I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Drag Queens.

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Whether you love them or not, you have to admit that drag has been a large part of the LGBTQ community. Many of the early activists were drag queens. They have offered social commentary, humor, unity, and escape from the lives we lead. Recent years has seen an increase in their popularity amongst all people. We have also seen increases in media focus, from TV shows to starring in movies. They have made an impact, but have you ever wondered where it started and why it’s such an integral part of our community?

It may be best to start with a definition and I will preface this and say that like many labels, the term drag queen can refer to many types of people. For the sake of this post we will talk about the female impersonation aspects, where men dress as women with the intent of performing in front of an audience. Many drag queens distance themselves from those who use hormones or reassignment surgery. In many drag competitions, those who use hormones and reassignment surgery are often banned, as a means of not playing fair. For instance the large negativity that surrounds RuPaul’s Drag Race for turning down transgender performers. So again, in the scope of this post we will be talking about men who use makeup clothing, padding, and tucking for their means of creating their illusions. This is for fact of simplicity and not a means of segregation. No offense is intended.

My first experience with drag queens came from the first man I dated. I mentioned him in other posts his name was Shawn. Shaw was a drag queen and went by Traci Richards in the last years of his performing. When we started dating he told me about his persona and made sure I was ok with it. My only question to him was why he did drag. His answer to me was it was a way he paid honor to the strong women that he admired in his life and it was his way of honoring that strength the provided. Many drag queens I have met have had similar feelings about their craft. They all share the thought that they put on “drag” to perform and then take it off to live their lives. To me, that is the fundamental difference between drag queens and transgender. They are men who identify with the sex they were born, but also use drag as a means to share an identity they have inside of them.

There is debate on when it actually started and yes there are people who actually research and have published theories and studies about drag queen culture. Many feel the origin comes from dressing in feminine attire for religious ceremonies and can be traced to Ancient Egypt. There is documentation of cross-dressing among Aztecs and Inca civilization and widely used in Japanese theater. In Japanese theater the use of drag divides the difference between Kabuki and Noh dramas. Noh is a folk dance associated with rice planting and fertility and used female actors wearing masks and followed stylized routines. Whereas Kabuki is known for female impersonators carefully made up, speak in falsetto voices and move to suggest femininity. Even in ancient Greece, men were used to play female roles in plays and wore masks to represent female deities and person.

What we know as drag didn’t take shape till about the 19th century with vaudeville performers. Joe E. Jefferys, a drag historian who teaches theater studies at NYU Tisch Drama, states that drag “was a popular act in the numerous vaudeville theaters across America from the turn of the 19th century until the late 1930s.” It was during this time that the mocking personas of the “wench” and the “primadonna” were birthed. Even still, the idea of drag queens were not inextricably linked to the LGBTQ community. This probably happened around the end of the 1930s and was largely due the growing field of sexology and its discussion of a “third sex.” During the 1930s more scientific conversations where working their way into popular culture and started linking drag with homosexuality. Due to these conversations we saw an end of “Straight men” dressing for theater and solely being associated with gay men. Jefferies goes on to say, “Until gay bars emerged, either clandestinely or legally, the drag queen was bounded by private parties, and even then police raids were possible.”

“The first true drag queens rest in little remembered bars. Jose Sarria as San Francisco’s Black Cat in the 1950s is perhaps an early example if we go down this path… but they worked in front of largely heterosexual audiences and would take offense to being called drag queen. To them, this was a lower classification of the streets and bars and amateur compared to the female in personation they offered,” states Jefferies. Drag queens were the newer additions to the more gay friendly places that were starting to pop up during this time. This is where we see the transformation of drag that leads to its modern version. The female impersonation side was made more comedic and relegated to TV and movies. Take for example Some Like It Hot (1959), Tony Curtin and Jack Lemon wee two men posing as women through the film. Drag Queens were the ones now performing in bars and creating a rise amongst the LGBTQ community. There is controversy as to whether those behind the Stonewall Riots were drag queens or early part members of the transgender community, either way they spearheaded the modern civil rights movement for the LGBTQ community.

According to Jefferies, drag became a “powerful movement in NYC during the late 19802 and 1990s”. This was helped by the East Village performance scene and the rise of Wigstock. This was the era that gave birth to legends like Divine. Divine was most notable for her work with John Waters in movies like Pink Flamingos.Wigstock was the outdoor festival in New York that was focused on the drag community and was founded by Lady Bunny. She was notoriously known for the ability to make a fool of herself and invited her audience to laugh along with and at her. In an interview, Lady Bunny recounts her first performance at the Pyramid. “I was so inexperienced that the spot lights were blinding me, and I fell off stage. I somehow managed to get back up, wig askew and one shoe missing, and finished the number, which was a crowd pleaser, and I was a fixture at the Pyramid for the next six or seven years.” Celebrity Drag Sensation RuPaul also got her start at Wigstock.

