Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Drag Culture Is A Major Reason We Even HAVE A Trans Community

As I awakened from my slumber this morning I checked my Facebook page to see that I'd been tagged with a Bilerico Project article penned by Brynn Tannehill (who I have mad love and respect for)  asserting that drag culture hurts the trans community. 

While there are times the drag community has pissed me off, and I have had no problem sounding off  about it, I have to throw the penalty flag on this Tannehill post and bring a little historical context into this discussion. 

I wrote in this February 2013 post the obvious point that drag does not equal trans womanhood.   I have called out the Black cis community along with our allies for giving far more respect to Tyler Perry dressed as Madea than the average trans woman walking Black America's streets.  

But as someone with a deep appreciation and love of history,  I also have to admit the following point as a long time trans activist.   Without the drag community and pissed off trans women together fighting the po-po's fracking with them at the 1959 Cooper's Donuts, Compton's Cafeteria (1966), and Stonewall Rebellions (1969), the gender variant kids at Dewey's Lunch Counter protesting their oppression in April-May 1965 with a combo sit-in and protest, I submit it would have taken us a lot longer getting this trans rights movement party started.

Far too many trans women during that time period were in stealth because of the HBIGDA/WPATH transition standards in place at the time or in denial of their transness when they when questioned about it. The only visible ones were the illusionists, the trans women bold enough to openly live their lives and not care what people thought like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Christine Jorgensen, and Coccinelle just to name a few or outed ones like April Ashley

Remember it was a Black female illusionist in Lady Java who struck the initial blows against the LAPD's odious Rule Number 9 that eventually caused the whole rotten thing to go away 

There have been more than a few times in their various locales female illusionists like Lady Java have been the ones who put their asses on the line and stepped forward to fight for the human rights laws that benefit our entire community.   While they were doing so, the stealth trans women who were hiding and refusing to participate in the trans community because 'they are women now', were grousing online in their not so quiet Internet chat rooms ranting about that 'drag queen' speaking in front of that governmental body their 'I'm a woman now' selves didn't have the guts to speak in front of. 

And let's not forget it's the drag community that peeps in the LGBT ranks call on when it's time to raise some money for whatever SGL community cause needs to be fundraised for.  

Yes, there are problematic peeps in the drag community, and many of them are the gay males who blanch at the thought of having a surgeon's scalpel do GRS on their Almighty Phallus or have internalized hatred of femininity (and trans women by extension) for whatever reason.  

And we are justified in calling their asses out.  

But I submit it's not the drag community that is harming the trans community by itself.  I've observed this anti-drag argument far too often in white trans community ranks over the last decade and a half I've been a national trans activist of color.   Brynn's post also has the problematic flavor of 'respectability politics' baked into it.

I've also had to call my white transsisters out for making the problematic conflation of drag = blackface.   No, it doesn't.      

It also ignores the fact it is cis societal hatred for trans people fueled by ignorance of the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity that causes the problems the trans community is forced to navigate.

The trans exterminationalist radical feminists (TERF's) as a group have done far more damage to the trans human rights cause over the last four decades with their disco era transphobic hate they attempt to layer with the thin veneer of academic credibility than any drag performer. 

Elements of the gay and lesbian community who repeatedly threw us under the legislative bus since the 1970's to selfishly pass human rights legislation for themselves or misgendered us in their print outlets have done far more damage to the trans community than any drag performer.  

Neither was it the drag community that coined the Religious Reich's favorite anti-trans human rights talking point in terms of the 'bathroom panic' meme.  It was openly gay former Rep. Barney Frank talking about 'penises in showers' in a US House committee meeting. 

One of the reasons I and other POC trans people have mixed emotions about the drag community is because we know firsthand that for us historically and as Drag Race contestant Monica Beverly Hillz emphatically demonstrated last year, it is one of our pathways to begin our transitions in communities that are far more socially conservative.   

I've seen more than a few examples of today's femme queen walking a ballroom floor, standing on a pageant stage or performing at a gay club's Talent Night emerging a few years later after having their gender epiphany and using that community to hone their feminine presentations to become a #girllikeus.  

As Chanel Winn-Decarlo pointed out in the Facebook comment that was shared with me: 
Drag is an artform and entertainment and actually something I enjoy.  I am often insulted and offended by drag queens but I don't want to blame the ignorance of people on entertainment
I think at this stage of the game even if you don't know it all, everyone, even a child can understand the difference between a transsexual (WOMAN) and a drag queen (ENTERTAINER)
And to piggyback on Chanel's point, right wing haters are gonna hate.   We know they are going to throw the 'bathroom bill' and 'drag queen' shade in their zeal to do their funders bidding and stop trans human rights advances.   They know they don't have any logic or reason based arguments to deny the implementation of much needed trans human rights laws, so 'fear and smear' is the only tactic they have left.  

We must be ready as trans advocates to debunk and utterly destroy those talking points until the conservafools are 'scurred' to open their mouths and say them for fear of being called out as the transphobic bigots they are. 

We trans folks can and should be able to accomplish that task without throwing the drag community under the bus, because without them being tired of the BS, we wouldn't HAVE a trans community.    

TransGriot Note:  Sahara Davenport is the lovely person in the color photo.


MgS said...

I have to throw a counterpoint out there for consideration.

Yes, Drag is often the public face of Trans*, especially in conservative communities.

Yes, the Drag community has been a gateway for a lot of trans people to get onto their transition path.

I cannot argue against any of those points.

However, when the drag community (or its leading lights like RuPaul) are using language that is blatantly disrespectful to transwomen (in particular), are they not throwing transwomen under their bus?

RuPaul is (in)famous for having mused that the difference between a Drag Queen and a transsexual is money and a good surgeon. As you yourself know, nothing could be further from the truth of the situation.

I don't think the trans community needs to "throw Drag under the bus", so to speak, but there is a need for people like RuPaul (who are very public figures) to start treating the other peer communities under the Trans umbrella with a little more respect.

Chad said...

Try clicking the links she posted in this post. Some lead to other posts she's done recently about Ru Paul.