Tag Archives: pride

Born This Way?

The recent “Born This Way” episode of Glee, featuring Lady Gaga’s latest single of the same name, draws attention to the posited-as-postmodern fixation on so-called ‘body modifications’. The episode revolves around self-acceptance and, for the most part, asserts acceptance in opposition to body alterations via plastic surgery. That is, the fairly conservative view that plastic surgery and any desires for such are bad. In this way, Glee positions problems of self-esteem as individual and suggests they are to be conquered via changes to thinking, while plastic surgery is presented as self-hating and conformist.

Earlier in the series, Santana is vilified for having a boob job, and throughout this episode the gang rally to dissuade Rachel from having a nose job. There is no question that Rachel’s flirtation with plastic surgery is “a terrible idea” within the diagesis of the show. But while the gang all profess how much they love themselves, it is Santana — ‘the brutally honest bitch’ — who calls them out for lying to themselves (“As if there aren’t things you’d all change about yourselves”). Self-hatred is conveyed as highly unattractive and unfashionable in this hipster context (as opposed to self-hatred celebratory emo-culture).

The showchoir purport various reasons (other than self-hate) for their body modifications, such as the improvement of talent (Rachel) or trying to be in fashion (Tina), both of which are presented as highly unconvincing; mere excuses for a deeper-rooted and shameful self-loathing.

Rachel: “Look, I’m happy with the way that I look and I’ve embraced my nose, but say I wanted to have a slightly more demure nose, like Quinn’s for example. I would never change my appearance for vanity but the doctor said that it could possibly improve my talent…”

Against conformity

Glee sets up a dichotomy where self-acceptance is ‘good’  and conformity is ‘bad’ (in this case via plastic surgery). This has been the main aim of the show from its inception; the geeks and misfits of the Glee club are constantly juxtaposed to the bitchy cheerleaders and bullying footballers. This distinction is hardly complicated by a number of the popular kids joining the Glee club. There is also a reiteration of the idea that the misfits are ‘authentic’ and the popular kids ‘fake’ — referenced in “Born This Way” through Lauren Zizes comment to Quinn that she is “two different people”, as well as the character of closet-gay footballer Dave Karofsky. It is not coincidence that the two characters who are revealed to have had plastic surgery (Santana and Quinn) are cheerleaders: the archetypical high school example of popularity due to conformity.

With the exception of this one-liner,

Mercedes: “[T]he thing that makes you different is the thing people use to crush your spirit.”

the show really avoids the complications of trying to be different in an unaccepting social sphere; that there are costs to being different.

As Jack Halberstam reminds us: “the experience of transgression itself is often filled with fear, danger, and shame, rather than heroic self-satisfaction.” (Female Masculinity, 1998: 59)

Or, as Quinn puts it: “I pretty much have a warped sense of the world. Being a hot seventeen year old you can get away with or do anything you want, so I just kind of assume that people are always nice and accommodating.”

By revealing Quinn’s “size 2 teenage dream [body]” to be one obtained via various modificatory practices (rhinoplasty, extreme weight loss, acne medication, contacts, hair dye, as well as changing her name and moving schools), the show could be read as embracing both self-acceptance without plastic surgery and self-love via changing what you don’t like “when you look in the mirror”. When confronted with her ‘Lucy Caboosey’ past, Zizes suggests “So, you hate yourself?” to which Quinn retorts:

“No. I love myself, and that’s why I did all those things. I’ve been that girl and I’m never going back. I was a miserable little girl and now I’m going to be prom queen.”

Here, Quinn and Zizes offer a different reading of two perhaps similar looking people with starkly contrasted ways of living it. Zizes just gets off on her subversiveness (which is tied into her ‘badness’); that is, she embraces the ways she is different from dominant cultural expectations of femininity. Zizes clearly loves herself — which is highlighted when she is praised for it by the post-surgery, self-love professing Quinn. But, as Deb Jannerson remarks: “[it is troubling] that the writers didn’t come up with something other than ‘she used to be heavier and bigger-nosed.’ Don’t quintessential popular girls have issues with their appearances sometimes?”