The 1990 movie Paris Is Burningchronicles the Harlem drag balls. These balls were not just men in drag but also men performing in various kinds of “drag.” The Harlem balls gave rise to the fabulous Pepper LeBeija. This was also the place where the art forms of “Reading” and “Throwing Shade” started. In case you aren’t aware of how a “reading” works, you find a flaw in a person and exaggerate it and doing so in such a way that you don’t just come right out to point out the flaw. The 1990s also gave rise to drag focused movies, Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, Too Wong Foo. Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, and The Birdcagebeing the most notable.

Even during this time, drag queens were still largely popular only with the LGBTQ community. This started to change in 2009 with the appearance of RuPaul’s Drag Race. It was here that drag culture was pulled out of the dark and dank gay bars and thrust out like DDD tits into mainstream. No longer did hordes of heteros have to sneak to the red light district of their towns, take two hour trips, or find the only gay in the village to take them to a bar, all they had to do was pop their corn and huddle around the tub on their ratty old sofas. RuPaul’s show did search country wide to pull some of the best talents available to come on her show and judged for their fishyness. It also became a venue for the masses of would be drag queens to see talent and focus on making their own way into drag community. As many places are seeing a decline in LGBTQ bars, this may be the only place many baby drag queens get to experience a show and also gives them icons to look up to.

No matter your opinions of drag queens, they have been an integral part of our community. Over the years it has went from onstage productions to Reality TV Show. Gay men have used it as a means of expressions since the 1950s and an outlet for activism, as well as showpersonship. We cannot deny the impact that drag has had on our community and will continue to have. Even amidst the controversy, remember to show our drag sisters support as they so often show for our community.

Isolation Amongst the Crowds

Merriam-Webster defines choice as noun 1. the act of choosing: selection, 2. power of choosing: option, 3 a. the best part: cream, b. a person or thing chosen, 4. a number and variety to choose among, 5. care in selecting, 6. a grade of meat between prime and good, or of choice, or to be preferred. Adjective  1. worthy of being chosen, 2. selected with care, 3 a. of high quality, b. of a grade between prime and good. It’s important to understand the meaning of word when you are trying to use it to explain something. Because of this very word CHOICEI feel that LGBTQIA are the overlooked marginalized minority.

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We all have had this dream, more than likely. You are in a room surrounded by people that you may or may not know. It is a fairly large room full of people and you are walking among them and you notice that they are looking at you. Some of them are in shock and disbelief while others may be laughing and making comments in whispered tones to others. As you move about the room you realize that their reactions may be about you. Suddenly, you are in front of this group of people and you can’t imagine why. You think you may supposed to be speaking or presenting something, maybe it is even going over your book report. As you start to check yourself for you notes you realize you are naked in front of everyone and all the reactions make perfect sense. You are exposed and vulnerable, you try to cover yourself and make apologies but all it does it draw more attention to how you do not fit in. Your anxiety rises, your pulse is racing, sweat is pouring off of you in rivulets, you feel like you are about to throw up, and you are turning more shades of red than there are possibilities. It’s a horrifying feeling. You can’t seem to get away fast enough and  you know there is no way you can fit in.

In the simplest terms, that is how most LGBTQIA people feel every moment of their lives. No matter where we go, the people we interact with, or the situations we are in we constantly know we do not fit in and are afraid of how people are judging us. The difference is that in many situations it’s not veiled comments behind hands, it turns into acts of violence. Cleveland, Ohio having more than 15% of the this year’s national transgender homicide rate is proof enough of that. Let us not forget the tragic events of Matthew Shepard being abducted, stripped, beaten to near death and tied to a fence post in Wyoming, all because two straight men thought he deserved it. Still mainstream believes that we “choose” to be LGBTQIA.

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Now imagine waking up every day and seeing yourself in the mirror and know what you see isn’t who you are. That it just feels like you are trapped in a shell that isn’t right. You get dressed every morning, as to how you are expected to be, and you never feel at ease. Feeling like you are pretending to be someone you are not. This in turn creates depression and a sense of self-doubt and loathing. You start to wonder what is wrong with you and why can’t you be like everyone else. What if this or what if that? Always feeling scared and confused. Never sure of whom you are or what you are feeling. Would you choose to feel that daily? Would you want to endure that kind of life?

