Two weeks ago I was graced with the opportunity to perform in a GenderF*ck Drag Show. Alexander Shelton, who I’ve mentioned in previous posts also served in the show as one of the hosts. After that night we both felt so overcome with feelings and thoughts about our experiences being apart of the show that we decided to turn to my blog and write a post together. In this post we dissect our experiences of that night and explore the covert meanings and symbols behind our interactions with people following that night. It’s taken us so much time to discuss our experiences and put them on paper and edit down that this is going to be a 3 part post with each part being saturated with lots of content. Unfortunately WordPress would not allow us to use two separate fonts so I italicize the parts that Alex contributed to this writing and in bold are my contributions to the writing in order to make it easier to follow the flow of our two separate stories that are fairly sequential. I apologize it’s taken so long to put this piece together but I promise you it was worth the wait!
What is GenderF*cking? GenderF*cking is a when person who discords, or “bends,” expected gender roles. Gender bending is sometimes a form of social activism undertaken in response to assumptions, over-generalizations about genders, or transphobia, cissexism and heterosexism . Some gender benders identify with the gender assigned them at birth, but “challenge” the norms of that gender through androgynous behavior and atypical gender roles. Gender benders may also self-identify as trans or genderqueer, feeling that the gender assigned to them at their birth is an inaccurate or incomplete description of themselves. However, many trans people do not consider themselves “gender benders.”
For so long I rejected the idea of performing in the drag show. For as long as I could recall even before the realization of my trans identity I felt a major disconnect and pull from drag performers. People tried to convince me for a while to participate as a performer and I refused. As a trans identified woman I now can conceptualize that my feelings were because of the blurred lines of understanding that the vast majority of society believes that trans women and drag queens are one in the same, and that concept is incorrect.
“This highly problematic because many people believe that, like drag queens, trans woman go home, take off their wigs and chest plates and walk around as men. A drag queen is part-time for show time, and trans woman is all the time!”
-Janet Mock, Redefining Realness
Last year before the drag show, I was so memorized by the illusion of drag queens but ignorant to the process, the drag show helped me understand the art form of drag. Drag is what they do as entertainers, not who they are. The fantasy that the audience sees is nothing more than hip pads and breastplates, huge hair and ostentatious costumes. My perception of drag is they serve as satirical mascots for the gay community to challenge antiquated gender roles and the right to express yourself freely. Ergo, gender expression is not intrinsically linked to gender identity. The stigmatization and misinformation around “cross dressing” in the LGBTQ community has been condemned as sexual perversion by the disenfranchised heteronormative mainstream and further suppresses agency around the conversation of sexuality, gender identity and gender expression.
I was asked to MC the show. I knew that I could be the persona I wanted to embody I just had to channel my Shakti. I reached out to my friend Shawna, the owner of Hi-Bred, a vintage consignment shop in East Walnut Hills and she agreed to help me put together a look; I asked Christian to come along and lend her fashion expertise.
I love going to Shawna’s shop because is a transformative space. I cherish that I, as a cis black man, was granted a space to experiment with gender expression in a public space. I was floating around her store in a dress and a beard.
Though the first few dresses I tried on were beautiful, we all were still looking for that “wow” factor. After trying on the last dress, Shawna says, “let me check my inventory downstairs, I think I have the perfect dress.” She scurries downstairs in an excited frenzy and re-emerges with a grin and a black dress. She brings it to me and says “Try this one”. She hands me a long silk grown with beaded embroidered top with sheer side rubbing and a deep slit up my right leg.
I slipped into the dress and zipped it up. It fit like a glove; viscerally, I knew I had found the dress. Walking out, the looks of affirmation from Christian and Shawna confirmed what I felt, I had indeed found the dress.