This juxtaposition is perhaps more interestingly explored through the male characters Finn and Sam, each of which are often depicted as lacking in manliness because of their body mass; Finn not muscular enough and Sam obsessed with his musculature. These two can also be seen as representing ‘acceptance’ or ‘change’ in relation to body modification; Finn as self-conscious-if-not-hating of his flabbiness and Sam as obsessed with the constant militant eating and exercising regimes necessary for maintaining his stature. Hence, both ‘acceptance’ or refusal and change can be seen as ongoing systems of self-‘modification’. As opposed to Quinn’s which is seen as a classic before and after; that is, no ongoing work seems to be required.

“it is not enough to unquestioningly assume that conformity is bad  and transgression is good or to presume that such categories are stable, discrete, identifiable, and unambiguous.” (Nikki Sullivan, “Transmorgrifications”, 561)

The overwhelming ‘lesson’ of the episode remains that self-acceptance is — if not necessary at least — preferable to other types of self-modification: Tina concludes that as there are no Asian sex symbols, she should become one. This idea is reiterated in the ‘Barbaravention,’ where Kurt reminds Rachel that Barbara Streisand “refused to believe that beauty could only be defined by the blonde chiselled faces of Hitchcock’s beauties, so she redefined what beauty was and became the biggest female star in the world.” This possibility of reform is highly optimistic, but is in keeping with the show’s feel-good, idealistic raison d’être.

Conclusion

Glee itself purports to be transgressive and celebratory of diversity, but it presents a fairly palatable — conformist — type of diversity (see, for example, nyx mathews’ article on Glee and disability): all of Glee‘s self-congratulatory diversity is sugar-coated (with the possible exception of Lauren Zizes). Furthermore, the purpose of presenting difference as a result of being “Born This Way” disavows other forms of cultural representation and body-modification, rendering desires for such as less, if at all, legitimate.

Quinn’s self-acceptance is side-stepped in the narrative. Or rather, it is only considered in her relation to others: after the publicity of her alter-ego Lucy Caboosey, she’s still popular, adored by the masses (represented by the three identically-dressed fat girls) and her boyfriend, Finn. How she feels about herself after this ‘outing’ is not depicted. And neither is the reality of the suffering endured by rebelling against cultural norms, as Professor Xavier remarks in X-Men: The Last Stand: “Is it cowardice to save oneself from persecution?”

Is Rachel still pandering to social pressure, just that of her friends rather than the greater school community? And where does that leave the characters who have undergone plastic surgery? While it is not highlighted within the text, I think both Quinn and Santana characterise a get-what-you-want attitude that challenges the timidity of refusing change. Quinn’s self-acceptance revolves around not hiding the fact that she changed a lot in order to get where she is, regardless of the stigma attached to cosmetic surgery. And I’m into that.

If only Santana and Quinn had (been allowed to) own it and sung a girl power encore, like Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” or Madonna’s “Express Yourself”.

Glee cast perform “Born This Way”:

Lady Gaga’s original “Born This Way”:

Quinn and Rachel sing a mash-up of TLC’s “Unpretty” / West Side Story’s “I Feel Pretty”:

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Risk, Subversion and/or Death in Queer Portraiture

Paper presented at the Next Wave Risk Talkers Forum
Down & Dirty: Sex/Gender/Media,
Melbourne, Sunday May 23, 2010.

Vision is always a question of the power to see — and perhaps of the violence implicit in our visualizing practices. With whose blood were my eyes crafted? Donna Haraway1

What I’m interested in is the hostility with which gender ambiguous bodies are stared at, the actuality of violence against those bodies, and the ways visual – and performative – arts subvert, reinforce or simply avoid these real life threats that trans and gender ambiguous people live with.

To transgender studies, the photographic portrait provides a crucial argument for visibility and the centrality of corporeality [the body] to that discipline and ontology. As trans theorist Susan Stryker proclaims: ‘[Transgender studies] helps correct an all-too-common critical failure to recognize “the body” not as one (already constituted) object of knowledge among others, but rather as the contingent ground of all our knowledge, and of all our knowing.’2 That is, that our bodies tell (our) stories.

