Here’s a blog post about a significant group of cisgendered straight white men in Toronto, who decided at first that wearing drag in the parade would be a “fun” way to express “solidarity” with trans* people. They were wrong, and all is explained here from a trans* person’s perspective.
Now, I’m also a trans* person. I just stuck 0.75 mL of testosterone into my left leg last night, and because I was dehydrated, it was particularly difficult. But I have to do this every week for the rest of my life, just so I can live more authentically in my own body. What people assume when I say this is that I identify as a man, and that is just wrong. I identify as genderqueer and transmasculine — I am neither man nor woman, and while I’m happier when I am mistaken for a man than when I am mistaken for a woman, the fact that society’s perceptions of bodies automatically jumps to dumping people in one category or the other is disappointing to me. I experience sexism from both sides of the same coin (it actually does go both ways — just not in nearly the same magnitude or frequency), in addition to transmisogyny (hatred of trans women — people mistake me for a trans woman because of the sound of my voice and the shape of my body, and then project their hatred onto me because of it). Most of you wouldn’t know this unless you’re willing to talk to me about the many ways I am made uncomfortable in my day-to-day life, or at least if you’re willing to read a blog entry like this one, that I just wrote last night (I’m starting to think I’m some sort of a writer or something, this is turning into a fuckload of writing lately).
I have been known to describe my former life, as an anorexic fetish/erotica model with curves like the Coquihalla Highway, as a drag performance. I felt like every morning, I was putting on a “woman costume”, and going out into the world working very hard to pass myself off as a woman. I never felt like I was doing a good enough job, and I often over-compensated (this is one among many of the reasons I was driven into fetish modelling and erotica performance). I also often came off as desperate (for reasons no one could quite wrap their heads around until I came out), coming apart at the seams (emotionally — and I am still vulnerable to having days like these), and was frequently accused of being histrionic (and nothing grated against my nerves quite so aggressively as this did). I would scramble to find any way to not be alone, because the last thing I wanted to do was be the only person left in the room to keep my thoughts company, or to face the person looking back at me in the mirror: someone I didn’t recognize, who was an impostor, and who I hated for being a spineless fake. Someone I consciously and unconsciously sought to destroy.
For the record, a LOT of these issues have reached a point of resolution, or damn near it, because I finally came out about my gender identity and sexuality, sought help, and started various forms of therapy to work through all this shit. Testosterone is one of those. I am grateful every day for the fact that I am alive to take these steps in my life journey, because I personally knew people like me who aren’t any more, even though they were getting help when they suddenly took their own life. I have committed myself to living as authentically as possible, so that I might be able to voice my experiences for those who can’t any more. And to do so loudly, without blending into anonymity, so that future generations of people like me and my deceased friends don’t have to feel so desperate to put on a costume that just feels like being locked into an iron maiden and left to suffer in isolation. I have burst into tears as I wrote this.
Thus, it should not surprise any cisgendered straight white guy who is reading this, that I, as a trans* person, have a deeply troubling and turbulent relationship with drag. So when a cisgendered straight white guy dresses up in drag for the pride parade, he is showing solidarity with drag queens. Not with me.
And more on what it means, exactly, to be a drag queen (let’s just not complicate this issue by bringing drag kings into this particular conversation). Drag queens are men. Drag queens are typically gay men. Sometimes, drag queens are closeted trans women who only feel safe exploring their gender through drag “performances” — but who dread the act of reverting back to their lives off-stage, where the costume comes out as they seal themselves back into the iron maiden. Drag queens are performers, and their audience is typically other gay men. Many drag queens do more than just put on an alternate persona: some do stand-up comedy, others lip-syncing, and many incorporate a drag version of burlesque into their show (the finale often sensationalizing what the performer is packing in “her” underwear, because if the audience wanted to see female-bodied burlesque dancers, they would be the audience somewhere else). Drag queens, and the audience who “eats them up” or hands them tips during their performances, constitute an entire subculture within gay communities. Just like burlesque does within straight communities. It might float John’s boat to watch a drag queen peel “her” dress off, but maybe it doesn’t do anything for Juan, who would rather stay in and seduce someone with fine wine and exquisite cooking.
But when a drag queen isn’t performing, “she” is he. And he is virtually indistinguishable from cisgendered straight white men, except by virtue of what he does in his bedroom and who he does it with. He may take his commitment to doing drag very seriously (even if his gig is a comedy show), as many burlesque dancers do within the straight community, and rightfully so. It’s his bread and butter, just as it is for burlesque dancers. When he packs his persona up in a suitcase at the end of the night, he is no longer socially read as a drag queen. He’s free to go about his business being just as heteronormative as the cisgendered straight white guys he is now indistinguishable from.
The point I’m getting at here is, when a cisgendered straight white guy puts on “drag” for a couple of hours on a single day out of the entire year, and marches in the pride parade, he’s probably going to feel silly, and if he’s secure enough in his sexuality and gender identity, he’ll have a good time doing it. But he would never put on this “drag” for a couple of hours a few nights a week, get up on stage, and perform for an audience that is watching him alone, waiting for the punchline to his joke. He’ll never be in danger of being mistaken for a transsexual sex worker when he’s out back having a cigarette and minding his own business, and for that reason, he’ll never be subjected to the type of transmisogyny I now face when I step out into public spaces in my underwear or something else that is read as feminine.
He’ll never really understand how completely misguided and privileged this effort is — and therefore cannot hope to demonstrate solidarity with trans* people, let alone that he is their ally — because he has only accomplished the task of demonstrating solidarity with drag queens. He has really done next to nothing to engage with his social privilege as someone who is cisgendered, straight, white, and male. He has done nothing to call himself an ally.
If you are a cisgendered straight white male and you believe with your whole heart that trans* people matter, that our experiences are valid, that our oppression is unfair and you want to be a part in ending it, and that you want the world to be a more tolerant place for people like me and my friends who have died just trying to be themselves, then you need to start by just being yourself when you take part in our events. Putting on a persona or a facade, and approaching us like you need to infiltrate even when and where we have explicitly welcomed you to take part, is being a bad ally. Please stop and think. And if you aren’t sure, please ask.