There’s something I’ve mentioned in passing a couple of times that I’ve come to realize really needed its own post.
Today I want to talk about the people who have a nasty, selfish, bigoted interest in preserving an artificial inviolate line between trans women and drag queens, even though clearly no such line exists.
It is transmisogynistic. It is a big ol’ mess of internalized misogyny. It is all around gross.
When you say, “drag queens do this and trans women do this,” you are making a whole slew of decisions for a whole slew of people, and it is none of your business.
It is disgusting the lengths that some people will go to to invisibilize the contributions trans women make to the drag world. There are many, many trans women who work as drag queens, and you erase them with your hate.
What it all comes to down to is the idea of the ideal trans woman: she who has had electrolysis and a series of surgeries so that she can ‘set it and forget it.’
Wait, I take it back. It goes further than that: what it really comes down to is the perverted notion of the ideal woman.
The ideal woman, so this worldview goes, should be able to roll out of bed and show her face as is to the world. She’s supposed to buy thousands of dollars worth of cosmetics but never use them, because then misogynists and women who have absorbed the misogynist worldview will call her a slut, a vamp, a temptress, a whore.
So then, the ideal trans woman is supposed to have her Adam’s apple shaved off and all the hair permanently removed from her face and she should never, ever try to enhance her appearance with makeup. Although here’s 15 hours worth of makeup videos we’re going to make you watch so that you can master techniques that we will call you a slut and a traitor for using.
[PS: if you’re over the age of 25, you have to know how to use cosmetics to cover up the fact that you’re aging without ever giving anyone the faintest hint that you’re aging and wearing cosmetics to conceal that fact.]
It’s not mysterious that these awful bigoted notions should arise. Cisgender women are constantly keeping each other in check, making sure they “don’t look like drag queens.” All you need to understand this tension is to walk down any makeup aisle in America: there’s all of this shimmery, dramatic makeup that you’re supposed to buy, but never use.
I’ve talked to my girlfriends about this. I hold up a shimmery purple eyeshadow and I say, “could I even pay you to wear this?” And even the women who wear makeup scream NO and laugh at the very prospect.
They make this makeup for somebody. And although I’m sure second-wave-style transphobes would have you believe otherwise, there are simply not enough drag queens in the world for companies like Maybelline and CoverGirl to benefit from making products just for us. Hell, maybe these cosmetics are designed to make and then fill a hole in your confidence.
But it’s gross that people should be penalized for actually wearing them.
I know the tide is turning, I know. The past few years have seen more femme acceptance than I’ve ever seen in my life. Although, 1) that’s not saying much, and 2) I’ve already enumerated some of the problems that entails.
The tide is turning, but darn it, it’s not fast enough.
The gross, bigoted ingrained notions that most people take for granted about this alleged hard line between performing in drag and transfemininity really came to a head for me during the Al and Chuck Drag Race Cruise debacle. After banning drag on this DRAG CRUISE, the involved parties assured everyone that this policy wouldn’t affect trans guests.
The obvious conclusion to be drawn was that this policy wouldn’t affect the ideal trans woman. There’s a notion lurking just barely under the surface (provided that you care to see it or can’t avoid seeing it because of who you are) that gender norms on this cruise will be strictly enforced. Don’t you dare do a smokey eye, you bad, bad trans woman, you: you’re a traitor, and you will be debarked from this boat at your expense! And don’t you DARE think about putting on that wig. There’s the plank, lady. We’ve decided you’re a drag queen now, ‘cos you didn’t live up to our rules.
While cisgender women are forgiven for the occasional flight of fancy – with a strong lip or a strong eye, NEVER both – trans women are not afforded the same leeway, even and especially if it’s their job.
When you whip up and/or reenforce this artificial line, you spit on the memory of pioneers like Marsha P. Johnson, a trans woman AND a drag queen who led the Stonewall Riots and fought equally to help the struggling street queens and trans women of NYC along with her sister in arms, Sylvia Rivera.
You spit on the likes of Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn, trans women artists working in the medium of drag.
You spit on the likes of Mx Justin Vivian Bond, a world-renowned and Tony-nominated drag queen and pioneer for people living beyond the binary. You spit on Candis Cayne, long famed as a drag queen before she became the first trans woman to play a trans woman in a prominent role on network TV.
You spit on my friends who are trans women and drag queens.
Cisgender and transgender drag queens don’t seem to find this hard to understand. So why is it so hard for everybody else?
Policing the gender expression of trans women is inextricably linked with the policing of the gender expression of cisgender women, and it plays out in the sick tension between the worldviews of advertisers and moralizers. Wear all the makeup, don’t wear any makeup – but make the choice for yourself, and don’t pretend that your choice is the same choice everyone else should make.
Big Mama Schlomo