Not Just Another Anti-Blackface Blog

Posted: 02/09/2013 by erichblayde in Drag Queen, Racism, Transition
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Ok. Seriously.

STOP THE RIDE I WANT TO GET OFF!

Yesterday morning I woke up (as one tends to do in the beginning of their day) and did my usual first-thing-in-the-morning facebook perusing, coffee drinking, cigarette smoking study of my universe as I see it.

Now there are coffee stains on my carpet dammit.

“Why drop your coffee?” You may be well asking this as those who know me know that coffee is a precious, life giving substance to me and is protected far more than the blood in my veins (seriously, I cut myself all the time and dont care, but I panic when I knock over my coffee) . Well darlings it dropped because I see something I have given my entire life to, threatened by a putrid, stinking mire of racism in a dress. It dropped because I never expected to see that it was homosexuals suborning racial and cultural stereotyping, nevermind falling all over themselves to defend/justify it. It dropped because a group of gay people who were more than willing to drive 8 hours out of their way to help their neighbors fight for gay rights didn’t bat an eyelash (pun fully intended) at booking a white man from Texas to tromp around the stage of an honored gay establishment in a house dress and black face make up, making cracks about having 19 children and other disgusting racial stereotypes.

It’s called a blackface act, and it’s plain disgusting.

When I first started doing drag as a king in Nanaimo years ago, drag was a revered art form. The queens were the ones that were always there for anyone with a cause and enough gumption to stand up for it. I was a scrawny teenage lesbian just beginning to explore the vast reaches of my world and my gender and those queens took me in no questions asked. They nurtured my wild and crazy ideas (though they had no problem barking at me if they had to), they sheltered me through the worst of the hurt and they taught me about the rules of the gay road. I would most likely have drank myself to death or committed suicide if it wasn’t for their eyelash batting parentage of the young ball of gender confusion I was. They held my hand, patted me on the ass, worried about me when I pulled a no show and eventually let me into their world and on to their stages.

And let me tell you, being on those stages was a treat.

Back then drag was drag of a different sort. You had your camp queens, your divas, your working queens and your kings (somehow we always lumped the kings together despite them having as many variations as the girls.) You had an order to your shows (the divas always went last and brought down the house) and no queen, EVER had to apologize for what she did in her numbers, because there were clearly defined lines, and if you didn’t follow them you weren’t likely to be welcome back in that bar (in either boy or girl drag) for a good long while.

Although I was happy being the little king among all the queens, as I began to transition I began to see myself and my art in a different light. I began to see in myself the desire and potential to be up there in the lights, not with a goatee and a pair of trousers, but with an up do and shimmering makeup. I made the mistake of voicing that opinion at an after show dinner one night in Vancouver and was shocked at the viciousness of the reactions I received. “Drop it” was a favorite, as was “not fucking likely” and one or two “go to hell, I wouldn’t even talk to you if you showed up like that” I thought perhaps I had best drop it (gee, wonder what would have given me that idea?). So I did, and I continued on as a king as best I knew how. My community was too precious to me to risk on a whim, so I continued performing as a male, moved to Vancouver and tried to put the whole thing out of my head.

But one day I saw a king go too far.

On a little stage in Vancouver I watched someone who normally performed as a king come out, his face painted black, wearing a dress, and begin to birth babies while flipping pancakes on a grill, repeatedly stepping on the multitude of stuffed cats strewn around the stage and guzzling cheap cola. The audience ate up every second of it, with the majority of them yelling and cheering him on. I didn’t even know what the hell to do until I found myself racing to the stage with a host of other drag artists and forming a human wall to stop the performance. I felt sick to my stomach looking into the eyes of this person and knowing that they truly felt this type of “show” was drag. It was the first blackface act to come to Vancouver’s stages and it rocked me in a way I hadn’t thought possible. To me the cheapness of the scene not only degraded all the other acts in the show but the audience as well. I dropped my number for the night right there and then because performing after that abomination felt like I would be suborning racist stereotypes and making it “ok”

And trust me, blackface is never ok.

