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Gender, Sex, Drag and Society

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Gender, Sex, Drag and Society

Andrew Ryan

The general perception of gender in western culture is a funny thing (mainly because it’s so binary). I think about it a little bit. The world at large seems to think about it a bit. But I’d never thought as much about it as the other day- and a bunch of the subsequent days- because I was in a situation where some of my closest buddies and I visually fooled around with the concept of gender for a music video shoot.

It brought up some interesting thoughts and questions around gender stereotypes, self-perception and sexuality, some of which fit quite nicely in to the national conversations currently being had around the promotion Greens Senator Larissa Waters gave to a grass-roots Christmas-based campaign called No Gender December.

This weekend was my first proper attempt at dressing in drag. The clothes weren’t much of a stretch- tight black jeans and button-up shirt- but it was a stretch to make my face more masculine in appearance. My less-than average costume make-up skills did not allow for any facial contouring, so I was left only with facial hair to mess with. Brown eyebrow pencil was brandished upon my painstakingly trimmed and shaped eyebrows and all across my feminine jaw line. I gelled my shoulder length hair back, away from my forehead, and I looked like a cross between all of the men on my paternal genetic side and Nick Cave. I pretty much created the boy version of myself. And it was fun.

But while it was fun, it was also a little unnerving. I am accustomed to my feminine face, feminine hairstyles, accustomed to being kinda pretty. We in the shoot were expected to put on a character, and I struggled with mine. I thought about stereotypes of masculine behaviour, but I couldn’t get in to it. I tried to be cock-sure, thrusting my crotch slightly forward as I walked; I tried to be sleazy towards the “women”, but that expressed itself as arse and fake-breast grabbing. I didn’t like that and I didn’t like thinking about men like that either. Soooo I channelled my own sexually chilled-out personality::: and became a dance happy, smooth mother-fucker with a drink in hand at all times, occasionally forgetting not to move my hips All Heavy Like a Woman.

The men involved (musical friends and adopted family) were in feminine dress and make-up, and they delved in to the same thing as myself, opposite sex funz, exploring stereotypes of women. And just as I was unable to properly suppress my femininity (which at the time felt overwhelming underneath the fake-facial hair), many were not entirely able to suppress their masculinity. Oh, all the evident bulges in the tight skirts and throats, with such deep voices and masculine gaits in abundance…

The thing that interested me most was just how rampantly we ran through the act of characterising the sexual, sensual, and internal responses to this so called “gender-bending”.

Take a moment to look at gender as a role which defines how you function within the community, as it is within Native American culture, for example. Think about it for a little bit; let your imagination wander.

In a society that puts emphasis on all the functions being fully allowed, encouraged and expected to be done equally among all humans involved, regardless of gender- like they most definitely are within the portions of the Melbourne music community I spend the most time in- then you cannot actually dress as a different gender, you can only dress as the opposite sex. This serves to highlight the different genitals on show/implied, and brings forth the responses to different faces in “feminine” make-up (uber visual psychologically sexualised difference). It feels like we exist in a pretty nice state of individually based acceptance.

The reason I bring this point up is because someone took public offence to something to do with our funz, which I have spent a lot of time since thinking about.

Pete posted a photo I took of him in drag from the day in question on his musicband’s Instagram account, and a user responded with a damnation of what she perceived to be dismissive of the struggles of transgendered people. It bummed me out to think that she must be so accustomed to a culture in which transgendered people are not accepted (she probably spends a bunch of time on social justice Tumblr pages) that when she looked at the photo of this person who makes music she likes, she saw only the possibility of his cross-dressing to be a piss-take.

And fucking good on her to say so, very seriously. I think it is really important for people to speak up about those issues, to stand up against social wrongs (which is why social justice Tumblr pages are around, and are so actively followed by young people who are so aware of social injustice).

There is certainly a darker side to the fun of drag, but honestly, I think exploring the sexuality and comedy of dressing in the opposite sex’s clothes is a way to work through the darker aspects of gender distinctions, which are often easily found in the New Restrictions VS New Freedoms of wearing a dress when you’re not used to it and/or don’t particularly crave it, or wearing clothes unflattering to your figure when you’re not used to it and/or don’t particularly crave it.

What I’m trying to get at is that in those who don’t feel any dislike or discomfort as a result of a particular difference between themselves and another individual, and have existed in a community in which any problems to do with those differences are not evident, or at least not immediately relevant to their experience, find it very easy to forget that suffering can occur from those differences. The male-humans I am close to do not consider women inferior at all, and they are around women most days if not every day, so are often surprised when us females describe situations in which we are treated by men- or encouraged by other women- to behave as if we are (inferior). No one I know well these days is homophobic, and as far as I am aware, most of us have been intimate with a member of the opposite sex. We all do all kinds of roles in the home and in the workplace, and we all have respect for the psychological- hell, the metaphysical- journey trasgendered people have taken to feel comfortable in honest self-expression.

But the problem of gender inequality exists outside of this little bubble of creative social security I exist in… which is why this problem has popped up in the media the last few days about encouraging parents to gift gender-neutral toys to their kids this Christmas.

Senator Larissa Waters linked gender specific toys to the perception of gender inequality, which appears to be confirmed in the fields of psychology and sociology. It’s confirmed in my own gut instinct, at least.

In my gut, this is how I see the resulting worst case scenario: boy receives “gun”, shoots “baddies”, becomes accustomed to physical assertion of authority and power; strength and dominance is rewarded by authority figures. Girl receives dolls, plays dress ups, becomes accustomed to physical beauty and maternal instinct as desirable; infantile validations of cuteness and prettiness are provided by authority figures. This is a very binary way of viewing a human’s role in society, and binaries are destructive to humanity. Why would anyone want to allow this kind of extreme to exist when we can see an option to leave it behind us/// when we know that it is not sustainable?

Not all children are naturally drawn to these childhood gender stereotypes. If not tempered by gender neutral playthings, these extremes could be played out in to adulthood, leading to repression of the natural personality, especially within gender-based consumer choices (BUY THIS THING THAT HAS THE WORD ‘MEN’S’ ON IT AND IS BLACK+BLUE if yr a “man” vs BUY THIS THING THAT HAS THE WORD ‘GODESS/BEAUTY’ ON IT AND IS PINK+PURPLE if yr a “woman”). This weird bullshit dichotomy is why those negative stereotypes exist, stereotypes which, when not dealt with healthily (who knows if our dealings were healthy, but we all came out happy and kind of spiritually cleansed at the end of it)-,can lead to bad things. Like domestic violence. Like rape.

Post Script:::: During the filming of this music video, Cosi accidentally left a rat’s corpse in the dress of a baby doll behind the piano—- and that has nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with Cosi. I love that human.

Post Post Pcript:::: Do I have any moral/ethical basis with which to judge the negative effect of gender stereotyped consumerism? Only time will tell.

The End.