Drag Queens, Trannies & Misogyny Oh My!

 It’s been a while since I’ve written an LGBTQI-related post. Since I’m not directly part of that community and am always mindful of appropriation I will usually only write something when I think it will be most useful. There are many great blogs and writers covering topics of importance catering to that audience as well but I know that we each have unique voices with something to offer. Since this has come up as a topic to be addressed I knew I had to write about trans-misogyny.

Thanks to the continued subversive behavior of gays and lesbians many of us who identify as hetereo are understandably confused about the difference between a drag queen and a trans woman. Many people mistakenly think they are interchangeable and some variation of “a guy who plays at being a woman”. Then, if you add cross-dressers to the mix or gender queers it gets even more confusing. It needs to be addressed.

Since I’m writing this for a mostly cis gender hetero (female) audience I’ll try to keep this as simple as possible for you. Cis gay men typically do drag. Think of it as a performance (some will say tribute) – like a clown putting on very distinctive makeup and style of dress – so you recognize that performer as one. They like to emulate and imitate cis gender straight women, especially famous ones who’ve been adopted as icons. Think Cher. Tina Turner. Madonna. Liza. Lady Gaga. There has to be something over the top with their persona. Yes, Lady Gaga has manipulated her image to have people question whether she is a trans woman but the response to that would be an entire blog post.

hI haven’t touched on some of the more troubling aspects when some decide to take an exaggerated view of a “sassy” black woman that very quickly falls into a racio-misogynistic stereotype. Cis straight men tend to be cross-dressers. Trust me when I say that doing a Google search on terms will net you a wealth of research information that you can do as an aside to this conversation. Oh and let me explain what cis gender means. Basically it’s the majority population. As with any dominant group often the non-dominant groups will be much better-versed in their functionality and nuances than the reverse. When it comes to gender, identity and expression are not always placed into boxes.

Cis gender as defined in Wikipedia: Cisgender (pronounced /ˈsɪsdʒɛndər/) is an adjective used in the context of genderissues and counselling to refer to a class of gender identities formed by a match between an individual’s gender identity and the behavior or role considered appropriate for one’s sex.[1]Cisgender is a neologism that means “someone who is comfortable in the gender they were assigned at birth”, according to Calpernia Addams.[2]“Cisgender” is used to contrast “transgender” on the gender spectrum.[citation needed]

 As I’ve stated a lot of the blame for the confusion belongs at the feet of cis gays and lesbians who you might be shocked to discover are often opposed to trans men and women, but especially trans women. I’d say it’s about jockeying for power and dominance and perhaps a little jealousy. The problem further escalates anytime there’s legislation involved. Some legislation that would grant same gender couples to marry as written has nullified the marriages of a trans partner with their non-trans mate.

If you think that sounds ridiculous it is, but the majority LGBTQI leadership (which still looks your average white guy convention running things) wants to dictate the terms for everyone. As you can imagine when other people speak for you they can easily miss the mark (even in having this conversation I will not please everyone). Not to mention they’ve erased you from the conversation.

So why aren’t more trans men and women speaking up? If they’re not engaging and educating then misconceptions will continue to be pervasive. One of issues is the very danger trans women and men who identify themselves or are recognized are in. Google search for Duanna Johnson. Or Brandon Teena. The danger does not only come from heteros, but from others part of the “rainbow” tribe as well. This is why we need to have these conversations to begin with.  Active engagement from people we can relate to helps greatly.

 There is a documented history of exclusion and actual physical violence even amongst LGBTQIs. Then there’s this commercialization of drag with shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race. Since he publicly declared support for a white cis gay male, Charles Knipp,  who claims to be a comedian, while dressing in racial drag (blackface) and putting on a fat suit to portray a black woman he calls Shirley Q. Liquor who speaks in ebonics and has 19 out of wedlock children for mostly white cis gay audiences for LAUGHS and PROFIT, RuPaul is not someone I can support. Being marginalized doesn’t mean you can’t marginalize someone else. It’s a mess!

Even in San Francisco where I’ve lived for eight years, may be considered by some to be the “big gay mecca” – which in and of itself is a quandary – has a nightclub called “Trannyshack” where the servers are supposed to be trans. Remember the “big secret” plot twist from the movie “The Crying Game”. It took me all of three seconds to figure that one out.

Many cis lesbians and gays still use the slur even though they know better. Some think it’s harmless. Some don’t care. I also don’t like when gay males use the word “b*tch” as if their gayness gives them cover for using a word women would rightfully find offensive when used by cis men. It’s a slippery slope because our thoughts lead to our speech which leads to action, which leads to a whole lotta trouble! Think of whatever appropriate slur word for your particular ethnic group comes to mind and you will begin to understand how the word tranny is offensive.

