Recently I was backstage at a show when a young person in a black dress (We’ll call her X) came into the back with three or four other people who were obviously performing in the show. These people began to get their faces on and I noticed that while X was helping one person another performer from the same group was assisting one of their troupe in putting on lipstick. When completed the performer who had been being helped turned to X and said something along the lines of “how does it look?” That’s a pretty normal question to hear in green rooms I find, most of us like to check things out with our dressers or fellow performers to get a second opinion (nothing wrong with that) However, if you are the one being asked you generally know that there are appropriate commentaries to make – even if you despise someone’s look it really isn’t about your taste in face is it? They are asking you for an opinion and most older performers have learned to look past their own taste and focus on the technical side of things. How will it read on stage? Are the lines too light? Too heavy? How dark is the contour – in a stage setting will it add or detract from the face? And if you have some critique you try to frame it gently, to advise or query the reason for. After all, even if you are there for every one of their rehearsals you don’t know the feeling they are trying to create and never bloody mind the fact that you are not them and can’t ever really know what they are thinking
What you VERY rarely hear backstage is someone telling someone else “That’s not drag. It looks terrible. It’s wrong.”
But that was precisely what came out of X’s mouth when asked for an opinion about the lips worn by this other troupe member. Please note dear readers – I do not know the preferred genders of any of the individuals involved, nor as I so succinctly stated above, do I think I know everything about them, their performance, their outside relationship or any of the rest of it. Perhaps that’s what is bugging me so goddamn much about this incident….When is it alright to turn to someone and say “That’s wrong” or “You look like a lipstick lesbo” or “You’re not doing drag right”….is there really a right way to “do” drag? Is there ever a time it’s ok to say such things to a performer? As far as I could tell the only thing that (eventually) got changed on the lips was to add lipliner which, to be totally damn truthful is NOT something that every queen uses! So does that mean that every queen that doesn’t wear it is wrong in the world of X? Was it really even about the bloody lipliner? What the HELL possessed X to think that turning around and trashing someone was drag anyway? Because really if someone trashed me like that I would have a pretty low starting opinion of them.
I’m still trying to sort out why this incident bugged the shit out of me so badly but by golly it’s still eating away at me three days later. Maybe it’s because I recently had a run in with someone who, while having a ton to teach me and my obviously needing the lessons she could teach still took the time to not tear me down too hard. Oh I got read alright, but I got read in a way that didn’t feel like an attack, rather it drove me to want to learn and grow more than ever. Maybe it’s because that night, sitting in that dressing room, helping fellow performers where needed, I truly felt confident in my look and in my skills and I feared someone trying to tear them down. Or maybe because I believe that drag is about a community and I am tired of seeing bullshit tear it apart.
I am tired of hearing queens (and kings) talking out their privileged asses about things that, for some of us are no joking matter. Of course the fairness in my soul tells me that for all I know the performer tossing around the word “jew” or the person wielding the word “tranny” like it was the last adverb on earth may well be Jewish, or trans*, or even just someone who has had that word used on them so many times their only form of coping is to use it in a bid to reclaim it, but at the same time I think there has to be a sense of who’s in the room with you, a check of how they are reacting to what you’re saying. And this goes for me too, I am certainly not immune to foot mouth syndrome and I know damn well that the world is changing so fast I have never felt like I have done enough learning about other walks of the road or sensitive issues that one should stay away from. And I know I say things sometimes that need to be corrected or educated. Hell, go ahead and educate, that’s why I’m here!
But I think, education or not, trashing someone’s drag is never ok. Using words that have a long history of being used in a pejorative manner without caution or care is never ok. So too, assuming you know the whole story about an incident is a not ok thing. As is playing the role of PC police, which I devoutedly hope I have managed to convey I am NOT trying to be. For myself, now that I have gotten the incident out on “paper” I am going to hope it floats out of my mind, and that you, my amazing readers, have some feedback that helps me learn and grow around these things. However, on the whole, I think of it like this: with all the attacks and threats and sticky situations we as queer people find ourselves in, this was a minor thing that while needing to be addressed, is a fortunately solvable problem that did not involve bleeding, human rights violations or assault. I’d call that a good thing
It certainly did make me wonder about what the hell was going on in that green room that night though.