a-year festival could compete with. And we, the introverted voyeurs, can take vicarious pride in their performance when we lack the balls ourselves to be on stage.

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