Vancouver
3 min

Is drag dead?

Everything new is old again

I am bored of drag. There, I’ve said it. Let the chips fall where they may.

Actually, I don’t feel so cavalier about it. It feels like a terribly disrespectful thing to say about something that is such a huge part of gay life. So before you get your thong in a knot, let me say I am not bored of all drag. Perhaps more importantly, I have big respect for anyone willing to step on stage, period. One day I will stop qualifying my arguments, but until then let me just say that I am not criticizing drag as much as I am questioning it.

In high school we knew that at some point during the Christmas dance in the gym, the DJ would play Trooper’s “Raise a Little Hell” (we would all clap hard in unison at the required part) and “Stairway to Heaven” would close-out the evening.

Nowadays, we can be sure that every gay event will have drag acts. Perhaps these acts have become such a given that we don’t really give them too much thought. Now, I have been told on more than one occasion that I overanalyze things, but maybe there is a middle ground to be found somewhere for the good of us all; a lofty goal surely, but that’s how I roll.

Drag for me is about three things: skilled performance, playing with gender and entertainment. It’s somewhat tolerable if one of these factors is missing but I grow irritable if more than two are.

First and foremost let me say that if you can’t learn the words to the song you are performing, don’t get on the stage. It’s as simple as that.

With time and experience, a performer can learn to engage a crowd, find her light and even do fancy dance moves if that’s what he’s into, but memorizing the words to the song should be a priority, shouldn’t it? The number of performers who seem to disagree is alarming.

The continued appeal of drag seems to suggest that we have an ongoing cultural fascination with gender construction and the idea of gender itself as performance.

Whether they are caricatures of masculinity or femininity, convincing embodiments of another gender, or some variation on the theme, well-done drag personas point out that gender is something we create rather than something we are born with.

By crossing gender lines, drag performers open up doors for us to ponder the necessity of these lines in the first place. So it’s interesting to me that most drag queens present very differently in daily life than they do on stage, while many drag kings don’t.

Drag king performance often seems to be an extension of a masculine gender expression lived in daily life. Yes, anyone female-bodied or female-born who takes on a male performance persona is doing something transgressive but why, for example, are there so few drag kings (at least in Vancouver) who live their lives as femmes?

Is drag performance that requires more construction better? I don’t know. All I know is that when drag doesn’t somehow deconstruct or play with gender, I lose interest. I can stay home and watch my butch sing along to Johnny Cash in her boxers without paying a cover charge if that’s what I want.

So I can’t help but wonder–in this time of growing awareness and understanding of transgender issues and a redefining of gender itself–if maybe drag has become irrelevant. If we do away with the gender binary, what is there left to perform? With exceptions like hairy queens and other such boundary-pushing performance artists, aren’t we just watching people on stage dancing and pretending to sing? Okay, sure, I’m up for that. Under one condition though: entertain me.

Whether it’s choreography, narrative or making balloon animals, for the love of peaches, do something! You don’t have to make me think but please make me laugh, make me cry, melt my heart, heat up my pants, wow me with gymnastics, tell me a story or do whatever you can do that makes you entertaining. If you don’t know what that is yet, experiment until you figure it out.

I don’t see drag as being a form for playing it safe. I’d rather watch someone trying to entertain and risking failure any day.

It was 1985 when I was last impressed by someone doing little else besides standing on stage mouthing along to a song. That was one of the banger bitches at my high school doing Lee Aaron’s “Metal Queen” at the annual air band competition and it was a long time ago.

It was 1997 when I was last blown away by a female with a fake mustache. Those heady days of women’s studies and what I misunderstood to be the free money of student loans aren’t coming back either.

It’s now 2006. If you’re not going to impress me with your performance skills or challenge me with your gender fucking, is it really too much to ask that you at least be entertaining?