Saturday, June 14, 2008

On Drag and Consciousness

[pictured: the four Transformers on a minimal stage with red lighting. On the far left there is me, Mik Danger, as a bad-ass priest all in black, and on the far right an androgynous and sexy sinner in red booty shorts, a red tie and a black tank top is either masturbating or repenting. Between us two apostles in white robes are beginning a sensual dance. This photo is from the Miltown Kings spring of 2007. We are performing to the Eurythmics "Missionary Man".]

For the last two years I have been performing drag. One could also argue that I have been performing drag my whole life, but that’s a bit of a simplification of Judith Butler’s gender definitions and gives me too much credit. Drag has to be conscious, and until I knowingly stepped on a stage I didn’t understand the full complications of gender play. Dolly Parton, as an example, is a type of drag queen as she is extremely conscious of how she is presenting an over-the-top, ridiculous and amazing form of femininity. She is acutley aware of how her presentation reflects on women as a whole, and rural working-class white women in particular.

My drag was formed in the company of three amazing and talented close friends in the late spring of 2006. Over time we would become the drag troupe The TransFormers, performing bi-monthly with Dykes Do Drag and occasionally at the Twin Cities bar The Townhouse. But our development as a drag troupe wasn’t immediate. I had performed onstage before (and specifically as a man) but until 2006 my drag didn’t have a conscious. As our troupe became well known in the Midwest it was because we attempted to tackle issues of whiteness, capitalism, heteronormativity, and patriarchy. We celebrated fey men and transwomen, femmes and genderqueer transitions. We achieved this through the support of fantastic shows such as Dykes Do Drag and conferences such as the International Drag King (community) Extravaganza. we read Butler and Judith Halberstram, and by searching ourselves for the messages we wanted to convey.

In doing this, we discovered that not all drag is a positive reclamation of identity. Not all drag is done in the spirit of queer liberation with the reckless abandon of mocking institutions while in glittery booty shorts. Many drag performers perform with no knowledge of how their representations of femininity, masculinity, and androgyny affect their message. Indeed, most white drag performers appropriate the lyrics and dance moves of famous Black and Latin@ performers without questioning their use of a modern version of Black/Brown Face. Drag Kings have a history of using femme performers as silent props, and too often a drag king will perform as a masculine straight man.

The TransFormers were by no means the end-all be-all of conscious drag (or as we called it “post-drag drag”). Our piece on U.S. Imperialism (set to “Macho Man”) failed in the first few dress rehearsals, and to this day I have a great fear of appearing as anything but a queer man on stage. But the TransFormers were attempting to talk about queer values – interlinked oppressions, a love for all bodies, a consciousness about identity, and the joy of performing and we did so in a way that was both funny and engaging. Even as a soloist it became incredibly difficult to find songs by white men that can be “queered” to discuss sexuality, class, ability, and other identity issues. Which is why I’m excited that tonight I will be performing a solo at the Brooklyn Pride After-Party!!

I performed once in late March with the amazing group Switch n’ Play, but tonight I will be performing at the Transy House as a benefit for Sylvia Rivera Law Project. My piece, my favorite of the handful of solos I have cultivated, is about being proud of identity, and moreover of an expanding definition of feminism and feminists. You can catch be sometime between 9pm and 1am at 214 16th Street in Park Slope (between 5th & 6th Ave). There will be many other amazing performers there and it's only a suggested donation of $10!!

More of this tonight at 9PM!

[pictured: This is a still of my ass from my March performance. In stonewash jeans and back leather chaps with a dollar bill sticking out of the waistline. Picture taken by Switch n’ Play.]

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