As I was growing up, I simply knew that I was different. I didn’t have attractions to females. I didn’t like typical boys things and I knew that I didn’t fit in with other boys my age. Even trying to fit into those molds didn’t make it any better. What I did know was that being around other boys gave me the feeling of butterflies in my stomach. At no point were there ever options presented to me. Don Pardo wasn’t standing next to me saying, “Behind Door #1 is heterosexuality. You will have women to date, football to watch, buddies to hangout with and have fun. A lavish life of normality. Or you can have what’s behind Door #2, being hated for being different. People telling you that you are a sinner and going to hell. Being hated and kicked out by your family and living your life as a sexual deviant.” I mean what kind of options would those be and who would ever choose Door #2 if they were told that’s what was waiting for them?

I am not here to change your mind about any of this. I am here to be the foundation for someone who is already going through these feelings. To let them know that there are others out there like them. To let them know that it does get easier and they do have people to turn to. There are welcoming groups who do not seek to change who they are but encourage them to live at the truest authentic person they are. To try to love themselves more than others hate them. It is for them that I write this and for them I offer my strength.

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Not a single one of us, LGBTQIA or heterosexual, chooses to be who we are, it is simply a combination of biological factors that creates us to be who are. One isn’t right and the other wrong. Those kinds of labels are created by society and placed upon us to make us fit into nice little boxes. In fact, not a single one of us can fit into any box that we are put into. Each human is greater than the sum of his or her parts and we should learn to respect us for what we do instead of who someone thinks we are.

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The truth of it is that sexuality, orientation, and gender identity do not really matter in the real world. They are just more forms of labels that are used to describe someone on a limited basis. There are reasons for them and they do, in fact, have to be used, but people are more than just the sum of their parts. Saying only that I am a gay male doesn’t tell you anything about me, no more than saying I am a 45 year old male does. We need to move beyond such things and deal with what is important and that is that we are all humans. Being male, female, LGBTQIA or straight doesn’t determine who you will be, even DNA doesn’t give an inevitable result of how you will turnout. We should be embracing our differences and celebrating them.

I cannot change anyone’s mind in a 1200 word post. To make an impact or change someone’s mind you have to know the person and their situations. You have to view them through the lens of non-judgment and to understand the choices that have brought them to this very moment. My words are here for those that need strength in their moment of weakness, safe harbor in the storms they endure. To make them realize their lives are important and they do matter. You may very well be the voice that shapes the world to come.

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The Dye Has Been Cast

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

Like many others today, I made my way to the polls to make sure my voice was a part of the cacophony we call democracy. Many view it as a chore but it is also our given right. It’s the chance for us to be a part of a larger collective, to show the government we will be heard and we do matter. This was also my first time voting in Ohio, so there was that added stress. Apparently, not all of Ohio uses the same means for residents to vote, it is county specific. Take Cuyahoga County for instance, we use a scantron method for our votes to be taken. That created its on moment of high school examination dread, when I opened the folder for my ballot.

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Queue the flashback sequence, a la Wayne’s World (party on Garth, Party on Wayne). It would be more apt to say… Pictures it Montgomery County, Virginia November 1992, a small town gay boy makes his way for his first time of entering the booth. Now before you get all pervy on me, I am recalling my first time voting in an election, not a video booth. Sheesh, maybe if you are good we can recount that story, spoiler alert I have never been in one of those booths. Anyway, back to the young boy, going through high school civics/government class we all had training to help man the polls and learn how to use the machines. At that time, Virginia was still using the punch ballot. You essentially would put your card in this machine, line it up, choose your candidates and using a pin push through the paper, and when you were done you would pull a lever to cast your ballot. The machine would reset for the next person. Think slot machine without the payout.

That was nerve-wracking back then, thankfully Virginia now uses an electronic system. Being a Gen X-er, we grew up watching technology evolve, so merging into that type of system wasn’t a hard migration. Moving to Ohio I was unsure what to expect and they didn’t let me down. I decided to vote before work and managed to get there about an hour after the polls opened and took my roommate along for the ride. Of course I grilled him about how it would work, since I hadn’t used a paper ballot since high school. I was expecting a large turn out and it wasn’t bad. The lines moved very quickly and since I screwed up one of my forms I was even able to retrieve a new one and recast in fairly quick time.