In the months that followed my first look at blackface, I found myself missing the drag ideals I was raised on to a point I never thought possible. Finally I resolved that no matter the cost I would do what I had always known I should, I would begin to perform as a drag queen and I would make sure to always, ALWAYS embody the rules and ideals that carried me through my youth. The first time I tried dressing queen, I went out to a mostly heterosexual fetish night to test the waters and found that, as usual, everyone loves a queen. Having been “brought up” on stages and in back rooms, I had a fairly good idea of what to do in a dress and it all went swimingly.

Until we went to the gay bar for a night cap.

The venom started spewing from the moment the first person recognized me and it didn’t stop until well into the next day. I was agog at the vitriol spewing from the mouths of those I considered family and could not fathom how the manner in which I went pee had anything to do with how well I could do drag. I was a man in a dress and I was just like them. Wasn’t I? They certainly didn’t seem to agree. My first shows went well, I chose safe venues, performed to classic music I knew everyone loved, and yet there was always that chorus in the background, bitching about me, calling me a freak, gay voices raised in anger, denying me my freedom for no valid reasoning. But I kept on, I ignored the hatred leveled against me and continued to perform what I wanted, how I wanted. I addressed those who spoke against me in the most loving manner I could, tried my best to educate them about what I did and how it was no different from any other queen.

And slowly…ever so damn slowly, I carved myself a place as Vancouver’s first FtM transgender drag queen. It took years and years of work, and more patience than I knew I possessed, but as years passed more trans drag emerged, more voices joined my own and the liberation of drag continued. Unfortunately, so did its decline. The drag queens of my youth were replaced by younger models that, while still fabulash as all hell, most held neither the emanation of power, nor embodied the sense of community strength that queens of yesteryear did. Drag became a moneymaker and the new avant garde policy was “no cash, no lash”. Ostensibly this was to cover the costs of drag essentials, but I have my own feelings about that (Bloody greedy I tell you, drag is a love for an art that often takes all your extra money. If you don’t have that much money, learn to frigging sew)

Despite my parting of the ways with the ideals of the new drag culture, I consider the girls of today just as much a part of my family as my drag mothers from the early years. Why? Because being a man in a dress isn’t easy. Because being good at it is even harder. It takes commitment. It takes a love of and understanding of both yourself and your community. It takes a lot of hard worked hours and more than a few panic attacks and last minute adjustments.

It is a craft.

And it’s a craft I have dedicated my life to learning, my heart to fighting for, and my time to proliferating. To read yesterday that a well respected gay bar in Portland had tried to book one of the most line-crossingly offensive, most racist, blackface acts and not only booked it but then tried to defend it as “comedy” and “art” when people freaked out and got highly offended?!

That hurt.

And to see that this was being billed as a drag act? That was the line right there. I don’t care if you are a man in a dress. Blackface is NOT drag it is a disgrace. And it has no place in the gay community. I mean really, we get marriage rights and suddenly we’re all “equal”? We get one tiny victory and we’re all suddenly better than and thus able to tromp all over the “lower” classes? And to do this we nominate a white dude from Texas who does the tromping under the label of “drag”?! Get a hold of yourselves! Stop thinking that just because the years have moved by that the ideals of yesterday are no longer valid. Stop thinking that because we have “equality” in fewer than 20 percent of the world that the battle has been won and we can now turn to dividing up our newly won “community”. Stop tearing into each other because of simple word usage choices. Stop disparaging your compatriots because they’re wearing armani not d&g. Stop thinking that because you spend all your hours in gyms and barbers and tanning studios that you are better than and can therefore look down upon. Stop forgetting your roots.

Love each other. Love yourself. Or don’t. But for gods sake STOP this petty foolishness!

And you can start with taking a good look at drag, it’s history and its place in this community. Drag isn’t a dress and some lip movements, it’s so much more than that. It’s being able to make that dress and those lip movements cross lines of gender, socio-economic statuses, culture and many more. Drag is being able to make that dress and those lip movements encompass the hearts of your entire audience, to bring them all home to the roots of their varying communities in the space of three minutes. Drag is timeless art poured forth from your heart.

And this queen is more than willing to defend it from the likes of black face artists and anyone else that wants to tarnish it.

 

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