Letter to the Editor: Drag Explores Rather Than Ridicule Gender

The following was submitted as a letter to the editor for the Hampshire Gazette.

The Gazette recently published a piece by JM Sorrell that misrepresents drag queens  as misogynists who ridicule women for sport. The piece fundamentally misinterprets drag, feminist thinking on drag, and conflates sex and gender into essentialist categories. Sorrell claims support from “younger feminists,” but recent reports by the Pew Research Center note that Gen Y and Millennials increasingly reject essentialist notions of sex, gender, and sexuality.

Sorrell wrongly assumes that all drag is misogynistic and mocks femininity, and then uses this assumption to claim that drag performers at Pride were ridiculing women. While it’s true that some drag performers do engage in misogynistic ridicule of women, to paint all drag with such a broad brush is an egregious error. It is a disservice to the many local, hard-working kings and queens who performed at Pride without any evidence apart from the author’s personal belief that drag is inherently a misogynistic art form—and, again, it is not.

So, what is drag? RuPaul famously states “You’re born naked and the rest is drag,” i.e., all gender is performative artifice. Queer youths’ genders are highly policed; as a result they are highly aware of normative roles and the danger of breaking them. Rather than cow to oppressive gender expectations, drag evolved as a camp celebration of artifice; it delights in the exaggerated gender markers—often to an absurd degree. Drag muddles the barriers between the genders. For many drag offers a safe space to play with gender. Many trans* people explore their gender identity through drag, and many cis women perform as drag queens.

Drag queens Robin from HR, Ivanna, and Mia E Z’lay perform as the Powerpuff Girls at Noho Pride 2018. Photo by Kyle Garron Photography.

These debates of inclusion/exclusion from the queer community are not new—they are the subject of many academic papers. Implying there is one feminist perspective on drag is inaccurate and dangerous. Indeed, the arguments laid out by Sorrell have been used by some lesbian feminists to exclude trans women from Pride in places such as London. Drag, like feminism, evolves over time. Perhaps it’s time Sorrell and her cohort to reassess what drag and feminism are today. I assure you, they’ve changed since Sorrell first arrived here in 1982.

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