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What’s that you say? How could I have screwed up my vote? Well I did mention earlier the flashback to high school examinations with scantron sheets. Early in the morning my eyes haven’t adjusted and have a bit of double vision, combined with this season’s allergies. So, like a good child is known for, I colored outside of the lines. Apparently more than the machine would tolerate. I could joke about an attempt but saying that could be misconstrued and I wouldn’t want Big Brother showing up at home this afternoon.

All in all, we were in and out quickly. Nice to see that things were under control enough to make them move that effortlessly and thank you for the patient people that had to endure me not understanding the intricacies of Cuyahoga County Voting. I just hope that it wasn’t an indication of low voter turnout. I haven’t checked any information for Ohio, as of today, about early turnout versus showing up on Election Day. As of now at 10 am, it’s a bit too early to see any kind of results as to what may be happening. The fate of the country rests firmly in our hands and it’s time to remember that the government should fear its people and not the people who should fear the government. If you haven’t yet, get out there and vote, no matter who or how you choose to vote. Make your voice be heard.

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Sing it from the mountains…

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I can’t stress enough the importance of voting. Recent elections have shown us that deciding factors can be really close and sometimes a few extra votes can swing things wildly. This year is just as important, with it being midterm elections. How we decide to vote, as a people can vastly change how the remaining two years of this Administration play out. For the LGBTQ community, much of the stage for how our rights may be affected hinge on these elections. Many more communities and states are offering up ordinances for the protection of job status for the LGBTQ people and our votes will greatly impact those decisions.

Tomorrow, November 6th is the day to vote. Please make sure you exercise your right to be heard. No matter how you choose to vote, just do it. We live in a word where the very people who run it are trying to pass legislature that will take away basic rights of every individual. They will decide what you can do with your body, what options you have in healthcare or lack thereof, how laws will affect you in the future. Look at each and every item on the ballot for your area and think how you feel about them. If you are unsure of the wording seek help.

Remember, it is important that each of us get the opportunity to exercise our rights to vote. If you are heading to the polls, take someone along with you. Go as a group and make an event of it. Become educated on the issues so you know how and what may affect you. Let your voice be heard. Remember Thomas Jefferson once said, “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” Don’t let this administration that is so keen to publicly spouse hate rhetoric be the only voice that is heard. It is time we speak out, in unison, to let the government know that we are here and we need to be heard.

The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California
The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California, U.S. June 11, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

 

Toxic Avengers

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What we have to realize is that we currently live in a world that categorically is choosing to take away rights from marginalized communities. You have to understand this based on what we are seeing around us in the media. We cannot sit by and let rich, old, white, heterosexual men make the decisions that affect our very livelihood. Are these the people we want deciding if women have the capacity to make correct choices for their bodies, if being transgender is considered human, or who should and should not have rights. We have fought wars over similar principles.

We have a person in office that cannot speak the truth on any topic that comes out of his mouth. During his campaign, he stood on a stage waving a flag handed to him by someone who was supposed to be of the LGBTQ community stating that Trump was for LGBTQ rights, as shown in the picture below. The two years he has been in office has been one action after another that has shown he has no consideration for any LGBTQ person. By March of this year, the DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) had stripped any words of gender from its online documents. Now we know that there is a memo circulating about how this administration wants to make it legal for them to decide what is or is not gender. These same old, rich, white, heterosexual men want to be able to legally decide what gender is to be defined as.

Image: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds up a rainbow flag with "LGBT's for TRUMP" written on it at a campaign rally in Greeley

If this memo were to become a new policy it would allow Title IX to have a redefinition that could affect more than just healthcare. We could see it reach into the educational system, public access, job discrimination, and into the legal system. Title IX states “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Children, who identify, as a different gender than assigned at birth, would no longer have access to restroom, single sex class education, locker rooms, or any other access based on gender. It would remove any protection that transgender would have for discrimination in their jobs or housing. If you are transgender, it would allow anyone to refuse you service or reasonable accommodation due to someone else’s beliefs or definitions of gender.

We have already seen this administration push to the Armed Services not actively recruit transgender people to serve openly in the military. Four courts had turned down this ban, but the administration enacted it in March of this year. It says that any transgender person cannot serve in the military, openly. The only exception is if they were diagnosed under gender dysphoria, however, there are very few actually fell under this diagnosis. To be able to enlist you cannot have starting any transition process, so in essence you have to enlist as the gender you were born under and must continue to serve as that same gender. If you are transgender and have a diagnosis and are currently serving you are fine but if you do not have the diagnosis there is no clear directive of how it may affect you. In the past we have seen punishments like”lack of promotions, denial of deployment, forced discharge for pretextual reasons used against those that didn’t conform to popular mindset.