Transgender bodies disrupt expectations of sex and gender, and their photographic (re)presentations can be seen as damaging to, and damaged by, the ‘proper’ order of gender. Explicit gender ambiguity in queer portraiture troubles dominant concepts of sex and gender as stable and biologically determined, challenging the reader to (re)consider the immutability and safety of their own gender.  Or at least that’s the idea.

The figuration of the transgender as powerfully subversive was asserted by Judith Butler in Gender Trouble, where she used transgender subjectivities to show how gender is performatively (re)produced, thus rendering queer a gay and lesbian overlap through cross-gendered identifications.3 Butler went on in Bodies That Matter to suggest that while transgenderism was queering, it was in transsexuality that queer found its limit: bodily alterations that seek to (re)establish sexed stability or coherence reinforce gender normativity.4 That is, Butler argues that sex reassignment surgery (SRS) is not queer.

Trans theorist Jay Prosser critiques this theorisation of transsexual bodies – and I agree with him – arguing that Butler undermines the queer potential of SRS and marks out as transgressive that which makes the subject’s real life most unsafe [gender ambiguity].5 And it’s this risk that I think we need to take note of.

Jake Wotherspoon, Fiona, 2009

While portraits of gender ambiguous bodies confront us with the mutability of that which is supposedly stable [gender], there is a danger in idolising images of transgender bodies which place subversive power on instability and fragmentation. Transsexual portraits of bodies (re)made whole can emphasise integrity and cohesion while maintaining subversively queer force in their relation to technologies and the subject’s defiance of expectations of gender and sex as biologically determined. That is, I’m arguing for the consideration, rather than exclusion, of transsexual – transitioned – bodies in queer art.

Photographs are always and only fragments – moments past (dead) – and this is particularly salient to trans portraiture, where figurative violence is decidedly more likely to be(come) literal. In order to create sustainable images of queer ontologies, there needs to be value and pride re-established on images of queer bodies which emphasise unity and solidity, and recognition and appreciation of the queer power of transsexed bodies, as well as transgender bodies.

Trans Portraiture

Kate Bornstein, 2005 (Vintage)

Max Valerio, 2006 (Avolon)

The common tendency for trans theorists and writers to include photographic portraits in their work highlights the centrality of the body in trans story-telling, redressing histories of invisibility and concealment, as well as the potential violence of ‘revelation’.6 The text is, by definition, disembodied and the inclusion of photographs attempts to reify this disjuncture. Portraiture serves to unify this ambivalent subject and ‘insist[s] on continuity in spite of change.’7 Transsexuality, afterall, both relies on and defies calls to visibility. Pictures of passing transsexuals that call attention to their transsexual history (in title or series context), draw attention to the need for visibility even for those who are invisible (who “pass”).

Coming out is a strategic move, yet by announcing one’s transsexuality (or trans history) the person ‘undoes the realness’ that is the ‘aim of transition’.8 The tension between ‘revelation and concealment,’ between in/visibility, is complex: ‘[the portrait’s] primary function is to expose the transsexual body; yet how to achieve this when transsexuality on the body is that which by definition is to be concealed?’9

Sara Davidmann, Robert, 2004

Photographer Sara Davidmann argues that trans portraiture, particularly of naked bodies, provides a safe visibility for trans people, and that photographs of private atypical visualisations of gender taken into the public realm [exhibited] constitute an intervention that facilitates a questioning of pre-conceptions of gender and of the body, contesting the boundaries of these binaries, and presents a challenge to the gender system.10

Trans theorist Jay Prosser asserts that trans portraits always force us to question our own gendered state of being, as he asks: How is our reading of the transsexual invested in and produced by our own gendered and sexual subject positioning, our own identifications and desires? Photographs of the transsexual, particularly of the transsexual in transition, push us up against the limits of gendered representation: the limits of what gender we can consign to representation, of what we can process as identity in the visual.11

For Prosser ‘we can only look at the transsexual, then, if we look at how we look.’ While the trans portrait forces us to consider the nuances of gender, I am arguing that it does not necessarily follow that the reader will focus this attention on themselves.12 What guarantees that the image will provoke such a self-reflection? It is painfully possible that it will in fact have the opposite effect: the reader re-establishing the stability of their own gender and their own body in its appropriateness up against the inappropriate freakishness of the portrait they stare at.

