After the show ended, a group of performers decided to go downtown to a local gay bar for the show’s after party. I was excited and nervous. As we approached downtown, my nerves were overcoming my excitement, questions like “how much has Cincinnati truly changed?”, “If we do run into trouble tonight can I trust, as a black man in drag, that the Cincinnati Police Department will handle the situation appropriately?” As we exited the car, I began searching for my ID to get into the bar. Some of the friends that I had come from the show with decided to go ahead and find food while I searched for my ID. Instinctively, I knew there was strength in numbers but I didn’t verbalize that I wanted them to stay close. Christian waited for me to find my ID and as I searched my vehicle, Christian’s safety guard was climbing. She asked me “You can’t find your ID?” I replied “No.” and the look of concern in her face and in her tone, all indicated this was really dangerous. That when I realized we were no longer granted the safety of campus to genderf*ck. We were out in the real world, the reality started to set in that we were visible target and data started to flood my mind- the majority of the victims of hate violence homicides (72%) in 2013 were transgender women; Transgender people were more likely to experience police violence and physical violence from law enforcement; transgender people of color were 84% more likely to experience violence than anyone else on the planet. With a stern “let’s go” Christian snapped me back to the present and we locked the car and began walking. I was pleasantly surprised that the first person we interacted with was respectful and friendly. The interaction was as simple as “Good evening, Ladies.” That helped to lower my tension.
We had a few more polite encounters before a local drunk cis white man asked,
“Can I walk you ladies home?”
“How do you know we live around here?” I replied.
“I don’t live anywhere close to here!!” Christian shouts intentionally abrasively.
Christian then begins to distance herself from this drunken man, but he continues to engage me and the tone quickly changes.
He says, “Cut the crap, I know you are not a woman!”
“Excuse me?” I reply.
“You can’t fool me, I’m a local Ohio boy, I know you are not a woman. Your voice is too deep. Listen, I’m not dumb I know you are not a woman.”
(In that moment he was exactly correct though I was expressing myself in a feminine expression but I was not female identified but at no point is that his business because what he was doing was investigating my identity without my consent and if I did identify as a trans* woman he would have completely invalidated my gender identity.)
I said, “I asked him what does my voice have to do with me being a woman?”
“You are still doing it, raise your voice do it now. I’m trying to help you. Listen, if you want to make some money tonight you are going to make some money tonight you are going to need to raise voice higher.” he continued.
At that point I was completely investigated, stereotyped, invalidated and unconformable, luckily we had arrived to the restaurant our friends were at.
My defenses were back up and everyone seemed to stare at Christian and I. Eventually, I had learned to tune them out as Christian had learned years ago. The night continued and the fun resumed, I rehashed the story of the walk to the restaurant, while my friends sat in disbelief.
We left the restaurant and headed to the local bar the other performers were suppose to meet up there. Going to the bar made me feel safe because I knew I would be around queer people and when we arrived there was another drag show happening. Coming into a queer space, I expected to be around more people that would have a better understanding about gender expression and gender identity but I was meet with more assumptions. Instead of being read as a drag queen, I was read as trans. I understand that it’s a complex notion, but if people took the time to engage and understand, it would be less complicated. Being in a gay bar, I felt even more scrutinized by prying eyes. One person when out of their way to tell me I had forgotten to remove the tag from my dress. At one point, I found myself sitting away from my friends and an older white man approached me and told me “You are beautiful, promise me you will never give up. Please, promise me.” I uncomfortably agreed.
As we prepared to leave the bar another white man stopped us, this one more informed of the context. He told us he was at the drag show and he really enjoyed the show. His only critique was that he would have liked to have seen the local queer community more engaged and support the queer students and programs. He said we could have flooded the venue.
After the show I received lots of feedback about how my performance was received; I had many people around the university campus who graced me with positive feedback and praise for creating such a bold, and powerful and dynamic performance. These comments came from cis men (much of whom I excepted) multitudes of queer people who appreciated the risks and rawness in which I approached the performance and also from many feminist groups of women who also enjoyed the embodiment of the carefree and dominating persona I inhabited.
