I had never been a fan of drag.
Actually, that’s wrong.
For years, I’d been almost vehemently opposed to drag. I saw in it a whole lot of things that weren’t there, but perhaps the worst of all, I saw drag as a refutation of masculinity.
Over the last few years though, masculine is one of those words I’ve been increasingly railing against, to the point where I now have to say: it’s a bullshit word. It has everything to do with casting our perceptions of what we do or don’t like onto others. It is entirely a perceived notion, but perhaps even more so in the gay world than the straight world, it’s become a club to use against being different. Not even being different from the norm, of course, but being different from ourselves. I’ve been guilty of using it in the past, but no more.
When RuPaul’s Drag Race first started to air, 6 seasons ago, I watched a couple of episodes but found it intensely uncomfortable. Short of a couple of reasonably appalling movies I’d seen Divine in while growing up, I’d never been exposed to drag. (I grew up in a small country town, was non-scene and was a repressed extrovert. Don’t roll your eyes at me.)
I didn’t think too much of why I found Drag Race uncomfortable, but I know that stupid word, masculinity was dancing around in my head.
Funnily enough, getting involved in the bear community in Melbourne finally let me frankly re-evaluate the exclusiveness of using the term masculine. Many say that the bear community is the most inclusive of all gay sub-groups, but for various reasons after a couple of years in the community I’ve sat the last year out, and I’m inclined to say it’s no better (or worse) in terms of inclusiveness than the other groups. It is, perhaps more than all the other groups however, poisoned by the notion of masculinity.
- Only muscled, hairy men can be bears. That’s masculine.
- Any man with facial fur can be a bear. That’s masculine.
- Any man with a hairy body can be a bear. That’s masculine.
- (A bear is any man who’s masculine. That’s an endless loop, waiting to happen.)
- Any man who …
You get the picture.
Having withdrawn from the bear scene for almost a year, I suddenly found myself watching Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race as it aired. There was none of that original discomfort watching it – instead, I was drawn to it. (Not to the point of doing drag myself, of course. Me, in a wig and makeup? I’d look like the love child of The Addams Family. Of all of them.) For the first time ever I actually found myself appreciating what went into drag – the costuming, the make-up preparation, and an indomitably intense self-respect of “I am Me. You be what you want” that is implicit in the artists doing drag.
I found myself initially barracking for Courtney Act, the first Australian in the competition, but within just a few weeks switched to Bianca Del Rio, with Milk a quirky favourite as well. And of course, RuPaul, herself.
I watched the show, I loved the show, but I learnt more about masculinity watching Drag Race than I had in the 40 years of my life before. Drag Race was the final nail in the coffin of masculinity for me. It taught me that perhaps out of all the labels we see applied to men, it’s the dumbest and most meaningless of the lot.
It’s easy to rail against social justice warriors. They went on the attack during this series over the use of She Mail. They latch onto and get upset about almost anything as a bizarre instantiation of attention-seeking. To quote RuPaul herself:
These are fringe people who are looking for storylines to strengthen their identity as victims.
RuPaul Responds to Controversy over the word ‘Tranny’, Huffington Post, James Nichols, 22 May 2014.
This isn’t just true of people who want to police the word ‘tranny’; it’s true of all social justice warriors that go too far, regardless of whether they’re talking about gender identity, race, religion (or lack thereof), sexuality or anything else they latch onto.
Including masculinity. It’s time to call time-out on that social justice warrior invective, just like the other forms.
Meanwhile, I can’t wait for September, where I’ll be going to a Bianca Del Rio show in Melbourne, and thanks to some VIP tickets, actually get to meet her.
And I’ll be eagerly waiting for season 7.