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Making Room for Transgender Drag Performers

Making Room for Transgender Drag Performers

Making Room for Transgender Drag Performers
Basil_Soper

I don’t think I realized how intense the conflict between the drag community and the transgender community was until RuPaul’s Drag Race featured a game called “Female or She-male" (she-male is a hurtful slur used for transgender women). This game prompted a massive backlash from the trans community and many LGBT activists.

After the RuPaul meltdown, I DJ'd in a bear bar and became friends with cisgender and transgender drag queens and kings. It was the first time I encountered bio drag performed by cis and trans people. Bio drag is a form of drag in which someone performs as the gender they identify with.

When cis drag queens use words like “tranny” and “she-male”, it's painful; the issue is the general misunderstanding of transgender basics (i.e., the difference between gender and sex). Some people believe drag performers support gender binary, and their depictions are caricatures of men and women.

When trans folks perform bio drag, it can make other transgender people uncomfortable. Some believe the performer is perpetuating the idea that drag and being transgender are the same thing, while others say bio drag isn't drag and that being trans gives a performer unfair advantages. The drag community often forgets about the transgender women that founded the drag movement. As you can see, it’s a complex issue, and the voices of transgender drag performers are consistently ignored.

Sky Quinn, a trans woman from Honolulu, Hawaii, says she started performing to find her true self. Quinn, who occasionally performs as a drag queen, says, "It's interesting because we're still doing a type of transformation and what we wear and do on stage as performers is vastly different from how we behave and what we wear in public. For me at least I got to play pretend and be a vision of myself that I wasn't yet during my transition." 

Quinn sees drag as an ever-changing art that she loves. She says, "It's honestly hard to tell where drag will go but I definitely see it constantly evolving and more people will be exposed to different types of drag, especially in big cities. Over time, the whole debate around trans folks doing drag will calm down."

Sky

It's common for bio drag performers to use drag as a confidence builder. Rylan Heathen, a trans man who performs as a drag king named Viktor Grimm, has been performing for four years. And, he won the National Mr. Unlimited FMI in 2015. 

"My original reason for drag was I am super socially awkward and very introverted most of the time. Getting up on the stage helped me battle that. The first couple of years I was visibly shaking as I performed. Now I can walk up to a complete stranger and talk about things. Viktor is everything I wanted Heathen to be and I'm now that person because of Viktor. " Heathen said. 

"Drag is an art form. It is a form of expression. I can list at least ten different styles of drag and not even scratch the surface. There are queens that wear make up but have a beard or wear boy clothes. No one can tell me what style of performance I can and can't do to express myself. I do what is in my heart and what I have to show the world." The cis crowd sometimes forgets that drag came from a place of transgender and gender variant people exploring their identities in the 1960s. 

Viktor Grimm

Not all trans drag folks use drag as a steppingstone to transition. Some perform as the gender they were assigned at birth. Lewd Alfred Douglas, a trans man and performer based out of New York City, performs burlesque in femme drag. He says, "For me, doing drag is a form of reclaiming that false female box I was forced into - sometimes exploring it on my own terms, and sometimes ridiculing and destroying it."

Douglas experienced some negativity for being a trans drag queen. It took him time to feel comfortable as a trans man and bio drag allowed him to explore gender beyond a binary male persona. He believes when trans people see a trans person perform in drag, it can create dysphoria. Douglas says, "I totally get that. The bottom line is, every person’s interpretation of gender is unique and celebrating that diversity is wonderful —As long as the person is in control of their own expression."

When asked about the negativity around bio drag, Douglas added, “While drag queens and trans folk are fundamentally different, we owe each other our support and understanding. It really hurts when I see a cis male drag queen perpetuate toxic stereotypes about my trans sisters — from sex work shaming, surgery ridicule, misgendering, and ‘entrapment’ stories. As a trans man, I don’t have problems on that scale from drag kings.”

lewddouglas

Drag performers and trans people are judged for living their lives authentically. Ideally, the LGBT community should embrace everyone, but it's a constant struggle. Trans drag performers don't allow the insecurities of others to stop them from doing what makes them happy.

Isn't that something all queer people have in common? We've all had to come out as something and faced criticism. It feels hypocritical to do the same to our own community. Let's take a leaf from the trans drag performers' book, and play with gender a bit more. 

Photo by Joshua Rothhaas.

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Basil Soper

Basil Soper is a transgender writer, activist, and Southerner who wears his heart on his sleeve. He's an astrology enthusiast and tears up when he watches unexpected-animal-friend videos on the internet. Basil's life goals are to write a memoir and be the best uncle ever to his niece, Penelope. Learn more about Basil at ncqueer.com.

Basil Soper is a transgender writer, activist, and Southerner who wears his heart on his sleeve. He's an astrology enthusiast and tears up when he watches unexpected-animal-friend videos on the internet. Basil's life goals are to write a memoir and be the best uncle ever to his niece, Penelope. Learn more about Basil at ncqueer.com.