The day of the show has finally arrived and I knew from last year it was going to be a daylong process of getting mentally & physical prepared. Over the past two years I have learned a lot about gender identity and expression. This education helped to frame my expression for the show. I gathered a checklist in my head of what I needed, I started to envision what my ideal expression of femininity (which inherently was influenced by society’s dictation of what femininity is) and that meant being in a dress and high heels, being fully shaven, shaving off my facial hair and shaving my entire body. After that, I needed to get my eyebrows waxed and to aid the illusion. As I arrived to the drag show venue and everyone was backstage getting ready for the show. I was met by my makeup artist and the process of the transformation into “Rachel Tension” continued.
Once the entire look came together, Rachel emerged, a model/ host that pulls her inspiration from the likes of Rupaul, Tyra Banks and Jessica Rabbit. As I walked out onto the stage I felt fierce! The response has been one of support, surprise and awe, the people that came to the GenderF*ck Dragshow were UC students, staff, university police and the local community. But unfortunately, anyone that occupies a dominant identity can understand the oppressive nature on a subordinated group when people in dominant identity take over or make the show about them (I.e. Cis straight people taking up space, forcing the performers to kiss them by putting their dollars in their mouths or touching the performers inappropriately because the attention they will get from the jeering crowd. What it does is subtract from the focus of the talent and pride people put into their performance and becomes an opportunity to exploit the performers. The GenderF*ck Dragshow was my first experience with drag kings and it was surreal how they were able to portray such masculine and seductive gender expression but I wasn’t the only one affected by their charm, cis straight white girls lost their composure over the drag queens and contributed heavily to the exploitation and pushed the boundaries of consent which we are try to normalize on our campus.
One of the standout moments during the show for me was when Christian preformed and SHUT IT DOWN!! What was incredible was the symbolism in the performance from the song choice of “B*tch Better Have My Money” by Rihanna, wearing a tearaway dress to perform in sheer lingerie, incorporating the Student Body President. It was truly iconic because that is the first time in UC’s history that a student body president has participated in this dragshow in that capacity. It says a lot that in lieu of the recent election controversy (#ucstudentgovsowhite) in student government where 10 of 10 elected student government representatives were white cis straight people.
Though those lines of drag and trans women are blurred there are trans women who do decide to perform as drag queens. I am a trans woman who decided to perform in a drag show for charity, those are the facts. I even chose to use my everyday name CHRISTIAN; self-titled like the Beyoncé album, to reinforce the realness of my identity. Every piece of this decision to perform and what to perform, what to wear, and what I would be doing on stage was strategic. I chose the song B*tch Better Have My Money to reclaim the idea of power and dominance in women, something that is often not seen as feminine. The lyrics “Your wife’s in the backseat of my brand new foreign car, don’t act like you forgot, I call the shots, pay me what you owe me” scream power and dominance and control lyrics that are socially acceptable for men in mainstream media but not necessarily women. I wore lingerie to express my true sensuality, sexuality and rawness as a woman. It was a statement of owning my body with every curve and butt cheek that revealed its self to the audience. I took control of how much I wanted to reveal (which was damn near everything). I originally wanted to choose a random audience member but decided to choose the student body president because I knew it would be a conversation starter, it would not only reflect on him as an ally for the LGBTQ community on campus but also reveal him as a team player. It worked in the favor of the drag show by not only creating a talking point for the event but also encouraging financial generosity while tipping with the idea being if the president wants to support this, so do I. My performance itself was intended to be racy and unique, again to encourage the financial generosity and it expressed the right to be as free as you want to be as a woman. I purposely remained flirtatious with the president from a distance being very conscious of only touching him twice on his shoulder in order to remain from crossing boundaries. When I was on my knees or dancing in front of him there was no physical contact. When I was on my back and opened my legs, I was facing the audience not him. Every single move I planned was intentional, I knew that being overtly vulgar or physical with him was not exactly appropriate nor necessary and I still managed to create a very effective and financially successful performance.
As a trans woman of color choosing a cis white man of power to join me onstage and take on this sort of role of submission and presenting myself in a very sensual manner while performing to a powerful and to a dominate song is a complete reversal of a “normal” power dynamic and It was precisely intentional.