This past Sunday, I was the MC for the 2011 calendar release party for The Liberty City Kings, aka LiCK. They are Philadelphia's only drag king and burlesque queen troupe, and I was extremely excited to be invited by their fabulous leader and co-founder, Heather Coutts, to be the MC for this event. I met Heather two years ago at QFest, and worked with her immediately thereafter on my first ever film set. She is one of my favorite Philadelphians and when she invited me to her favorite playground - gender - I wasn't about to turn her down.
I take my lessons in gender identity and drag from the great post modern theorists and New York performance artists: Kate Bornstein, Justin Bond, http://taylormac.net/TaylorMac.net/Home.html. Each in her/his/hir own way helped explode the binary gender system for me. Each is like an angel or a prophet from a future where sissies are as celebrated as the captain of the football team, a butch diesel dyke is the President of the United States, and nobody has to be anything but what makes them feel safe, loved and happy. They are so beautiful that they're sometimes almost too much to take in.
In truly post modern fashion, it doesn't exactly interest me to be a "man" in "women's" clothing. I think there's still huge value (and just plain fun) in drag queens and drag kings. For many audience members, it's still subversive. For those performing it, it's still a thrill to act in roles that aren't readily available in daily life. However, as Stephen Heath once wisely observed, "the difference inverted is the difference maintained."
Don't take that to mean that I think that drag artists are reinforcing the patriarchy, far from it. But at a certain point it is the destiny for some of us gender warriors to move beyond the binary entirely. Sometimes this looks like painting from both palettes at once; some go so far beyond anything recognizable in culture and fashion as to like more an alien species than another sex. This is what I yearn for in my performances. I'm not interested in being a drag queen exactly; I intend to ascend my throne as genderfuck royalty.
The really magical part, for me at least, is to realize that not every member of the audience lives in the gender fluid world that I do. For some, it is their first drag show. Probably, for many, they have seen many a drag queen belt out (or lip sync) a hundred and ten Liza Minelli songs, but never seen a drag king sing Buddy Holly. Many of our audience members may be gay and lesbian, but may have never considered living too far outside their gender norms. Whether it's the endless gay porn sites fetishizing "real straight men fucking" or another singles ad from a "discrete masc dude" who wants "no fats or fems," so many lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have been so busy telling straight people (and themselves, including a younger version of myself) that our sexuality doesn't make us any different, that we've jumped through gender normative hoops to prove it. In the process we've wounded ourselves and our own, and drag isn't just fun; it's healing.
As binary gender disintegrated practically before my eyes with every chapter of Gender Outlaw and every gender transcended performance I saw in New York, I found new things to love about myself and others. As it turns out, glitter accentuates chest hair, as opposed to somehow tarnishing it with "femininity." Never mind the point that we all come from mothers and are taught to hate femininity expressed pretty much everywhere but straight porn and Swiffer commercials. And let's face it, six inch heels are the only shot I've ever got to be taller than my Dad. (In fact, they make me the tallest man in the whole family! Well, whatever a man is anyway, and assuming, for the moment that I am one.) So there you go. If one more person leaves a show that I've performed in finding new and more beauty in the world, then I've succeeded not just as a performance artist, sassy queen, and hot leather boy, but also as a human being.