As twenty gay-teen trundles on into a reality of messy Tuesdays and endless deadlines, our New Year’s resolutions begin to disintegrate like the corners of an aged student sofa. But fear not, Auntie Archie is here to wipe away the remnants of cheesy chips from your shirt, offer you a strong Americano and lend an ear to your queries and confusions. Yes my chicklets, my favourite hobby of giving unsolicited advice on things I know nothing about has finally come to fruition. My name is Archie Bald and I am very honoured to be your new Drag-ony Aunt!
To open our new adventure, and as I am lacking reader questions for this first edition, I thought I would take the opportunity deal with the elephant in the room which is quizzically trumpeting:
Dear Auntie Archie,
I’ve heard of drag queens and have seen RuPaul’s Drag Race, but I’m still a bit confused. Isn’t there just one kind of drag? Why do people do it? How does it link to gender? What’s the point?
Now, before we begin, it’s important to note that I can only speak from my own experiences and of the conversations I have had with others. Drag can be a liberating, challenging or oppressive space for different people, and so I hope that you will understand if I am unable to include adequate nuance in this small column.
However, there are two key things which we must keep central in our minds. Firstly, whilst drag has been practiced throughout history, our modern form is a descendant of the American black and latinx ballroom scene and was built by the talent, beauty and hard work of people of colour. This history is widely erased and the use of African American Vernacular English (phrases like ‘yaaas’ and ‘werk’) by white participants can contribute to creating spaces which are oppressive towards people of colour. Secondly, whilst drag and transgender identities can overlap, they are by no means the same thing. Drag should never mock trans identities and should remain conscious of the ways in which it can contribute to transmisogyny and transphobia. Only in this way can we work to lift each other up through considerate participation and ensure that all can enjoy an art form which has been a central part of the queer community for decades.
Drag is a powerful space for dialogue. It’s the point where the constructs of gender and sexuality combust and transform into your wildest dreams and nightmares. As drag artists we play with things usually taken for granted to challenge existing narratives, building identities and performances which are truly hyper-natural. I believe in drag as a space to ask questions of society and, recently, as a collision point of the queer and straight worlds. We are in the unique position of having the opportunity to own a room, open dialogue or make political statements, and the way in which we walk the edges of society provides a unique perspective.
Drag does not pretend to be ‘realistic’. It argues that reality and our constructs of self are fictitious, and laughs at the bondage of social constraints. Drag is challenging and sometimes uncomfortable because it exists outside of acceptability and parodies the physical and mental codes which give coherency to our world. Everything that we do as artists is based on a recognition of these building blocks of selfhood and, ever more frequently, a deliberate critique of standards of beauty, gender and sexuality. Needless to say, there is a lot more to drag than ‘female impersonation’, and narratives which seek to flatten drag into a homogenous thing fail to grasp the power of its diversity.
Recently we have seen increasing space for atypical drag which goes beyond binaries and even humanity. I don’t think that any of you chicklets could reasonably gender me or even claim that I am fully human, as my drag exists in this realm of otherness. It is a way for me to explore the limits of my gender and my body, make art from my insecurities and politicise my queerness to challenge audiences. People do drag because it is a yearning. It’s a need for self-expression and self-reflection of the most intense kind. Just like all art, drag has a unique perspective on the world and there is much that we can learn from its playfulness. It makes you conscious of your edges, break through your walls and, when done well, find genuine connection with others.