I used it in my title for a reason though. I want drag queen to get flagged along with the slur so that other people start connecting the dots to why it’s unacceptable.  You may be wondering what prompted this post. I had a face-to-face conversation with a cis gender woman who does a lot of good work involving HIV prevention but I’d noticed her marginalization of trans women was a common enough thread for me that it made me uncomfortable. Since I had to opportunity to speak to her in person I did so. I let her figure out what I’d found troublesome instead of telling her. I had hoped the realization would have the greater impact. I don’t think she appreciated it either way but sometimes we have to have the unpleasant conversations to be better people. I’m no authority nor do I have all the answers but when we dehumanize people in the slightest we become part of the problem. Apathy causes just as much damage as direct aggression.

This was also why  wrote the blog posts referencing Perez Hilton and GLAAD last summer (I can’t believe it’s been one year!) after he got into that physical confrontation with the manager from the Black Eyed Peas and used the word faggot after he contributed to destroying Isaiah Washington’s career for allegedly using it. I demanded they take action and they did. Yes, I’m still surprised to this day.  I want to be part of a continuing dialog that sheds light in dark places. Hence the post.




P.S. It’s the one year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s passing. I’m only interested in remembering the feeling I got listening to many of the songs he recorded — not condoning his behavior. Here’s my post from last year.


13 Replies to “Drag Queens, Trannies & Misogyny Oh My!”

  1. yeah, as a trans woman myself, i'm annoyed by the fact that most people equate being trans to being a drag queen: a mockery of a woman, a mockery of transsexuals, etc. in my opinion, drag is the blackface of transsexualism and only sets trans people back because when people think of transsexuals, they picture these idiots in drag.

    1. People don't know. It also doesn't help when others in the LGBT perpetuate those stereotypes. More education about these issues will help greatly but at some point accountability has to be enforced.

  2. Faith, I am a male-to-female transsexual in my second year of transition. I am impressed with your sensitivity, compassion, and perspicacity, not to mention your verve, in calling gay performance drag to be the ugly thing that it is: a propaganda of hate, a message of misogyny.

    Gay drag is so nauseatingly routine, always an outrageously over-the-top portrayal of the feminine as: (a) phony, (b) silly, (c) ruttishly sexual, (d) evil, or (e) all of the above.

    There is a reason rape and violence against women persist in such epidemic proportions, a reason women draw only three-quarters the income of men, a reason why women so often fail to receive the respect they deserve in this regime and cult of the masculine. That reason is stereotypes. As with all destructive prejudice, stereotypes fuel and perpetuate the cruel symptoms that erupt from the disease. In the case of the prejudice against women, the stereotypes that inflict so much damage are that the feminine is (a) phony, (b) silly, (c) ruttishly sexual, (d) evil, or (e) all of the above.

    You called blackface "racial drag.” I am with you. In like fashion, I call gay drag “sexual blackface.” Drag and blackface are not, as their apologists so claim, performance art, but rather hate propaganda, each form employing outrageous makeup and dress to exploit, for comic effect, the stereotypes that fuel and perpetuate a cruel, abiding prejudice against a disadvantaged class.

    Just as the white men who donned blackface did not identify as black men, so the men who today don drag do not identify as women. Offstage, drag “queens” refer to one another as "he”, and in their private lives they revere the very phalluses that they “tuck” before going onstage to mock and denigrate the feminine.

    Their shtick is not harmless fun. Gay drag has severe consequences. The rate of violence against transgender women is staggering. Just last month, here in Seattle, a transgender woman was savagely beaten in broad daylight as she waited at a bus stop, her attacker spewing epithets of hate. Such virulence is fed by the very stereotypes that are the stock-in-trade of gay drag.

    You asked why more transgender men and women are not speaking up about the evils of gay drag. Good question. An equally good question is why more women are not speaking up. An answer that may work for both questions is that we women are so marinated, rubbed, broiled, and skewered by misogyny that our brains have been cooked by it. Misogyny is such an integral part of this dominant masculine cult that we usually don’t notice it, even as it slaps us in the face.

    The evil of gay drag is not just a trans issue. It is a women’s issue. I can attest that some of the worst treatment I have suffered in my transition is not because I am transsexual, but because I am a woman. When I finally suffered an instance of discrimination directly related to being a transgender person, I realized that the transphobia that fueled the discriminatory treatment was nothing more nor less than the same misogyny I had begun experiencing after I started transition. Misogyny and transphobia are one and the same. If we women overcome misogyny, we overcome transphobia. And the corollary follows: we cannot possibly overcome transphobia unless and until we overcome misogyny.

    And this brings us to the worst part of the problem. It sounds odd, but it’s true: some feminists are among the most virulent misogynists. Far too many women believe (a) to get ahead in this world, you’ve got to think and act like a man; (b) if a woman thinks and acts like a man, she deserves the full rewards of masculine privilege; but (c) if a woman thinks or acts like a woman, she deserves everything she gets (including being mocked and denigrated by drag queens).

    I disagree vehemently with that ilk of feminist. This world is spiraling deep into disaster, not because femininity is (a) phony, (b) silly, (c) ruttishly sexual, (d) evil, or (e) all of the above, but because too many of our leaders “think and act like men,” because far too much testosterone and pseudo-testosterone pumps in the boardroom, the pulpit, and the halls of government.