Catherine Opie, Jake, 1991

Catherine Opie‘s 1991 series Being and Having contests the centrality of the power of the viewer to gaze unscrupulated at the portrait. Jake stares down at us, head tilted back as if to say ‘who the fuck do you think you are to look at me?’ confronting us with our own ability to slip out of the ordered and ‘proper’ categories of ‘man’ or ‘woman.’

Queer theorist Jack Halberstam argues that: The power of the gaze in an Opie portrait always and literally rests with the image: the perpetual stare challenges the spectator’s own sense of gender congruity, and even self, and it does indeed replicate with a difference the hostile stares that the model probably faces everyday in the street.13

Visibility for trans people is desperately important, but the fetishisation of our bodies is just as concerning. Just as the objectification of women’s bodies in photography has been analysed as double (by the male gaze and the camera), so too is the transgender body objectified and othered in dominant discourse.14 In seeking out the curve of the jawline, the broadness of the shoulders, the thickness of the neck, trans portraits expose our investments in these distinctions (and their stability). To Opie’s photographs, Halberstam argues that the royal colouring of the backgrounds forces the stare of the spectator to be ‘admiring and appreciative rather than simply objectifying and voyeuristic.’15 But really, we can only hope.

In Butler’s formulation of the transgender, and in Prosser and Halberstam’s readings of it: the image of the transsexual is set up in opposition to both nontransgender gender normativity [the normative male or female] and transgender gender ambiguity [the genderqueer]. This serves to create a clear hierarchy which values transgender identities more highly and ‘locates transgressive value in that which makes the subject’s real life most unsafe.’16 In this way the nontranssexed body is privileged eroding the queer potential of sex reassignment surgery.17 SRS becomes a tool of gender conformity and normativity: a not so queer moment. And it is this marking out of subversion to exclude transsexual bodies that I’m arguing against.

Risk

This idealisation of ‘gender incongruence assumes one has the luxury to take on the gender order.’18 The ability to exist in a ambiguously gendered state in a tenuous one at best, more often it is simply an impossibility.

We are all taught that those of us who are most visibly different will encounter discrimination, hostility and violence.19 Violence against transgender people is not only frequent but underreported and anti-trans sentiment is institutionalised within the system of law enforcement. Social sanctioning acts to preserve the boundaries of gender and cultural pressures are often at the forefront of our internalized anxieties about gender ambiguity; individuals are punished or rewarded according to our adhesion to social expectations of gender.20 And ‘[w]e’re taught to pay attention to humiliation, because it can be enforced by violence.’21 The GenderPAC Survey of Transgender Violence reinforces this statistically, finding that over 60% of respondents had experienced assault, and that harassment and violence were often manifested in schools, churches, police and health care professionals.22

The threat of violence is a devastating and constant consideration in trans lives. By placing subversive value on that which puts us at the highest risk of violence, we – artists – risk overwriting the reality of violence to such an existence.

The relationship of queer embodiment to physical violence and death creates queer and trans portraits as powerfully defiant. In this way, the presentation of the trans body in photography – or other visual or performance arts – lays bare the strength of trans subjects as we face death in violating the social order of gender and sex.

Death

To photographic theorist Roland Barthes, every photograph contains this catastrophe‘ of Time; a tension between preservation and the coming of death.23 While the subject of a photograph may or may not be dead, the moment in which the picture was captured is past – dead – and draws attention to the passage of Time as the nearing of death. This notion of the photograph’s ‘that-has-been,’ interrupts any contemplation of the picture’s narrative with the catastrophe ‘that is dead and that is going to die’,24 and this seizes us to rethink the text.

