In the third instalment of her regular column, Semtex makes the bold and scandalous comparison between the highly offensive practice that is (or, hopefully, was) blackface and the widely accepted and revered medium of entertainment that is drag. In the end, both entities are parodies based on something someone can’t change about themselves (unless they have money, in which case, you can change anything about yourself).
there’s nothing more offensive than a man who takes all the most cliched aspects of a woman and cranks up the volume
It is said that women have achieved one of the heights of being respected by and equal to men. It’s unclear, who, exactly, is spreading this rumor–one that has been making the rounds since the era of Betty Friedan. All because, every once in a while, we collectively come together to let everyone know that our treatment is still tantamount to that of a pièce de merde, we get accused of “asking for too much.” And one surefire testament to the very real fact that women are consistently permitted to be mocked for their stereotyped mannerisms is the existence of drag. Yet, because drag queens are most commonly “portrayed” by gay men, deemed more marginalized by society than women, and therefore, for all intents and purposes, allowed to “get away with more” as a result of said superior marginalization, it is acceptable. Because for women to say anything against the behavior would mean that they were the ones causing offense when, undeniably, there’s nothing more offensive than a man who takes all the most cliched aspects of a woman and cranks up the volume well past ten during the lip sync called caricature.
It’s just a “persona,” they say. One put on for “entertainment” and “comedy” purposes–artistic expression, even. But the fact remains: a man–for according to RuPaul, trans drag queens just aren’t welcome (at least in the mainstream realm of Drag Race)–is doing an egregious sendup of a woman. Speaking to RuPaul’s recent comment on trans drag performers, he also apologized after frankly stating,
“Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big ‘F you’ to male-dominated culture. So for men to do it, it’s really punk rock, because it’s a real rejection of masculinity.”
To boot, it’s also a real rejection of femininity–for to be a woman does not connote wearing fishnets, ten-inch heels, pounds of makeup, saying “YASSSS” a lot and generally acting like a bitch. But apparently, to those queens who want to be “punk rock” against the patriarchy, this is precisely what it means. If only to be a woman could, at this point in time, not signify anything. If the word “effeminate” could simply not exist, possess no definition that could allow men–trans or otherwise–to interpret in their own skewed way the meaning behind “having traits, tastes and habits traditionally considered feminine; softness delicacy.” Yet there’s nothing soft or delicate about “being fierce” or “theatrical” in the drag world. The stylization of women’s gaits, speech patterns, aesthetics and sartorial choices are not only tolerated by those who relish and get off on drag performance, but also encouraged by forces that seem to flagrantly ignore how inconsiderate these abstractions of womanhood are. Phrases like “sissy that walk” and “serving fish” might as well say what they mean: make your amble into something resembling a sexy cripple and pussy is disgusting. Not just for its smell, but especially to fuck–which is precisely why gay men only want to take the aspects of women they actually like and graft them for their own damn selves. Because if you can’t love a woman (neither romantically nor sexually), at least you can sometimes “pay homage” to one.
men know just how to go for the jugular in their renditions of a woman’s comportment
The similarity this logic bears to white people portraying black people in correspondingly billed “variety shows” of a bygone era cannot be underestimated. Blackface, however, was widely accepted for so long in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for entirely different reasons than the ones that allow drag to persist and thrive. Because whitey was the preeminent authority (and, let’s face it, still is) and the civil rights movement had yet to make (some) people see the error of their ways, the representation of black people was one built out of purely insulting stereotypes, thus the proliferation of the belief that black people were inferior. In the case of drag, its perseverance is due, in part, to being seen as a “celebration” of the theatrical. Or, worse, when considering the origins of some of the earliest forms of drag (Shakespeare plays included), its continued propagation is a testament to the exclusion of women in practically every medium of the past–from religious rites to acting to political offices. And that is, beneath it all, what drag “honors” from this point in early gender bending history: female exclusion that insults women on manifold levels.
At the end of the 1950s, drag found its way onto the silver screen and therefore into the mainstream thanks to the Billy Wilder classic, Some Like It Hot (1959). Indeed, Wilder chose to film it in black and white specifically because of how “garish” the makeup looked on Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in the roles of Daphne and Josephine. The movie pretty much set the precedent that a man posing as a woman would always be rife for public laughs. And why? Because men know just how to go for the jugular in their renditions of a woman’s comportment.
It isn’t to say that anyone who relishes the societally sanctioned accoutrements of femininity are automatically trying to make fun of women. For instance, crossdressers (excluding J. Edgar Hoover), men who casually put on dresses in the vein of Kurt Cobain, black eyeliner wearers–these are gestures that are more feministic and anti-masculinity for the simple fact that they do not seek to “imitate” women in this over the top fashion, merely exhibit subtly subversive behavior. What’s more, why can’t a gay man simply rely on his sense of humor without donning the garb and “manner” of a woman? Then, of course, there is the other unspoken factor not previously addressed: gay men rather hate women. Not just fucking them, but their very existence. They have no use for them, and because mother was the first source of ball-busting, gay men are, at their core, the most misogynistic of all, expressing adoration for women most often solely because of their “tragic” potential. Which is possibly why they will never understand how unconscionable drag is.
Will there come a time when women wonder how drag was ever actually allowed to be performed, as most people of every color feel about the incorrigible past existence of blackface? One can only hope so. Because, to be honest (not that I haven’t been for the duration of this incendiary article), that joke isn’t funny anymore.
Featured image by Magnus Hastings
Second image by Kevin Frayer
Third image from the film Some Like It Hot (1959)