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In a country that is supposed to separate church and state, we have witness the Supreme Court side on the rights of a cake shop to refuse service to a gay couple based on First Amendment Rights. Freedom of Religions gives you “Freedom of religion means freedom to hold an opinion or belief, but not to take action in violation of social duties or subversive to good order.” Yet, the Supreme Court decided that their views could be used to not serve a specific group of people. We have also seen that the Justice Department fully believes that rights of protection should not be afforded to LGBTQ people. If this were allowed to be rule of the land, it would in essence give any employer the right to fire any employee based on “perceived” sexual orientation. That’s important to note due to them not having to have proof of it, only suspected belief, how else could one proves orientation of someone they do not have personal knowledge of.

In the first year of his presidency, we were witness to the Department of Health and Human Services creating the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom. This group was created and put into action to ensure that healthcare workers religious liberties wasn’t affected in having to deal with LGBTQ patients. Part of the Hippocratic oath states “I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.” By that very wording it is said that the healthcare provider is not to play God, so by denying someone access to what may be life saving means is making that decision

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Lastly, we saw that the Trump administration fired all members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. This doesn’t affect only the LGBTQ people, but ALL people. Yet the importance of this advisory council doesn’t seem to affect this president. Also there have been numerous reports of moving around funds from the Ryan White Fund to help offset detention camps that this administration started to detain children of “illegal immigrants.”

We have to recognize that this administration is toxic to us. We have to be the ones that make the stand. LGBTQ people have fought for the very frail precipice we stand on and we cannot stop that fight or we will be pushed from it. It is now that we must rally in strength and numbers. It is now we must get out there and make our voices heard. Your voice and vote matters so let it be heard. Show up in numbers, ensure that those who cannot get to the polls on their own have the means to go, and talk your friends and family into voting. To change this tide before it swallows us whole will take each and every one of us. Make your voice known.

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History is Family

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As National LGBTQ History month comes to close we should reflect back on the many important people and events that have came before us. They are important because it is what makes our family. My very first boyfriend gave me the most important lesson I still carry with me to this day. It was this, “as LGBTQ we have the special ability to be able to choose our family when the one we are born into turns away from us.” It gives us the ability to leave the pain that may be caused by the people that are supposed to love us unconditionally and find one that will lift our very souls upward. To do that we have to make one simple choice, which is to love ourselves.

Each post I have made this month has been about finding your inner strength through our history. That inner strength promotes pride and love of who you are and want to be. That sense of pride and love in turn forces you to choose a community that accepts you and you in turn hold that community to a higher standard that reflect the very things you hold important in yourself. That community, hopefully, takes those lessons forward to create unity and strength to battle those that would sooner rob us of our very existence. These actions turn into a movement that says we will not be satisfied with being held down any longer and we demand to be seen as equal. With hope and strength, this movement will shape the change for the future to create the better place that those of us who are coming out in the future will be safe in.

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It all comes from you, though. You who are reading these very words are the ones to shape those images into reality. How you choose to take these words and plant them in your heart and soul. How you choose to share your feelings with others. These first steps are always hard trust me, I know. Looking at yourself in the mirror and knowing that you are perfect the way you are and the feelings you feel are completely natural. The strength and love you have in yourself is enough to make you stronger than anyone who tries to tear you down.

I say to you, from the very bottom of my heart, that I am your family. I support the person you know you are deep inside. I see your value and know that you are a beautiful sole. I am here to listen to you when you think no one else will. I am just like you, even though you feel you are the only one. You may not see it at this very moment, but you are strong, stronger than anyone will ever fully understand. Love yourself, forgive yourself, and never give up the fight.

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Coming Out Through the Ages

History is important because it becomes our guidestone for the future. Knowing the steps and struggles that came before us give us a better feel for who we are and where we need to go. Knowing the stories of those who witnessed first hand the hardships that got us to where we are now can even give us the ability to truly love ourselves. Our history is important because it shows our “logical family,” not the family we were born into. It gives us a sense of community in times where the light seems to struggle against the darkness.

Please take a moment and share these coming out stories. Each shows a part of our recent history and what it was live to live through those eras. Many of these people didn’t know the strength they had at the time or the impact they were about to make. And please take a moment to visit Pyeharrisproject.org, the site these videos came from.

Coming out in the 1950s

Coming out in the 1960s

Coming out in the 1970s

Coming out in the 1980s