This interruption Barthes names the photograph’s punctum, that which breaks or punctuates its narrative content. Barthes infers that punctum is necessarily that which leads to the contemplation of something else, that cannot be named and makes him linger on the photograph: ‘the punctum has, more or less potentially, a power of expansion. This power is very often metonymic.’25

Here, Time is an ever present punctum.

The notion of the image as referencing death renders the photograph as both damaged and damaging thing, confronting the reader with hir own impending death. What I am arguing is that this reference to death takes on a new and poignant meaning in queer portraiture, where the subject’s real life is threatened with the knowledge of anti-trans violence.

Integrity and Subversion: A Queer Conundrum?

Kael T. Block. Self-portrait, 2005

The queer fixation with transgender ambiguity and disorder has eroded the appreciation and consideration of transsexual bodies as unified subjectivities and still powerfully subversive. Kael T. Block‘s series xx boys resists this postulation by focusing instead on pride forged through integrity. As its description declares: ‘[an xx boy is] F2M, [a] Gender Pirate, [o]ne whose genre capsizes the binary, one who creates his own beauty and body, one who created his identity without paying conventions from a sovereign gender system.’26 Although the gender system cannot be thrown aside, Block’s intentions to capture images of transmen without stringent, or preconceived, borders of who that might include indulges this consideration of queer subversion as potentially transsexual or gender ambiguous.

In this self-portrait, Block exhibits (his) maleness not as invisibility but as alterity. His body is resolutely masculine and male. It is only in/on the site of his top surgery scars, and in the reader’s ability to recognise them as such, that his transsexual ontology (and history) is made apparent; that is, a queer punctum. Halberstam suggests that it is this relationship to technology which is (subversively) significant: ‘[the] body situated in an immediate and visceral relation to the technologies – guns, scalpels, cars, paintbrushes – that have marked, hurt, changed, imprinted, and brutally reconstructed it.’27 Though his maleness and masculinity is not in question or dislocation, rather his relationship to technology marks/makes his body transgressive. In blending his body into the background through the matching designs of his tattoos and the wallpaper, Block presents a resolute image of wholeness, strength and integrity. Block represents (his) transsexual ontology as precisely not fragmented, yet the presentation of his surgery scars mark him explicitly as queer in his refusal to be bound by the limitations of his assigned (at birth) sex and the feminist and queer discourses which dismiss the transgressive potential of SRS.

The series as a whole serves to redress the delineation of transsexual from transgendered, as to Block xx boys are who they say they are, sometimes with surgery scars and sometimes without. Block’s emphasis on beauty through pride demands a strength and self-esteem of a subject intact.

Conclusion

By idolising images of ruptured and dislocated bodies we risk idealising our own fragmentation and disintegration. Rather, we need images which point to our potential to stick together, that reaffirm our desires for our bodies as mutable and whole. The potential of a project like Block’s shows us that queer subversion on the body can be transsexed or transgender. While images of ‘gender incongruous’ transgender bodies present queer punctum as the nuances of gender-crossing, images of transsexed bodies are able to interrupt understandings of sex-determined gender through the relationships to technology which mark the body.

So I have said 2 things:

  • that there is a danger in glorifying gender ambiguity (in art) without consideration for the real-life threats that gender ambiguous people live with.
  • And that by limiting what we consider to be transgressive to the exclusion of transsexual bodies and lives, we invalidate the suffering and subversive force of those lives.

While transsexual and transgender bodies have the potential to queer understandings of seeing and being seen, as well as concepts of gender and the body, we need to remember that ‘[t]hese are claims on people’s lives.’28

These are things which we – as young artists, and especially as artists of “the body” – need to be thinking about.

Thanks to the rest of the panel: Rinske Ginsberg, Zahra Stardust & Eric Bridgeman.

Reference as: Attitude, Max. “Risk, Subversion and/or Death in Queer Portraiture.” Paper presented at Down and Dirty, Next Wave Festival, Melbourne, May 23, 2010. https://maxattitude.wordpress.com.

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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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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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