As a trans woman, I have no personal experience doing drag or as part of the drag culture. I’ve always looked on it with an outsider’s perspective. My overall impression is that drag can be a good thing or a bad thing, it all depends on the details and context.
A lot of stereotypes exist about both trans women and those who do drag. When someone dresses up to perform karaoke or sing in over the top makeup and hair, impractical outfit, and an overtly sexualized look they are portraying a caricature of femininity. It is a parody or satire. Perhaps an homage. When people compare those in drag to trans women, this is not only factually wrong, it’s transphobic. That comparison is made to demean my identity as merely play acting.
Drag in and of itself isn’t offensive to me. It’s only when performers are doing and saying ridiculous things that harmful stereotypes are perpetuated. RuPaul has notoriously continued to use offensive language, like the word “tranny”, with complete disregard for the feelings of those he has hurt. Jeffree Starr is a complete trainwreck. Google him for some truly vile racism amongst other garbage. I don’t find drag offensive in these cases, I find the words and actions of these individual performers to be objectionable and I believe they do a disservice both to the drag community and LGBTQ people more broadly.
Drag shows provide a forum for people to feel safe and express themselves. While in my limited experience it is quite rare, some trans women use drag as an opportunity to explore their femininity in a safe environment where it can be a more socially acceptable to perform some degree of femininity. A way of testing the waters. Dipping a toe into a context that offers a more socially acceptable opportunity for experimentation. In that limited way, it can be helpful.
By and large, drag performers tend to be cisgender gay men. While they do not identify as women, they may want to express their femininity in a safe context. Our culture has this concept of a masculine ideal, and it is thought that anything that doesn’t measure up to that ideal is defined as feminine and less desirable or even overtly negative. According to this view, the ideal man is strong, stoic, intelligent, and aggressive. Because femininity is defined as an opposite of masculinity, women are hence expected to be physically weak, emotionally expressive, unintelligent, and meek.
We have a society where we are told that men are strong and women are weak. Being a man is good and being a woman is bad or to be looked down upon. If you are perceived as male and you want to embrace your femininity, you are admitting weakness or betraying society. If you stray outside of these lines, even a little, then this marks one for harassment. Phrases like, “Don’t be a pussy,” and, “Don’t be a bitch,” are used as some of the ultimate insults because you are quite literally calling another person a woman, the complete and inferior opposite of what men are told they should be.
Everyone needs a chance, and has a right, to express themselves and perform gender in whatever way they do. While drag may stray across the line into misogyny or transphobia in some extreme cases, it by and large provides people with an outlet to express a side of themselves that society would otherwise ridicule and attack.
We all deserve the chance to be who we truly are, without judgement or fear. And hell, if everyone is having fun, what’s the big fuckin’ deal anyway?
My name is Valerie Woody and I am a thirty-two year old transgender woman. I have been out since 2012 and life has definitely been interesting since then. Since March, I’ve been working as outreach coordinator for the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, which essentially means I’m a professional troublemaker. My job is to recruit volunteers, coordinate events, things like that. WV Citizen Action Group is a multi-issue political advocacy group with a progressive outlook. We work for clean water, clean air, clean elections, and a government that works for the people. I believe in humanity and hope to see us exploring the stars together, in peace. For more information about WV Citizen Action Group and its efforts, please visit www.wvcag.org.