Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Life's a drag

    It's obviously the trans silly season, or something. News comes from Scotland, that Free Pride Glasgow are banning drag queens from their event. It seems that drag is deemed to be offensive to we transgender people. This follows on from a similar story a few months ago, the NUS LGBT conference voting to condemn drag and cross-dressing for the same reason.
    If that wasn't bad enough, a particularly nasty word has started creeping into the conversation. "Transface". It's meant as I understand it to evoke the word "Blackface". You know, minstrel shows, and they were bad, and we're suffering the same sort of outrageous parody, right?

    Wrong. As I have pointed out in the past, if you think it is appropriate to equate a transgender issue with one of African American history then you urgently need to learn a bit of that history, and then shut up. Start with Huckleberry Finn. You aren't helping transgender people with such comparisons, in any way, shape, or form.

    So let's take a look at drag. And let's compare and contrast a drag act with something that is genuinely offensive to transgender people.
    Drag is a very long-established part of gay culture. Long established as in the word appears in print in the 19th century, and probably in non print use long before that. Drag queens are famous for exaggerated portrayals of natal women, and for musical and comedy routines on that theme. Take a look at this video from UK TV for example: Paul O'Grady's outrageous alter ego Lilly Savage.



    The important point is that while we are not intended to be under any illusions that Savage is anything other than a gay man underneath the make-up and wig, we are also not intended to be under any illusion that as a character she is anything but a natal cis woman.
    Now, compare and contrast Lilly Savage with this portrayal from another UK TV show, Little Britain. Here we have another man wearing female clothing, but this time it's very specifically a portrayal of a transgender person.



    Straight away you can see the difference between a drag act and an offensive portrayal of a transgender person. Paul O'Grady as Lilly Savage is entertaining and non-threatening, David Walliams as Emily is deeply unpleasant.
    I've been to quite a few Prides over the years, and seen more than a few drag queens. Being significantly taller than most gay men I've seen with amusement their reaction to a trans woman who can look down on them. I've even got one or two gay friends who have been known to put on a wig and a spangly dress from time to time.
    In all that time I have never seen a drag queen come close to the performance you see in the Little Britain sketch above. Plenty of awful singing, but that's only offensive to musical purists.
    There have been times in the past when the worlds of drag and transgender have intersected. There have been times when drag queens have stood alongside us. To now go after drag in a misplaced attempt to protect us from offence is misguided in the extreme, not to mention highly offensive to the drag community.
    After all, it's hardly as if there aren't enough real instances of transphobia, is it?

3 comments:

  1. I totally agree, so far I have totally failed to find any trans woman who is in the least offended by drag.

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  2. Well said, Jenny; well said indeed. Why some in the LGBT community are trying to exclude those who empathise and have much in common with us is beyond me.

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  3. So, I don't necessarily totally agree. I certainly wouldn't limit drag queens from Pride parades but I do think the drag queens can send the wrong message, about us, to the general cis-population.

    Years ago, my wife and I had several friends who were drag queens. I didn't think anything of it. Indeed, we attended their performances. Now, however, I honestly do think that they can hurt our image in the minds of those who just don't understand the makeup of a transsexual or even a crossdresser.

    Drag Queen = Crossdresser = Transsexual

    I've got to believe that the bulk of the population thinks they're bred cloth. While the cloth may indeed be shared by all three, what's under the cloth is totally different.

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