    We women are the change we need, our femininity the very salvation we seek.

    On YouTube, there’s a video from 1950’s television of the comedy team Vernon and Ryan donning blackface onstage and going into their shtick, portraying black men as stupid, lazy, and oh-so-jolly. The audience thought this was oh-so-funny. Well, in the years thereafter, black men began standing up, demanding that the world see that they weren’t stupid and lazy, and that they were anything but “oh-so-jolly.” By 1993, when Ted Danson donned blackface at a Friar’s Roast, nobody in the audience was laughing. Danson’s foolish indiscretion was the low point of his career, and he spent years apologizing. He still hasn’t lived it down. Someday -- and I hope to see this in my lifetime -- a man will go onstage in drag, and nobody will laugh, and it will be the low point of his career, and he will spend years apologizing.

    When you ask why more trans men and women are not speaking up about the evils of drag, I can say this for sure: at least one of us is speaking up. I am speaking up, though, not so much as a transgender person, but as a woman.

    So, my dear, that makes two of us, doesn’t it?

    And me? Well, I'm just starting to get warmed up.

    1. Colleen: Thank you for commenting. I don't where to begin to respond to you. I used to attend drag shows knowing it's a part of gay culture but I hadn't tied it to being a form of oppression towards trans women until recently. I had a lot of gay male friends in my 20's (and no trans friends) so I didn't give it much thought at the time. I had no idea the history of inter-group antagonism that exists.

      Now having said that, I'm not sure if in every instance the performer involved is doing so with expressed prejudice against trans women but it is certainly something to think about. I appreciate that you got something out of the post since I was trying to have a conversation that is wrought with misunderstanding. I had 2 trans women furious with me for using the "T" word but unlike ni**er ot bi*ch most people wouldn't recognize it if it didn't reveal the whole word. Plus most straight people do not know it's viewed as offensive when so many LGBs use it.

      It's why I ask about more trans men and women coming forward to try to control the message disseminated and to educate. Anyway, I appreciate your encouraging words as I had decided to stop having these conversations if I was going to be in conflict with other trans women in particular. I don't shy away from having challenging conversations but I need to see some benefit in doing so.

      I am still interested in dismantling injustice.

    2. Colleen, another reason more women do not speak up on this topic is that they are afraid that to do so would come across as anti-LGBT, or that to even be bothered and/or offended by it is to be anti-LGBT. Some of my friends, who consider themselves very LGBT-friendly, are in fact enamored with drag and those that perform it. When I tell them what bothers me about it, they either do not understand, or they say "Yeah, I can see how you might feel that way", and then dismiss it. A gay male acquaintance joked that "gay men secretly want to be black women", when talking about 'sassiness", and when I tried to point out that this statement was based on a stereotype of what black women are like, again my position was acknowledged but then dismissed. I think here again there is this belief that because one is part of a marginalized segment of the population, or because one considers oneself open-minded and not a racist/misogynist/homophobe/etc, that it is okay to make jokes or comments that are at heart, offensive.

  3. I would guess that the reason that transgendered people are part of the same community as Gays and Lesbians is because the oppression that affects them all is the same oppression from generally the same sources. Also, many transgendered people are gays or lesbians, and vice-versa. Also, the Gay Rights Movement began in no small part due to the backlash from police oppression of trans people in Gay bars and cafeterias, such as Compton's Cafeteria in San Francisco's Tenderloin and the Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich Village.

    A lot of trans people are homosexual. A lot of trans people are also people of color. It isn't like people stay in one neat little box for their entire existence, after all. Lots of people can check off multiple boxes.

    1. Friday Jones: I'm not sure where you've visited but as a long time San Francisco resident I haven't heard of any long-standing oppression in the Tenderloin. Stonewall was a few decades ago as well. I've also been informed that transgendered is an incorrect description. Thanks for your feedback.

  4. Maybe I'm confused, and clearly this is not my area of expertise as a cis-gendered (btw, I hate this term) woman I don't understand why trans-people want to be a part of the gay community. Unless I'm mistaken they're not the same thing. It strikes me as very much as trying to stick a square peg in a round hole (no pun intended.) Rather than add onto the alphabet (LGB…yadda…yadda…yadda), I would I think the trans-gendered would simply form a category all to themselves. I've read article after article about the adversarial relationship between them and gays. That being the case, why keep trying to force themselves into a group where they're not wanted?

    1. Roslyn -- You know that's a very good question. I read/hear about the continued inter-group conflicts and wonder about that myself. In fact I had someone upset with me for even using the "T" word to begin with even though I'd say most people do not know it's considered inappropriate when it is used by other trans folks as well. So who knows whether this post was as useful as I'd hoped but I did try to have a dialog.

    1. There is plenty to discuss regarding Michael Jackson's behavior but we will agree to disagree. Besides that was NOT the topic of this post.

  5. Great post -- but a question: you identify the word "tranny" as a slur in the body of the post, but use it in the title. This is contradictory and weakens your other, really awesome, points.

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