I deeply respect and appreciate the work, talent, and heart that went into this semester’s Drag Show, as well as those of previous semesters. However, it’s seemed to me lately that it has strayed from its original purpose.
I came to Grinnell as a straight, cisgender individual with no concept of queerness, and the Drag Show that I attended in my first semester blew me away with its positive energy. Yet now, as a definitely-not-straight person trending toward genderqueer (lol just came out), I can’t help but be disappointed by some of the acts.
Again, there are a lot of extremely talented dancers at Grinnell, but a stageful of cisgender (and mostly straight) people wearing tight shiny outfits that match their gender identities is not drag—it’s sex positivity. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with sex positivity; however, this is not necessarily the correct venue for it. To me, at least, the underlying purpose of Drag Show is to play with gender expression, to challenge what we accept to be normal.
It may not be intentional, but the Dragless Drag acts seem to undermine and dismiss the struggles with identity and expression that many queer people face regularly. To be clear, I acknowledge that gender is a particularly relevant and sensitive topic for me right now. But I’m still frustrated.
Every time I need to purchase new clothes, I feel equally uncomfortable in the women’s and men’s section: the former because I don’t actually want to wear most of the garments, and the latter because I know that anyone who sees me there will make assumptions. And every day when I get dressed, I feel the unease associated with the fact that no matter how I present myself, again, people will get me wrong. If I endure this discomfort on a daily basis, why can’t our Drag Show performers deal with it for a couple of hours? I thought the whole point of drag was to go beyond our norms, including our comfort zones. (In fact, the fact that I felt so comfortable as Troy Bolton in last semester’s Drag Show made me realize that I was not so much performing drag as openly expressing a facet of my identity for the first time.)
But wait, there’s more! I’ve always felt vaguely uncomfortable watching those unfortunately common acts that feature a single (or, if we’re lucky, two) performer in drag, accompanied by sexy cis backup dancers. A friend of mine recently pointed out why this is wrong: it sends the message that queerness is a spectacle. I consider a vital component of Drag Show to be normalization. Up on that stage, queerness is the norm, or rather, there is no norm because anything goes. But the One Token Queer acts do just the opposite: they suggest that queerness cannot be celebrated for its own sake; it must be compared to normative expression by parading it about as an anomaly in order to validate assigning it any significance.
Again, I know that this is not intended, but I’d like to challenge those who view Drag Show as just an opportunity to show off their sexy dance moves to reconsider the way they approach it in the future. I am open to reasonable discussion with anybody, so feel free to send an email at [kornbluh].