I knew that my performance would be risky and controversial but I don’t think I was quite prepared for the microaggressions I received. Two specific groups stuck out to me in the way they received my performance; non queer identifying white cis women and non queer identifying white cis men. A few people (mostly white cis women) approached me with comments such as “You’re performance was great, it was nice that he [the president] was able to pretend to enjoy himself and be entertained.” Anyone who knows me knows that when I receive comments like those, my reaction is squinted eyes and slighted pursed lips, because I am definitely aware of the shade they are trying to throw my way. What makes you think he was pretending to be entertained? Why is it important for you to feel as if he had to pretend? I take these sorts of comments as small attacks on my identity; ways of checking me and putting me in my place. Is the reason behind him “pretending” because of my trans and black identities? Is it unacceptable for him to have genuinely enjoyed himself and been entertained as a cis white man by a black trans woman? I initially questioned if I read too much into those comments but I then considered how the conversation would’ve flowed if it were a cis white woman dressed as I was performing next to him on stage instead of myself. Would people also say that he was pretending to be entertained by her? It’s doubtful that the word “pretend” would’ve arisen if that were the case. What makes a cis white woman more valuable than myself?
In reality my identity and very dramatic expression of own my womanhood and sexually so publicly was probably intimidating to some people. I did something that many wouldn’t feel comfortable doing.
When the university published the next issue of their newspaper last week after the drag show on the back cover there was a photo of myself and the president that took up half of the page with the caption reading “student body president receives a lap dance from a drag queen during the GenderF*ck Drag Show Friday evening.” I was addressed as a drag queen, something that I am not, but it’s fine I was performing in a drag show so I accepted this drag persona, even with that aside the caption suggests that I gave him a lap dance that didn’t not happen in actuality, I barely touched him. This is problematic because it not only reflects negatively on myself but adds attention to an already controversial subject. The fact that I was referred to as a drag queen, my performance was cited as a “lap dance” that did not happen, in the picture that was used I was half dressed, faceless, black and trans and unnamed, and my hand was resting on the shoulder of a white cis man who was named and a person of power. The lingerie the blackness the “transness”, the facelessness and unnamed woman. Sensationalism is what it equated to be. It how I felt my performance was reflected in this article and those feelings even stand stronger when I reflect on the culture of this specific university. In my eyes it has always been very racially unaware and overall unaware of many forms of oppression. The tiers are men first, women second, black lives third, cis queer identities fourth and other identities are welcome to exist but with out a face, voice or name, i.e. The photo chosen to represent a queer even but on for us by us.
Everyday I feel the media or people around me attempting to sensationalize all or parts of my life and the university was no different. People saying the president was “pretending” referring to him doing me some sort of service or pod deed is sensationalism as well as what the university news paper decided to print about my performance. Now I take the time to go into deeper reflection the neither of the pictures used for the drag show were actually in representation of the event or the hard work that went into it by the performers or planners. One photo was in glorification of the university police department who decided in unison to tip a performer (something that hundreds of other people did that night) and the other was of the student body president who already had two other photos in that edition of the paper which causes me to question would a story about the drag show even be in the paper without the presence of heteronormative patriarchal cis identities (the police department, and the student body president, what photo would’ve been chose? Or would there’ve even been a photo?
What makes it unacceptable for cis white men especially those of power to share space with a trans person of colorant have a genuine experience? Why is it shameful to be in a space to feel free to admit when you have enjoyed the entertainment of a trans person of color? The past 7 days I was also able to noticed that a few cis men who I specifically saw or heard enjoyed my performance shied away from admitting those feels when in my presence, my guess is because the world and culture at this specific university doesn’t validate my identity they feel by admitting their enjoyment or elation for my performance would validate me and by validating me they feel as if they are doing a disservice to the world and culture around them.
How do these societal views and thoughts influence the relationship that he and I had before the performance. Does he view me or treat me differently because of the perceptions of people around him? I actually don’t know him very well so how do these perceptions and comments of people holt the growth of our friendship? These are the intersections I face every day as a trans person woman of color. I cannot operate and exist in the same space as a cis white man without our interaction being misrepresented, or sensationalized. I can say for me personally it almost makes me reluctant or hesitant to want to share any space with a white cis man because of all of the misinterpretations that are likely to arise.